Sabrina Stultiens (WaowDeals) took the biggest victory of her career so far when she won stage 1 of the Emakumeen Bira on Saturday. Being part of a prestigious four-rider break in the final, the Dutch rider attacked inside the final kilometre and was able to hold off a chasing group by 17 seconds.
"After the Kirtenberg I was completely dead. I tried to come back to Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio [Cervélo Bigla] and Anna van der Breggen [Boels Dolmans] who were up front. The downhill was really hard, but Annemiek van Vleuten [Mitchelton Scott] and I made it. I tried to work together with them and also save a bit of energy for the last kilometre. Anna and Annemiek were looking at each other a bit, and I thought 'I'll go all-out in the last kilometre, and then I will see where I finish'. I stuck to that plan and ended up winning, so I'm really happy about it."
Lisa Brennauer (Wiggle High5) won the sprint for second place after the chase group caught Moolman-Pasio, van Vleuten, and van der Breggen with the finish in sight.
"It was great teamwork. I was afraid of the steep climb, my team did a great job to bring us there at the front. I came out of the climb in a good position, but the breakaway had gone. We worked together with other teams to bring the breakaway back. I wasn't sure if we would catch them, we got them just in the last corner, except for Stultiens. I'm happy that I got the chance to sprint again, and I'm happy with this second place."
As a former world champion in the time trial, Brennauer is one of the riders to watch on the stage 2 ITT, 26.6km from Agurain to Vitoria-Gasteiz. The German is excited for the test, but says that she is not the favourite.
"I look forward to doing a full-length time trial again. It's something I really love. The competition is big with Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen, the best time triallists in the world, so it's a big test. I will go into it just trying to do my very best, but I'm not putting the pressure on me."
Van Vleuten animated the final when she went on the attack right after catching up to the front.
"I wasn't in a good position going into the steep climb but managed to be top four. Then I went down the descent solo, caught back and then attacked right away. Maybe that wasn't so smart as I had Moolman-Pasio and van der Breggen behind me who are here for the GC, so they chased hard."
When van Vleuten was caught again, she kept an eye on her big rival van der Breggen, and the two finished together in the chasing peloton. After a good first stage, she is one of the favourites for the time trial and the overall win.
"When they caught me with five kilometres to go, I only watched van der Breggen and Stultiens attacked. I feel confident going into the time trial, we will see how things look after that."
Stultiens will roll off the start ramp in Agurain in the white leader's jersey. The 24-year-old admits that the test against the clock isn't her speciality.
"It's a hard, long time trial, Annemiek and Anna are in really great shape. I'm not the big favourite for the time trial, but I am really going to fight for it and do my best."
The long time trial will sort out the general classification and give an indication of who could win the race overall, but with two challenging, hilly stages still to come afterwards, it is far from the final decision.
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