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'The hardest to target' - Annemiek van Vleuten attempts triple at Ceratizit Challenge by la Vuelta

Annemiek van Vleuten defending champion at Challenge by La Vuelta
Annemiek van Vleuten defending champion at Challenge by La Vuelta (Image credit: Getty Images)

After winning the Giro d'Italia Donne and the Tour de France Femmes Annemiek van Vleuten is aiming to put a stamp on a remarkable season by defending her title at the Ceratizit Challenge by la Vuelta, held from September 7-11. Organisers have expanded the race to five days with a conclusion in Madrid for the last time before the event shifts to a new May date on the 2023 Women's WorldTour.

Van Vleuten has pointed to the Challenge by la Vuelta as a major late-season target, along with the UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong, as her last two events this year. She has placed a high priority on the Vuelta for two years in a row, as a home race for her Movistar team, winning the overall title in 2021 edition.

As Van Vleuten takes aim at her fourth consecutive 'grand tour' victory, three within this season, she noted that out of the 10-day Giro d'Italia Donne, 8-day Tour de France Femmes and Challenge by la Vuelta, the Spanish event is the most difficult for her to win because it suits her the least. 

The route is only five stages and it doesn't feature aspects that best suit her abilities, such as the length of the race or major mountain stages, which are found in the other two events. 

At the Giro d'Italia, Van Vleuten won stages into Cesena and Aldena, and at the Tour de France she won the two back-to-back mountain summit finishes at Le Markstein and La Super Planche des Belles Filles.

She believes that it is the number of stages, length and difficulty of the routes that give a race a grand tour-feel, and for this reason she believes the Challenge by la Vuelta perhaps isn't ready for a 'grand tour' status. She has been vocal about her hopes that the organisers of the Vuelta expand its women's event to include more stages and more challenging routes in future editions.

“In general, I think this will be the one from the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta that is the hardest to target, because the route is not that hard. Everyone knows I’m a fan of harder racing, and my chances would be rising with a harder parcours, with longer stages, climbs and mileage," Van Vleuten said.

“When it comes to the race itself, though, I cannot say that the 'triple' is a goal in itself. That owes to the fact that, even if the Ceratizit Challenge carries the name of La Vuelta on it, it still hasn’t got the hard stages nor the length, the kilometers, you’d like to find in what you would consider a grand tour – it’s also just five days at the moment, with one of them being Madrid’s circuit race."

Van Vleuten's hope is that the success of the women's Tour de France, which was held across eight stages with tougher mountainous routes, will prompt the growth of other events like the Challenge by la Vuelta.

“I sincerely hope the impact the TDFF, such a breakthrough moment for women’s cycling, has created – which I have already felt – can help it grow, because its effects can hopefully make organisers realise we’re ready for it. All of that said, it’s a nice race I’m so keen to get into.”

Organisers have registered the event in 2023 as La Vuelta Femenina and have expanded it to seven stages currently scheduled from May 1-7 on the Women's WorldTour.

The stages

The 2022 edition still promises the toughest route yet. It has been expanded to five stages, will include an opening team time trial, two mountain stages, one stage that tops 160km with an uphill finish and an urban circuit race in Madrid.

View the route maps and profiles.

  • Stage 1 - Marina de Cudeyo to Marina de Cudeyo, 19.9km (TTT)
  • Stage 2 - Colindres to Colindres, 105.9km
  • Stage 3 - Camargo to Aguilar de Campoo, 96.4km
  • Stage 4 - Palencia to Segovia, 160.4km
  • Stage 5 - Madrid to Madrid, 95.7km

Riders to watch

Demi Vollering and SD Worx Team Time Trial

Demi Vollering and SD Worx Team Time Trial (Image credit: Getty Images)

It isn't just the parcours and the length of the race that challenge an athlete's goals to win a race, but also their competitors and Van Vleuten will face a strong field in the penultimate round of the Women's WorldTour.

Challenge by la Vuelta 2022 will take the riders from Cantabria to the capital of Spain through five days of racing from September 7-11. This year's race marks a total of 479.4km with all types of challenges for those eyeing stage wins and the overall title.

The racing will begin with a 19.9km team time trial on Wednesday. The stage will not only determine the first wearer of the red jersey but also create the first separations in the overall classification. Team SD Work will field one of the strongest teams on paper, especially capable of winning the opening race against the clock with the likes of Marlen Reusser, Demi Vollering and Lotte Kopecky in attendance.

There will be competition from Trek-Segafredo, BikeExchange-Jayco and Movistar, watch for a rider from SD Worx to take the event's first leader's jersey.

"It is important to do a good team time trial on the first day and preferably pick up some time there. With Marlen Reusser we already have an important weapon for the TTT. She will certainly have her sights set on it," said Vollering, who returns to competition having recovered from a concussion sustained in a crash at Tour of Scandinavia.

Stage 2’s 105.9km course around Colindres features six ascents;  Fuente las Varas, Cruz de Usaño, back-to-back category 1 climbs over Campo Layal and Fuente la Varas, and then over the Campo la Cruz before a plunge into Colindres. 

It's a climbing day that could see the beginnings of a GC-battle between Van Vleuten, Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), Vollering, Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope), Mavi Garcia (UAE Team ADQ), Juliette Labous (Team DSM), Kristen Faulkner (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Olympic Champion Anna Kiesenhofer (Soltec).

"I think the team time trial and stage 2 in Colindres will be quite key. Stage 2, in particular, is the place where I feel I can make the difference," Van Vleuten said.

On stage 3 the peloton race 96.4km, beginning in Camargo. They will climb over the Alto des Hijas early in the short stage, and then race along a predominantly uphill grind through Hoces Barcena and to the highest point of the stage at Point de. Pozazal, then along an undulating final into Aguilar de Campoo. It's a short stage but the majority of it is uphill, but it might not be hard enough to separate the overall contenders.

On stage 4, the longest stage of the Vuelta at 160km, the course travels from Palencia to an uphill finish in Segovia. It is a hilly route allowing riders to display their strength. Here we can watch for Kopecky, Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo), Emma Norsgaard (Movistar), Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM), Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ) and Alex Manly (BikeExchange-Jayco) as well as Liane Lippert (Team DSM).

"Stage 4 will be on roads close to Valladolid, where I already raced a World Cup leg back in 2010. I expect some windy racing, where we will need to be super focused – and it’s nice to have that one longer stage," Van Vleuten said.

On stage 5, the field will return to the iconic circuit race of Madrid where the overall winner of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta 2022 will be crowned. It will be a day for the sprinters in the field; Kopecky and Bastianelli will be the favourites but watch for Arlenis Sierra (Movistar), Ruby Roseman-Gannon (BikeExchange-Jayco), and Megan Jastrab (Team DSM).

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