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Annemiek van Vleuten wins 2022 Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta

Annemiek van Vleuten has won the overall title at the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, after Elisa Balsamo took the stage 5 sprint win on Sunday. The Dutch rider placed a target on the late-season Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, as a home race for her Movistar team, winning the overall title for two years in a row.

She has successfully won all three overall titles at the Giro d'Italia Donne, Tour de France Femmes and the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta in 2022.

Van Vleuten won the overall title after five days of racing, where she took the red overall leader's jersey upon winning solo on stage 2 in Colindres, and she carried the red jersey into the finale stage 5 in Madrid. 

She sealed her victory by 1:44 ahead of runner-up Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and 2:11 ahead of third-place Demi Vollering (SDWorx).

“It was a very nice race, especially because during this week we have made a great team effort. In the end, a team time trial like the one on the first day is the best example of teamwork, but above all, on the second day the girls did a great job, preparing the ground perfectly so that I could get everything I had," Van Vleuten said of her stage 2 victory.

"Saturday was also an important day. Closing as big a gap as [Anna] Kiesenhofer did is something you can't do alone. On a personal note, I am very happy with the sensations I got, especially on the day at Colindres. You always come with some doubts, after spending five weeks without competing, without being able to check your fitness against your rivals."

World Champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) was the fastest in the bunch sprint to take the final stage 5 victory ahead of Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) and Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ).

“I’m extremely happy,” Balsamo said in a post-race interview. “This was my last race with the [world champion’s] jersey and so there is not a better way to end such a wonderful season for me. My teammates did a great job today. We really were the strongest team and chased all day. I have to say thank you to everyone in the team.

How it unfolded

The Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta concluded with a short 95.7km circuit race on the streets of Madrid. The peloton completed 17 laps of a technical 5.6km city circuit that included a short climb with a 4% grade mid-circuit and then a gentle decline into the final. There were also four intermediate sprints available through the start/finish line.

Sandra Alonso (Ceratizit-WNT) was the first rider to strike out on the opening lap and she was later joined by Sara Poidevin (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB), Nina Buijsman (Human Powered Health) and Carlijn Achtereekte (Jumbo-Visma).

After her remarkable 159km solo breakaway on stage 4, Olympic Champion Anna Kiesenhofer took to the front of the peloton to set the pace for her Soltec Team. 

All four breakaway riders were no threat to Annemiek van Vleuten's (Movistar) overall race lead, and so the day's event marked one for the sprinter teams to control the race situation. 

The first of such teams to organise themselves at the front of the field was Valcar Travel & Service to manage the time gap to the breakaway at 40 seconds for their sprinter and stage 4 winner Silvia Persico.

At the midpoint of the circuit race, SD Worx moved to the front of the field with stage contender Lotte Kopecky, who won last year's finale in Santiago de Compostela.

There were two crashes in the main field and while overall leader Van Vleuten was caught behind one of them, she safely returned to the peloton in the closing laps.

With the World Champion and favourite for the stage Elisa Balsamo among the peloton, Trek-Segafredo bided their time before taking control of the race inside three laps to go.

As the breakaway's gap slashed in half, Achtereekte was the first to attack the quartet, followed by Alonso and Buijsman, but ultimately all four riders were reeled in inside 9km.

Trek-Segafredo pulled the field into the final lap, catching late-race attacks from Sara Martin (Movistar) and Niamh Fisher-Black (SD Worx), in pursuit of the stage win but they soon found themselves overtaken by rival teams SD Worx, Team DSM and Movistar.

Despite SD Worx's strong lead-out, Balsamo skilfully manoeuvred through the final straightaway with a sprint powerful enough to take the stage 5 win by a large margin over Kopecky and Bastianelli.

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