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The seventh edition of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta delivered non-stop action from start to finish.
From Marlen Reusser taking the spoils from the breakaway on day one, to Annemiek van Vleuten’s storming ride to take the GC lead to Leah Thomas’ attack being thwarted in the final meters of stage four, it was a standout edition of the race.
For many, the four-day event will be one of the last — if not the last — race before the road world championships at the end of this month. While there is still time for riders to hone form before racing in Flanders, there is plenty to be gleaned from the results sheet of four days of action.
Here are four things the Challenge by La Vuelta has taught us ahead of the road world championships:
Annemiek van Vleuten is flying
Annemiek van Vleuten knows how to build for a race, and she is rarely off-form for a target. The Dutch woman has been flying since the Olympic Games at the end of July.
Before arriving in Galicia last week, van Vleuten already deposited wins at San Sebastián and the Ladies Tour of Norway into her back pocket since returning from Tokyo. It looked as though she might have to settle for “just” a stage win at the Challenge by La Vuelta after the breakaway stole the show on the first day.
However, van Vleuten is not a rider to back down in the face of a challenge.
After winning a climbing time trial, she spoke of her love of going on the attack and having nothing to lose. She delivered on her promises and launched a daring attack on the undulating stage three to storm into the red jersey.
It was a classic van Vleuten move, taking the race by the horns and charging away from her competitors.
The European championships will be the next marker for van Vleuten ahead of the world championships, where she has to be a favorite for at least one rainbow jersey if not two.
The time trial in Belgium is less suited to van Vleuten than she might like, with a largely flat course, but she will still be among the contenders for the victory. Meanwhile, the road race will suit her with its 20 climbs making for a difficult and exhausting race.
Anna van der Breggen still searching for answers
Anna van der Breggen made history last year when she became the first woman since Jeannie Longo in 1995 to win the road race and time trial world titles in the same year.
Van der Breggen put on a stunning show in Imola to claim the double rainbow and she’ll be eager to notch up at least one more world title before she retires at the end of the season.
She has some work to do, however, if she hopes to add another rainbow jersey to her collection after a disappointing showing at the Challenge by La Vuelta.
The Spanish stage race was just her second event since the Olympic Games after making her return at the GP de Plouay a few days earlier. Van der Breggen rode a fairly anonymous race and looked out of sorts in the time trial, almost getting caught by her minute-woman in the short uphill test.
It was a stark contrast to the Giro d’Italia Donne, where she rode so quickly that she eliminated more than 10 riders with the time cut.
In light of her performance in Spain, van der Breggen pulled out of her scheduled start at the European road championships this week. In a statement by her team, she said she couldn’t pinpoint the reason for her lack of form, and she would look into it over the coming days.
We can only hope that van der Breggen can find her form ahead of the worlds and get the career send-off that she deserves.
Marlen Reusser is a serious favorite for TT gold
Marlen Reusser surpassed even her own expectations this season with a recent run of form that has seen her claim a silver medal at the Olympic Games, and stage wins at the Simac Ladies Tour and the Challenge by La Vuelta.
Reusser had few expectations going into the Spanish race, except for that she thought it would start a day later than it was actually scheduled. Thankfully for the Swiss rider, her team got her to the start line on time, and she hit out for stage one and the correct day.
It was good that they did because she put in a superb performance to win from the breakaway and take a substantial lead in the overall classification.
Reusser’s form was confirmed when she finished second to van Vleuten in the uphill time trial on stage 2, though she would lose the lead after the Dutchwoman’s marauding attack the following day.
Nevertheless, Reusser is a serious threat in Flanders at the end of this month.
The flatter parcours suits her power style of time trialing and she believes she has the oomph to outdo the likes of van Vleuten and Ellen van Dijk.
She has an extra motivation because the time trial is on her birthday, and she really wants to have the rainbow strips on her back as she celebrates.
After her run of success lately, who could doubt her?
Don’t count out Lotte Kopecky in the road race
While the attention will be on the Dutch, as is usual in any major international race, the home side has a serious contender for glory in Lotte Kopecky.
The Belgian road race and time trial champion has had her setbacks this year, such as an unfortunate mechanical at the Tour of Flanders at a crucial moment, but she has still had a strong season with wins at the Lotto Belgium Tour, the Thüringen Ladies Tour and a fourth place in the road race at the Olympic Games.
Kopecky’s win on the final stage at the Challenge by La Vuelta was one of her finest performances so far this year.
— Lotte Kopecky (@LotteKopecky) September 5, 2021
On a technical uphill finish, Kopecky had the gas to spurt past the attacking Leah Thomas and outride Elisa Longo Borghini to the line.
The 25-year-old does well on the tougher terrain and the way in which she kicked past Borghini bodes well for the difficult parcours in Flanders.
The worlds peloton will want to get rid of Kopecky on the difficult parcours, because she’s nearly a shoo-in for victory if she’s taken to the line in any group.
With a big-ticket move to SD Worx next year, taking the rainbow jersey and keeping it at the team will give her some big brownie points with her new bosses.