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Madrid Challenge: Tactical game of seconds expected to play out in finale

Madrid Challenge
Lisa Brennauer leads the overall classification into stage 3 (Image credit: Getty Images)

The stage 2 individual time trial set the scene for the final stage 3 of the Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta. After a stage 1 that ended in an uphill sprint with small time gaps, the 9.3km test against the clock in Boadilla del Monte brought the time trial specialists to the fore, battling for seconds, and it is now a tight battle for the overall title.

The 2019 winner of the Madrid Challenge, Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT), won the ITT ahead of Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo). In the general classification, Brennauer, who placed third on stage 1 to score vital bonus seconds, now has a ten-second advantage on Longo Borghini, with Van Dijk a further three seconds back.

Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) is fourth at 17 seconds, followed by Team Sunweb’s Lorena Wiebes and Leah Kirchmann at 18 and 23 seconds, respectively. Van Vleuten’s teammate Sarah Roy is seventh overall at 27 seconds, Mieke Kröger (Hitec Products-Birk Sport) is three seconds further behind. Alice Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) in ninth place trails Brennauer by 33 seconds, tenth-placed Maaike Boogaard (Alé BTC Ljubljana) sits at 35 seconds.

The final stage consists of 17 laps of a 5.9km circuit on the Paseo del Prado, Paseo Recoletos, and Paseo de la Castellana. There are intermediate sprints every second lap for the first 14 laps, offering time bonifications of 5, 2, and 1 seconds. The stage final will award 15, 10, and 5 bonus seconds to the first three riders. All in all, 50 bonus seconds could be taken by a single rider, making the general classification anything but a foregone conclusion.

Brennauer, who will wear the red jersey of race leader, has shown time and again that she can hold her own in a mass sprint, a.o. recently finishing as runner-up in the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne. She may not be able to beat Wiebes – the winner in De Panne as well as on stage 1 – to the stage win, but if the German champion can pick up some bonus seconds in the early intermediate sprints and then concentrate on reaching the top-three on the stage, her chances of winning the race overall are good.

The Trek-Segafredo team of Longo Borghini and Van Dijk will probably have a different tactic. Neither of the two riders is a strong sprinter, but they can hold their own in a breakaway – and their sports director is Giorgia Bronzini who in 2018 won the final stage in Madrid from a breakaway. With such expertise, the team can be expected to try to light the race up from the start and wear out the teammates of Brennauer and Wiebes.

Mitchelton-Scott may help Trek-Segafredo in making it a hard race. With Van Vleuten and Roy, the Australian team also has two cards to play. Van Vleuten has not completely recovered from the wrist injury that forced her to abandon the Giro Rosa, and the Dutch superstar is generally happy to put herself at the disposal of her teammates. Roy is a good sprinter who was the runner-up behind Bronzini two years ago, so she knows how to hit the right move and can pick up bonuses along the way.

Team Sunweb, however, will likely support Wiebes for a sprint finish, trying to keep the race together, take bonus seconds from the intermediate sprints, and launch their sprinter for another stage win that may well give her the overall victory as well. Kirchmann is a very useful card to play as well as the Canadian could join breakaways as a ‘chaperone’, not helping to keep the break going but sprinting for time bonuses when possible.

Barnes is a good sprinter who may fancy her chances from the peloton, and with 11th-placed Hannah Ludwig she also has a teammate who could play the role of Kirchmann in a breakaway. Kröger and Boogaard, on the other hand, are well-known breakaway specialists who could lend their firepower to a breakaway.

In the end, though, it is important to remember that 2018 was the only edition where the Madrid stage was won by a breakaway, with the other four editions being decided in a sprint. Therefore, Brennauer and Wiebes have to be considered the main favourites to win the 2020 Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta.