Another race, another victory for Annemiek van Vleuten. The world champion claims the title of La Vuelta Femenina by Carrefour after a late challenge by Vollering in the final stage…

Race overview by Rob Arnold  (Photos: Unipublic)

In her farewell season Annemiek van Vleuten continues to demonstrate her dominance of pro cycling. The 40-year-old tenaciously held onto a winning advantage in the final stage on the uphill finish to Lagos de Covadonga on Sunday.

When the superstar from the Movistar Team retires at the end of 2023 it’s clear that Dutch fans will still have plenty to cheer with Demi Vollering of the SD Worx team proving time and again this season that she has all the qualities of a champion. The winner of stage seven ensured that suspense remained all the way to the finish of the Spanish race that has provided a wonderful showcase of bike racing.

The leadership sequence in La Vuelta of 2023 reminds us of the strength of Dutch riders in the pro peloton.

Demi Vollering continues to impress with her seventh victory this season from just 15 race days. First at Lagos de Covadonga in stage seven of the La Vuelta Femenina by Carrefour. (Photo via Unipublic)

The first red jersey was first worn by Jumbo-Visma’s British recruit Anna Henderson after the opening stage, a team time trial in Torrevieja. Then the GC leadership changed three times in the 740.2km seven-stage race which is the first Women’s WorldTour event to boast seven riders per team.

Marianne Vos sprinted to second place in stage two and took the red jersey thanks to the six-second time bonus when she was runner-up to Charlotte Kool (Team DSM). Then came two sprint victories for Vos, beating Kool in La Roda in stage three and Emma Norsgaard (Movistar Team) in Guadalajara the next day. And then it was time to climb…

Once in the mountains, Vollering picked up from where she left off in a stunning Classics campaign in the Ardennes – when she won the Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Gaia Realini, the 21-year-old from Trek-Segafredo finished 3rd on GC and won the Queen of the Mountains crown.

Vollering’s win in stage five of La Vuelta, when she surged in the finale of the uphill finish, gave her the red jersey but the next day an error early in the race cost her dearly when she took a nature break at the moment van Vleuten’s Movistar accelerated at the front of the bunch.

The red jersey switched from Vos to Vollering to van Vleuten… and, as we have come to learn, once Annemiek takes control it’s difficult for anyone to overcome her strengths. Versatile and determined, the world champion was tactically savvy from start to finish in this revised and renamed Vuelta which has moved from September to May in 2023.

Last year van Vleuten took the title of the five-stage race and, 13 days later, she overcame significant injuries to win the rainbow jersey with a spectacular late move in the road race in Wollongong.

Van Vleuten wins again… but this time the GC of La Vuelta without a stage victory.

This May in Spain, the Dutch were dominant but van Vleuten didn’t win a stage despite taking the title of La Vuelta with another emphatic display of resilience. Her best chance came with one day to go after she broke free of the peloton and pushed on to build her advantage over Vollering in stage six.

Vollering’s stint in red came to an end when her compatriot from Movistar squeezed out a gain of over a minute with a long, strong ride en route to Laredo in stage six but van Vleuten paid for the effort and failed to outsprint the Italian sensation of the season, Gaia Realini from Trek-Segafredo, for stage honours.

At just 40kg, Realini is one of the lightest riders in pro cycling and she regularly collected climbing points during the week to finish La Vuelta as QOM (with 43pts, two more than Vollering and five points ahead of van Vleuten). The 21-year-old joined the US-registered team at the start of the year and a three-year contract with Trek-Segafredo means we’re bound to see much more of her and her team in the years to come.

Van Vleuten withstands Vollering

Going into the final stage, Annemiek van Vleuten held an advantage of 1:11 over Vollering at the top of the general classification. It seemed sure to be enough to claim a second Vuelta title but the challenge remained right to the end of the race when the SD Worx star set off on a late bid for glory on the brutal ascent of Lagos de Covadonga.

Vollering would claim her second stage win in three days and although she also gained another 10-second bonus with her coup at Covadonga, van Vleuten didn’t capitulate.

Stage seven concluded with Vollering crossing the line 11 seconds ahead of Realini with van Vleuten third at 56 seconds… sufficient to collect the red jersey as champion of the women’s Vuelta once again!

AVV ended the Spanish race with an advantage of just nine seconds over Vollering, with Realini rounding out the podium 2:41 behind the world champion from Movistar.

Vollering, first in stages five and seven and 2nd on GC.

“It’s unbelievable,” van Vleuten said at the finish on Sunday. “I fought all the way to the end, knowing that I didn’t have my best legs already early on.

“Maybe I was paying for yesterday’s effort but I never gave up. I kept on pushing, knowing that my rivals were also getting tired. It was an amazing team job again today. This Vuelta is a victory for Movistar Team as a whole.”

Vollering may have made a mistake while leader of the race but she is clearly ready to take over the mantle of world’s best from van Vleuten. The 26-year-old from SD Worx has won more often than she’s lost in 2023. She is the runner-up in La Vuelta and a double stage winner who can be proud of her campaign in Spain.

“The whole team fought really hard for the victory because we had something to make up for after yesterday’s stage,” said Vollering after winning the final stage.

“Two stage wins are really nice, and it was close for the GC too. It’s sad that I wasn’t able to battle with the best yesterday, because I could have won the GC. Today we have proven our worth, and I’m very happy about our performance.”

The next two events on the Women’s WorldTour are also in Spain this month – the Itzulia Women (12-14 May) followed by the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas (18-21 May) – and then comes the RideLondon race (26-28 May) before three stage races in June and July: Tour de Suisse (17-20 June), Giro d’Italia Donne (30 June-9 July), and the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift (23-30 July).