In 2018, Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) won the Emakumeen Bira with a long solo break on the final stage after attacking on the Urkiola climb. This year, she is the defending champion and her team's protected rider, and she was able to win the second stage on Thursday, with its uphill finish, taking the overall lead in the process.
Spratt had the full support of all her teammates on the rolling stage, including Lucy Kennedy, who kept a high pace in the middle part of the stage. In the final, their teammate Annemiek van Vleuten – leader of the UCI WorldRanking and wearing the purple Women's WorldTour leader's jersey – closed down moves by Sheyla Gutierrez (Movistar) and Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Trek-Segafredo), setting Spratt up for the stage victory.
"I think it says so much about her," Spratt said of Van Vleuten after the stage. "We have a great relationship, and so much respect for each other. I have worked many times for her to get the victory, and she is more than happy to work for me here. It's amazing to have the world number one happy to work for me."
The Australian climber will start Friday's stage 3 in the white leader's jersey, holding a 12-second lead over Soraya Paladin (Alé Cipollini). Spratt is confident that she can defend it on the mountainous stages to come.
"My legs have been really good here so far," said Spratt. "And we've seen the courses for Friday and Saturday. We know they're both really, really hard, but again we have really good options in our team. Annemiek is obviously racing well, and so is Lucy. We know there can be big time splits, so it is good that we have options."
The Emakumeen Bira is the closest thing to a home race for the Movistar team. Headquartered in Navarra, the Spanish region neighbouring the Basque Country, the squad animated the stage with an early solo breakaway by Polish champion Malgorzata Jasinska and showed its strength in numbers in the final when the team had three riders in a front group of 10.
Jasinska was full of emotions after the stage – proud of her team's performance and promising even more for the stages to come.
"It's been a difficult start to the season for me with various problems. But sometimes that's how things go, and you can only look forward and try to turn them around," she said. "All of us here are at a great level, and we hope that this was just the first show. The stages on Friday and Saturday fit us even better."
Jasinska's Movistar teammate Margarita Victoria Garcia finished third on the stage and holds the same position in the general classification. The 35-year-old was in the first ranks of the peloton throughout the day, but suffered a puncture only six kilometres from the finish.
"For a moment, I thought my race was over, but I was able to get back to the front group with 2km to go. Then I was able to follow Spratt's attack and get third place, and it was really close for the win. I'm very satisfied."
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