Setmana Valenciana S4: Justine Ghekiere takes surprise GC victory, Elise Uijen wins last stage

Follow all the action in the four-stage Setmana Valenciana in Spain.

Photo: Alex Broadway/Getty Images

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Justine Ghekiere (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step) claimed a surprise GC win at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana after going clear in the early breakaway and holding off the chasing peloton.

Ghekiere’s teammate Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio had started the day as the race leader, but she would ultimately finish in second place at one second back with Amanda Spratt (Trek-Segafredo) in third.

Ghekiere was part of a large breakaway that went up the road after some 40 kilometers of racing, deciding to get into the move and try to take the mountains classification. While the peloton mopped up most of the escapees, she and Elise Uijen (Team DSM) held firm going into the final kilometer.

The pair duked it out for the stage win with Uijen taking the day’s honors. Initially, Ghekiere thought she had the consolation prize of the mountains jersey, but she realized that she had got more than she bargained for.

The 16-second gap to the bunch plus the six bonus seconds on the line were enough to see Ghekiere move right to the top of the standings.

“I just don’t know what to say. I have no words and don’t really realize what happened,” Ghekiere said. “I wanted to go for that polka dot jersey and was only second behind the leader in that classification. It was all or nothing today and I succeeded in my goal. Then I found myself in that breakaway and held on to Gaia Realini and Elise Uijen on the final climb.

“It’s a shame I didn’t win that sprint for the stage win but by then I knew I had won the mountain classification. I was already really happy about that until I realized I had won the general classification too. This team is fantastic and I feel so good. Everyone believes in each other and works for each other. It was not great I took the win away from Ashleigh but we keep it in the team.”

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S3: Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio punches to super-sprint victory

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio surged to victory ahead of world champion Annemiek van Vleuten and Tour Down Under star Amanda Spratt in Altea in stage 3 of Valenciana.

The AG Insurance Soudal Quick-Step racer’s victory Saturday sees her roar into the winner’s circle in her very first race since leaving SD Worx this winter and leaves her poised at the top of GC ahead of the final stage Sunday.

Moolman-Pasio delivered her new team its first pro win of 2023 after an all-attacking display that saw the South African go away 50km from the line in the hilly “Queen Stage” before beating back her top-level rivals in the three-up sprint in coastal town Altea.

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S2: Elisa Balsamo soars to another stage win

It was two wins in two days for Elisa Balsamo at Setmana Ciclista Volta Comunitat Valenciana Fèmines after another stellar performance by Women’s WorldTeam Trek-Segafredo.

Three categorized climbs in the first half of the stage had the potential to tip the status quo away from a bunch sprint, but the American squad showed up with a plan and executed.

Balsamo held her own among the best climbers in the race as it headed onto the steeper gradients, even when accelerations split the field.

“It wasn’t easy, a lot of climbs at the beginning but at the end Ilaria again did a great job so I had a perfect lead-out,” said the Italian national champion. “The sprint is never easy but, yes it was a good one so we are very satisfied. I was third at the last roundabout which was the perfect position to be in for the sprint.”

Inside the final 20 kilometers of the 116-kilometer stage, Balsamo was sitting in a reduced peloton with Amanda Spratt, Gaia Realini and, crucially, her ultimate sprint wingwoman, Ilaria Sanguineti.

The Italian double act once again worked together perfectly with Sanguineti delivering Balsamo where she wanted to be to power towards another emphatic stage win in Spain.

“It’s like a dream for me [to have Yaya back] because we were working together for a lot of years and for me she is really the best at this job,” Balsamo said. “Last year when I spoke to Ina [Teutenberg, DS] about the lead-out and I mentioned Ilaria’s name and she was also super happy to have her in the team. Today was different than yesterday because Ilaria delivered me at 1km to go onto the wheel of UAE. I was struggling on the climbs but I did it!”

AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step Team’s Lotta Henttala was second in the sprint, followed by 21-year-old Megan Jastrab of Team DSM.

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Setmana Valenciana S1: Elisa Balsamo opens 2023 with big win

Elisa Balsamo blasted to victory Thursday at the Setmana Ciclista-Volta Comunitat Valenciana Fèmines in her first race day of the season.

After Trek-Segafredo reeled in an attacking rider, the team delivered the Italian national champion to the line through a technical finish with around 10 roundabouts in the last seven kilometers.

Related: Elisa Balsamo re-ups with Trek-Segafredo

Lotta Henttala (AG Insurance-Soudal-Quick-Step) was second, and American Coryn Labecki (Jumbo-Visma) kicked to third.

“I was a little bit scared because you never know how your condition will be at the start of the season,” Balsamo said. “I was coming from the European track championships so it was quite a lot of time without the road bike. Today my team did a great job, on the first climb I was little bit full gas but then everything was perfect.

“It’s always difficult during a race to find the good timing and be in the right place at the right moment for a chaotic sprint finish like this one but yesterday we saw with Inna the last KM so that today we were prepared for the finish,” she said.

“It would be a dream to have a season like last year. Last year was just amazing. I really hope to have a good start to the season.”

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