The first of two back-to-back one-day races for the women’s peloton, Emakumeen Nafarroako Women's Elite Classics, became a gruelling, attritional affair in wet conditions in Navarra, Spain. The combination of heavy rain for most of the race and a challenging parcours brought relentless attacks, eventually triumphed by Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar).
The conditions were a stark contrast to last year’s edition of the race -- which took place in sunny conditions in July -- with heavy rain pouring down on the riders as they tackled the eight categorised climbs across 128.3km of racing from Hotel Ibaisek (Zudaire) to Lekumberri.
Although the weather couldn’t have been further away from the 2020 race, the result was the same, with Van Vleuten, now racing in a home event for her Movistar Team Women, taking the win for the second year in a row.
The Dutchwoman, who has recently been selected for the Tokyo Olympic Games, wrote on Twitter after the race: “Super proud to finish the teamwork off in the home race of Movistar. Special shout out to 22-year-old Sara Martín Martín ... Champion of the future for sure. Honour to be with her on this journey!"
Luckily, and as a testament to their bike handling skills, there were no crashes as riders took wet descents at full speed making the already tough parcours even more difficult. Ashleigh Moolman Pasio of SD Worx came close to losing control on a descent while alone in front, however, the South African managed to stay upright.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Ane Santesteban (Team BikeExchange) were among the pre-race favourites who were caught out by the continuous attacking, along with Paulina Rooijakkers of Liv Racing, who also struggled with descending on slick roads.
Promising young talents Mikayla Harvey of Canyon-SRAM and Marta Cavalli of FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope appeared to relish the hard racing, staying with the select group of favourites until a few kilometres to go, eventually finishing fifth and sixth place, respectively.
Elisa Longo Borghini of Trek-Segafredo struggled with the high pace saying in a press release after the race that she “suffered a lot today because I just had my holiday before these races, and I was here to build up my form again.”
Fortunately for the riders, the weather forecast for tomorrow’s Navarra Women's Elite Classics race, 124.8km starting and finishing in Pamplona, looks to be an improvement on today, although the parcours is equally challenging.
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