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Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta: Elisa Balsamo wins final stage as Annemiek Van Vleuten takes overall

World champion takes victory in final race in rainbow jersey.

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World champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) sprinted to victory on the final stage of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, proving the fastest after 17 laps of the Madrid circuit.

After a long lead-out from SD Worx, Lotte Kopecky took second, with Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ) rounding out the podium.

Red jersey Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) finished safely in the bunch to seal her second consecutive overall victory at the Ceratizit Challenge after winning the Queen stage by two minutes on Thursday.

A four-rider breakaway of Sara Poidevin (EF Educaction-TIBCO-SVB), Sandra Alonso (Ceratizit-WNT), Nina Buijsman (Human Powered Health) and Carlijn Achtereekte (Jumbo Visma) was away for the majority of the stage, but was brought back 10km from the finish.

“I’m extremely happy,” Balsamo said at the finish. “This was my last race with the [rainbow] jersey and so there is not a better way to end such a wonderful season for me. My teammates did a great job, they really were the strongest team and we were chasing the whole day. I really have to say thank you to everyone in the team.”

“We didn’t want to let the breakaway go more than one minute, so Shirin [van Anrooij] and Amalie [Diderisken] worked very hard the whole day and then Lucinda [Brand] and Elisa [Longo Borghini] did a great lead-out. It was the perfect day for us and I’m very happy.”

“We won the first stage in the TTT. Honestly it was amazing. It was my first TTT with the team, we really enjoyed it and today we won again, no better way to end the season.”

How it happened

The final stage of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta this year returned to the course that started the event with a 96km circuit race around Madrid. The peloton raced 17 laps of a 5.8km circuit around the capital – a fast but technical loop that featured three hairpin bends, several long straights and then a slight rise to the line in the last kilometre. Traditionally the stage has been won by sprinters, with Jolien D’Hoore and Balsamo among those to have won in Madrid previously, but in the absence of top sprinter Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM), the race was perhaps opened up slightly on Sunday.

The likelihood of a bunch sprint didn’t stop the riders hoping for a breakaway, though, and the attacks started straight out of the neutral lap. The first rider to get a solid gap was Sara Poidevin (EF Educaction-TIBCO-SVB), who led the race by 11 seconds after the first lap. The Canadian was then joined by Sandra Alonso (Ceratizit-WNT), Nina Buijsman (Human Powered Health) and Carlijn Achtereekte (Jumbo Visma), and with the extra firepower, the leading quartet were able to build a lead of over a minute over the next few laps.

After six laps, the gap was starting to come down again as the peloton tightened their control on the race. Winners on stage 4 with Silvia Persico, Valcar Travel & Service was leading the bunch, hoping to set things up for either Chiara Consonni or Persico. At the halfway point of the stage, with 47km remaining, the leaders were only 40 seconds ahead of the bunch. Going into the final five laps, a crash in the peloton had slowed the chase slightly, meaning the leaders still had a 40 seconds advantage with 28km remaining.

In the peloton, red jersey wearer Van Vleuten was drifting slightly towards the back of the group, staying out of trouble on the kind of course that doesn’t suit her abilities. Van Vleuten’s choice of position was vindicated going into the final four laps when another crash in the feed zone saw several riders hit the ground, but the race leader managed to avoid any danger.

With three laps remaining, the breakaway started to attack each other as their lead fell below 15 seconds and Buijsman tried to escape her break companions. The peloton had the leaders in its sights on the straights by this point, but the four were pushing hard to try to hold onto their advantage. Buijsman and Alonso held on to be the last riders caught, but were absorbed by the peloton with 10km to go.

As the catch was made, Sara Martin (Movistar) and Niamh Fisher-Black (SD Worx) launched a counter-move, using a 400m rise in the middle of the lap to get a small gap on the peloton. Trek-Segafredo closed the move down in support of Balsamo, and their efforts really strung out the bunch with just 7km left to race. With 5km remaining, Georgia Williams (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Laura Asencio (Ceratizit-WNT) snuck off the front of the peloton in an attempt at a late escape, but again were brought back ahead of the expected bunch sprint.

In the final kilometers, Trek-Segafredo, Movistar and SD Worx were all lining up their lead-outs and it was Blanka Vas and Demi Vollering who led the bunch into the final kilometer. In the last 500m, Longo Borghini’s lead-out saw her briefly off the front as she rode away from the sprinters, but this meant Balsamo was able to launch off the wheel of Lotte Kopecky behind to come around her teammate and win the stage by several bike lengths. Kopecky held on for second, while Bastianelli finished fast to take third.

Van Vleuten finished safely in the bunch to secure overall victory in Madrid, her second win at the Ceratizit Challenge and her third consecutive GC win of the year after the Giro d’Italia Donne and the Tour de France Femmes. Longo Borghini’s efforts earlier in the week saw her finish second overall, while Vollering completed the podium in third. Stage 4 winner Persico will take home the green sprinter’s jersey, and Brand topped the mountains classification after her breakaway ride on stage 2.

The Women’s WorldTour season will conclude with the new Tour de Romandie on October 7-9.

Results will be available once stage has completed.

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