With the Spring Classics officially behind us, it was time for the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas to ignite the stage racing season on the Women's WorldTour with a four-day mountainous event held from May 20-23. It also marked the grand finale to 12 days of action-packed racing in Spain.
The international calendar lost the nation's most prestigious stage race –Emakumeen Bira – to financial difficulties two years ago, which presented a gap in the spring racing calendar. It's hard to make up for the loss of a multi-day race with the history of Emakumeen Bira but this year's calendar saw a new block of racing in Spain that attracted the majority of the top-tier teams alongside opportunistic Continental programmes.
Setmana Ciclista Valenciana's move from February to early May meant that it was well-positioned ahead of one-day races Emakumeen Nafarroako Women's Elite Classics, Navarra Women's Elite Classics, Gran Premio Ciudad de Eibar and Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria.
The top teams in the world attended these events, even though they were registered 1.1-level races, because they saw an opportunity to race and compete in a well-organised, mountainous block of racing. There was also little travel involved, a substantial plus while COVID-19 still presents risks. Most importantly, however, it all led up to the only Women's WorldTour race on the calendar this month, the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas.
Cyclingnews looks at the five biggest takeaways from the climb-heavy four-stage race.
Dutch Olympic team fills podium
It was no surprise to see the best riders from the Netherlands standing on the final podium at the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas. Double world champion Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) won the final stage and secured the overall title ahead of Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) and Demi Vollering (also SD Worx).
These riders make up three-fourths of the Dutch national team that will compete in the elite women’s road race at the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer. They were selected because of their success in the Spring Classics; Van der Breggen won a sixth consecutive Flèche Wallonne, Van Vleuten won Tour of Flanders, and Vollering won Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The only rider missing in the four-day race was Marianne Vos, winner of Gent-Wevelgem and Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition, as her Jumbo-Visma team opted out of the stage race opener.
With the Spring Classics complete, it’s time for these riders to begin their preparations for Tokyo. The Vuelta a Burgos provided a rare chance to fine-tune the form across days of high level mountainous racing to begin the next phase of training.
Van der Breggen and Van Vleuten carried great form into the Spanish races. Van Vleuten won Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and Emakumeen Nafarroako, while Van der Breggen won Gran Premio Ciudad de Eibar, Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria and Vuelta a Burgos. Vollering may not have secured a win this month, but she was part of the finals of each race, and she showed her exceptional strength and teamwork on the stage 4 finale in Burgos, hauling back the decisive breakaway and then finishing third behind Van der Breggen and Van Vleuten.
Together, the results give every other nation plenty to be nervous about.
Longo Borghini's disappointment
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) ended a consistent Spring Classics campaign in the overall lead of the Women’s WorldTour. She began the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas wearing the prestigious purple leader’s jersey but by the end of the four-days of racing had to hand it over to Van Vleuten.
Longo Borghini finished 4th in the penultimate stage and sat 4th overall heading into the final stage from Quintanar de la Sierra to the summit of the Lagunas de Neila. A bad day saw her struggle to cross the line in 12th place and drop seven spots in the final overall classification to end the race 1:26 behind overall winner Van der Breggen.
"I am very sorry to have let the team down, but today I really couldn’t dig deep. I don’t know what was the reason why," Longo Borghini said. "I was fine until a certain tempo but then when it was time to go full, full, full, my body was just telling me no. I am disappointed, as I should be, and now head down and back to work."
Van Vleuten’s performance bumped her up into the overall lead of the Women’s WorldTour with 1796 points as Longo Borghini sits in second place with 1664 points, as of May 22.
A 'super chuffed' Koppenburg
Clara Koppenburg (Rally Cycling), who returned to racing from a knee injury, was the highest placed rider from a Continental Team among the overall classification at the Vuelta a Burgos. The German climber was in her element on the Lagunas de Neila, beginning the 12-kilometre final ascent in a 14-rider breakaway and finishing 5th, only caught by Van der Breggen, Van Vleuten, Vollering and Pauliena Rooijakkers (Liv Racing) near the top.
"I am super chuffed because I really gave everything," Koppenburg said. "I completely emptied myself and the last two kilometres were the longest in my life, it was so hard."
Her performance launched her up 19 places in the overall classification finishing 4th place at 59 seconds behind overall winner Van der Breggen. In addition, Koppenburg secured the Most Combative Award for her efforts on stage 4.
"I’m super happy to have this result after having not a great start to the season with some injuries. I’m also really happy to give something back to my teammates because they worked really hard over the last few days," she said.
The Vuelta a Burgos Feminas marks the end of a European racing block for American outfit Rally Cycling as most riders head back to the US for National Championships from June 17-20.
Fisher-Black turns up the dial
There was no doubt after the performances that Niamh Fisher-Black (SD Worx) delivered last year – from the win at New Zealand’s road championships to a Giro Rosa stage second place – that the New Zealand rider’s future on the Women’s WorldTour was filled with promise. Though, while shifting to the star-packed SD Worx was unquestionably a great move for the 20 year old, it would hardly have been surprising to see her take a back seat for a while as she learnt from and supported riders like the double world champion Van der Breggen.
After the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas, however, it is clear that Fisher-Black isn’t going to be outshone by those around her but will just turn up the dial to match her surroundings.
Starting off with a third place on the finishing climb of stage 1 was an impressive enough mark for the young rider to make on the race. It wasn’t just the fact that she came third but the fierce and seemingly effortless acceleration she delivered on the climb to catch the break of Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) and Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM). Then she backed that up with fifth on stage 3, the next climbing stage, to maintain the lead in the youth classification, take the mountains jersey, and also zip on the race leader's jersey.
She handed it over to her teammate Van der Breggen on stage 4's long finishing climb as she "didn’t have the legs for it" and slipped off the back of the group including Van der Breggen and Vollering. They made it a first and third on the stage for SD Worx and ultimately, Fisher-Black still finished in 15th place, holding her lead on the youth classification.
Fisher-Black may not have been able to retain the lead into the final stage but with the power she showed the rest of the time the road turned up, there is little doubt she’ll find herself in the lead again.
Finally, Uttrup Ludwig did it
If ever there was a rider that seemed to be constantly balancing on the precipice of her first Women’s WorldTour victory, it is Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. So many top-10s over the past four years and so many podiums at the biggest races on the calendar, but despite her tenacity, climbing prowess and willingness to go on the attack she never ended up on the top step... until now.
It's no wonder then that the ever-effusive Danish FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope rider was overcome by relief and emotion, wiping away the tears while wearing a smile that was radiating so widely across her entire face that no mask could hide it.
"I have no words. It was such a wild day; I still have not quite realised what happened. In the sprint I thought, wow, they are not coming past me, what is going on. And it was against the best riders in the world, this is a really big victory," Uttrup Ludwig told Cyclingnews after the stage.
The 25-year-old was swamped by her teammates as it was no less of a celebration for all of them as, while they were undoubtedly overjoyed for Uttrup Ludwig, it was also the first victory of the year for the French-based squad.
We dare say it won’t be the last. Now having broken the ice and had a chance to thoroughly enjoy that well deserved glass of celebratory champagne, Uttrup Ludwig and her teammates will no doubt be wanting to again taste success and, having clocked up a climbing win against the best in the world, they surely will be settling into that task with renewed confidence.
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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.
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