When Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) attacked on the Fuente las Varas, the penultimate climb of stage 2 of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, it wasn’t much of a surprise to anyone who has seen her race before. Van Vleuten likes to take control of a race when she can, and stage 2 presented the best opportunity to take time on her competitors.
But after a long period without racing following her Tour de France Femmes victory, the 39-year-old herself wasn’t sure whether she could impose her will on the rest of the peloton.
“I had no clue after the Tour de France on how things were going to pan out. I had some time off, and then I went back training – I just came back from altitude to this race – so you’re always insecure how you’re going to do," Van Vleuten said.
"And it’s the second day of racing; normally, when you go for the GC, you attack later. At the Tour, it was the seventh day when people are more tired, now they were super fresh. I hadn’t seen them for five weeks either, so it’s hard to compare how forces are.”
She then thanked her Movistar team for preparing the attack by setting a hard pace into the Fuente las Varas.
“It was a really good piece of teamwork, which makes it more special. It was a short stage, only 100 kilometres; we’re more used to 150-160 km, so we knew it had to be hard from the gun. I needed my teammates to make it hard before the third climb already, so when I attacked, the rivals were already suffering,” said Van Vleuten.
After a 28-kilometre solo, Van Vleuten won the stage by over two minutes and now holds a lead of 1:55 minutes to Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) in second place. But despite her teams doing a good job of it, Van Vleuten is always remarkably nervous about defending a GC lead and has said that she actually prefers one-day races over stage races.
Stage 3 includes a very long but gradual climb before a flat finale while stage 4 is continually up and down in the first half and finishes on a 2.5-kilometre climb. Stage 5 is the well-known circuit race in Madrid.
“It’s going to be hard all the way until Madrid," Van Vleuten said. "Tomorrow will be tricky, but I know the roads perfectly because I’ve been training in the area a couple of times. Stage four will be the most dangerous one. It’s really windy, and I know from the 2010 World Cup in Valladolid that gaps can be opened there in the echelons. We take things day by day here – three more stages to go.”
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Lukas Knöfler started working in cycling communications in 2013 and has seen the inside of the scene from many angles. Having worked as press officer for teams and races and written for several online and print publications, he has been Cyclingnews’ Women’s WorldTour correspondent since 2018.