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Spain becoming a mecca for world-class women's cycling - Itzulia Women Preview

Navarra Women's Elite Classics 2022 - Pamplona - 124,8 km - 11/05/2022 - Scenery - photo Rafa Gomez/SprintCyclingAgency©2022
The women's peloton racing in Spain at the recent Navarra Women's Elite Classics (Image credit: Rafa Gomez/SprintCyclingAgency©2022)

The peloton had to patiently wait an extra year for the inaugural Itzulia Women after the event was cancelled last year but the three-day race held from May 13-15 will kick off the stage racing season on the Women's WorldTour in the mountainous Spanish Basque Country, and the nation, on a whole, has become a mecca for professional women's cycling.

Itzulia Women is organised by OCETA that also run the long-standing six-day Itzulia Basque Country men's stage race won by Daniel Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers) in April. 

It is among the growing list of men's events adding women's races to their repertoire in recent years including Vuelta Andalucia, Tour de Suisse, and Tour de Romandie, along with Paris-Roubaix Femmes and Tour de France Femmes, and reportedly the soon-to-return women's version of Milan-San Remo, to name a few.

The new event represents the growing road scene for women's racing, too. In its absence last May, there were a total of 12 days of world-class racing to offer the professional peloton with a series of Spanish stage and one-day racing that culminated at the inaugural Vuelta a Burgos Women WorldTour won by now-retired Anna van der Breggen (then SD Worx) just three seconds ahead of Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar).

Itzulia Women and the return of RideLondon Classique as a three-day race (May 27-29) add two more top-tier stage races, alongside Vuelta a Burgos, to the WorldTour calendar this month. 

Many of the top teams are already in the area, which has become a hotbed for pre-and post-Classics training camps and racing. They began the season in the Mediterranean coastal town, Calpe, for early-season training, and then raced at Vuelta CV Feminas, won by Marta Bastianelli, and Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, won by Van Vleuten, both races in Valencia, before starting the Spring Classics. 

In recent weeks, teams are preparing for Itzulia Women at Vuelta Ciclista Andalucia Ruta Del Sol, in the Andalucia region along the southern coast, won by Arlenis Sierra (Movistar). That led to a host of UCI 1.1 one-day races, in the northern Basque Country, where Olivia Baril (Valvar-Travel & Service) won Gran Premio Ciudad de Eibar, Sara Gigante (Movistar) won Emakumeen Nafarroako and Veronica Ewers (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) won Navarra Women's Elite Classics. 

They will likely remain in the area, too, after Itzulia Women to race Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria (May 17) and Vuelta a Burgos Feminas (May 19-22). Not to mention the Ceratizit Challenge by la Vuelta held in September.

Races like Itzulia Women and Vuelta a Burgos lead the way in the sport's growth, so do teams like Movistar Team Women, a team that prides itself on developing female cyclists and has become one of the top teams in the world in just five seasons.

The team currently contract Spanish riders Alicia Gonzalez, Sheyla Gutierrez, Sara Martin, Lourdes Oyarbide and Gloria Rodriguez, while also bringing in international talents Netherland's Annemiek van Vleuten, Denmark's Emma Norsgaard, Cuba's Arlenis Sierra, and Australia's Sarah Gigante.

The three-day race will travel through the Basque Country, an autonomous community in the north, territories of Euskadi – Alava, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, and will finish along the route of the Donostiako Klasikoa Women’s race –Clásica San Sebastián – features Jaizkibel pass and the  Murgil 'wall'.  A total of 363.6km will be covered and include 13 classified mountain passes and six intermediate sprints, two in each stage.

Cyclingnews has published the full route details and route maps and profiles.

Lining up for the start in Vitoria-Gasteiz, the Capital City of the Basque Country, will be 22 total teams. There are 12 WorldTour squads confirmed, only seeing the absence of Jumbo-Visma and Uno-X Women Pro Cycling. 

Ten Continental teams will be on the start list including Spanish squads Massi-Tactic, Eneicat-RBH Global, Bizkaia Durango, Labbora Kutxa Fundacion Euskadi and Sopela Women's Team.

The mountainous route will cater to the strongest climbers, and while would-be favourite Van Vleuten is currently recovering from a fractured wrist, Movistar will field Gigante, who recent took her first win for the Spanish team at Emakumeen Nafarroako, and her teammate Paula Patiño was third.

The terrain will somewhat similar to that of the one-day events held earlier in the week, and so watch for a continuation strong performances from Ewers, who won Navarra Women's Elite Classics, and BikeExchange duo Ane Santesteban and Kristen Faulkner, who stood on the podium.

Spanish Champion Mavi Garcia, racing for UAE Team ADQ, turned will be a rider to watch having recently finished second overall at the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta del Sol.

Certainly the top-tier teams will field their best rider for both climbing and breakaways. Trek-Segafredo with Lucinda Brand and Shirin van Anrooij will form a strong duo. BikeExchange will also field Amanda Spratt, who on good form, would be an out-right favourite.

SD Worx will line-up with a series of contenders in Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, Demi Vollering, Niamh Fisher-Black, and Anna Shackley. Liane Lippert (Team DSM), finishing with two podiums; Amstel Gold Race and Brabantse Pijl, will be looking to transfer her form into the stage races. As will FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope's sensation Marta Cavalli, who won Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne.

However, if the recent stage races and one-day races ini Spain are any indication of potential success, watch for the smaller teams to take their opportunities – think about riders like Olivia Baril (Valcar-Travel & Service) who won in Eibar and Spain's Mireia Benito (Massi-Tactic) forced the day's break and finished fourth at Navarra. 

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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.

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