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Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta 2021 Preview – Tips, Contenders, Profile

7th Ceratizit Challenge By La Vuelta 2021 - Stage 4

This year’s Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta has had an extra day added and moves away from Madrid too. The Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta will finish in Santiago de Compostela in the north-west of Spain to match up with the men’s Vuelta a Espana taking place on the same final day. Before the final day’s finish, the race is centred on the ski resort at Cabeza de Manzaneda which is roughly 100 miles away. The composition of the race is changed big time too. Instead of 2 sprint stages and a time trial that we had last year, there are now 2 climbing days, a hilly time trial and a final sprint. This should shuffle the pack and produce different results to previous years.

Stages 1 and 3 look very attritional here. A 15km long climb in the middle of Stage 1 has the potential to thin out numbers but surely comes too far from the end of the stage to be a deciding factor. The GC hopefuls will likely see this stage as damage limitation, hoping to not lose any time to their rivals. Stage 2 will really begin to separate out the GC battle.

A mountain time trial sees riders take on 7.3km at 5.8% against the clock. There’s another long climb in the middle of Stage 3 but again it’s about 40km from the finish. There are a couple more chances for late attacks though and a slight uphill finish. Any rider who has been pushed hard in the first two days, could be found out on Stage 3. It feels like Stage 4 will be one for the sprinters, although the finish is a slight rise. The rest of the stage presents no issues for the sprinters.

Last season saw Lisa Brennauer take her second GC win in a row at the Ceratizit Challenge. She was able to finish slightly ahead of the main peloton and take bonus seconds on Stage 1 as Lorena Wiebes took the lead. Brennauer then took the win in the time trial, increasing the GC gaps to the majority of the peloton. With plenty of time bonuses available on the final stage, it looks like a head to head battle between Brennauer and Wiebes. Wiebes did take some of the early bonuses but Brennauer was there too and with the GC hopes fading,

Wiebes began to focus on the final sprint. Elisa Longo Borghini’s solo attack also helped dictate that decision. She took time bonuses and was out front on her own for a long time. Elisa Balsamo, fresher than Wiebes from not sprinting for time bonuses, took the sprint victory at the end of the stage. Wiebes finishing 2nd meant she missed out on the full bonus available and she finished 1 second behind Longo Borghini in GC. Lisa Brennauer won a tight GC by just 12 seconds.

Recent Winners

2020 Lisa Brennauer
2019 Lisa Brennauer
2018 – Ellen van Dijk
Jolien d’Hoore
2016 – Jolien d’Hoore

TV Coverage

Thursday 2nd September – Sunday 5th September 2021
Live on Eurosport 1 & 2, Eurosport Player and GCN

Stage 1: 12:00 – 13:00
Stage 2: 10:00 – 13:00
Stage 3: 11:40 – 13:00
Stage 4: 11:00 – 12:15

Twitter Hashtag: #CERATIZITChallenge21

Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta 2021 Stage Profiles

Stage 1

Stage 2

Stage 3

Stage 4

Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta 2021 Favourites

It’s a home race for Movistar and Annemiek van Vleuten will be an obvious big favourite here. She’s spent her time since winning the Ladies Tour of Norway by climbing up mountains in Italy. She’s won all 3 races since thinking she’d won the Olympic Road Race at the end of July. Safe to say she’s in form. Sheyla Gutierrez might get the nod on Stage 4 if the GC battle is sorted by then. She’s had a quiet season but took a trio of top-3 results in Setmana Ciclista Valenciana. Sara Martin could be the team’s other option in a sprint too.

It’s the usual strong line-up from SD Worx. Anna van der Breggen took a strange DNF at GP de Plouay after being seen off the front of the race and then doing a bulk of work chasing attacks. She’s been in great form all season though in these sorts of races. The climbing stages shouldn’t cause any issues and then the mountain time trial seems like a great opportunity to gain time on rivals. Teammate Niamh Fisher-Black will be her shadow and feels likely to win her 4th major race GC Youth jersey of the season. Lonneke Uneken should get a chance on Stage 4. A rider like Balsamo might overpower her in a pure power test but Uneken won a stage of the Simac Ladies Tour last week after avoiding the major crash.

Elisa Longo Borghini
Photo Credit: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

The GP de Plouay winner Elisa Longo Borghini seems to have rediscovered her race-winning form. After the race she cited being able to have the freedom to make those sorts of attacks on a team where riders care more about the collective than themselves. That positive note should see her do well again here. Normally with a TT you’d be thinking Ellen van Dijk will be up there, however the gradient should swing it towards the climbers. Van Dijk was certainly well down on a similar TT in the Giro Donne. Amalie Dideriksen is the team’s only recognised sprinter so should get full assistance on Stage 4. She’s come close a couple of times in 2021, with 3rd at Vuelta a Burgos and 4th in the final wet stage at the Simac Ladies Tour last week.

It’s a little bit of a toss-up between Mavi Garcia and Tatiana Guderzo on the Ale BTC team. Both have been climbing well, with Garcia having the slightly better results. In her home race, you’d expect Garcia to be going all out to recreate the form that saw her finish 5th in the Giro Donne. Guderzo was 8th at the Giro Donne and then finished 3rd at San Sebastian too. The team also has Marlen Reusser whose climbing seems to be coming on. She was 4th on the mountain stage at the Ladies Tour of Norway and with no summit finishes here, might also be in contention. She’s a good time triallist, but we’ve not really seen her do a mountain TT like the one here.

Then there’s Marta Bastianelli who will get the focus for the sprint. After winning La Perigord she was consistent at the Simac Ladies Tour with 3 top-10s. The harder Stage 4 is raced, the more it will suit her.

Kasia Niewiadoma was in a great place to take her first win of the 2021 season on Stage 4 of the Simac Ladies Tour. In a group with just Marianne Vos and Chantal VdB-Blaak, she attacked too early and Vos was able to come round to win. It was her 4th 2nd place of the year and it’d be great for Kasia to get the monkey off her back. She stands a chance, as always, here. Plus a little nod to her teammate Elise Chabbey who has been going well this year. Her climbing looks to have come on and she finished 10th at the Giro Donne in July.

Juliette Labous
Photo Credit: Anton Vos/Cor Vos

Juliette Labous feels like the GC favourite for Team DSM here. She’s shown she can climb well by finishing 7th at the Giro Donne and also crept into the top-10 at the Ladies Tour of Norway too. The mountain time trial stage should suit her as well and there’s a chance she breaks into the top-5 Overall. Liane Lippert will give her some solid support on the climbs but the parcours is missing the obvious punchy uphill finish for her to get her best sort of result in. Then there’s Coryn Rivera who is in good form at the moment. Stage 4 feels like one right up her street. She’d have taken wins at the Ladies Tour of Norway 2 weeks ago if the peloton had reeled in the break better.

I can’t see Lisa Brennauer retaining her Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta for another year. If the time trial was a flat one then she might’ve stood more of a chance. She may survive the hilly stages in the peloton but I think there’ll be too many others ahead of her on the mountain time trial. She’s got an outside bet for the Stage 4 sprint though.

Kristen Faulkner is in career-best form at the moment. She took her first Women’s WorldTour win at the Ladies Tour of Norway recently by outlasting the peloton in the breakaway. She hung in there on the mountain stage and finished 3rd Overall. After making a huge effort to try and claw back attacks, she still sprinted to 3rd place at GP de Plouay as well this week. It feels like she’ll lose too much time on the mountain time trial for a proper GC stint but she’s a stage winner contender on all of the other 3 days.

Amanda Spratt is hopefully recovered now from the injury she sustained at the Giro Donne. She abandoned that race before the final day with back pain in order to make the Olympics Road Race. She ultimately DNFed that race as she still wasn’t 100%. Without the question marks, this is the sort of race you’d be banking on a Spratt top-10. Her teammate Ane Santesteban is ready to step up. She’s been a solid climbing domestique all year and when she got her own opportunities, delivered 3 top-10 results in 3 tough Spanish climbing races in May. She might be a cheeky outside bet for the top-10 in GC.

Anna van der Breggen & Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
Photo Credit: Getty Images

FDJ shouldn’t have any issues with the climbing part of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta. There’s a bit of a question mark about Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig after she crashed out of the Simac Ladies Tour last week. An unfortunate bit of timing saw her hit a dip in the road and end up in the bushes. She’s been sprinting well in 2021, but the lack of uphill finishes might swing the team’s attentions to Marta Cavalli. She also has question marks after crashing out of the Ladies Tour of Norway and then going on to finish 26th at Plouay. She was 5th in the mountain time trial at the Giro Donne and must be a favourite normally here.

Young French rider Evita Muzic got the nod at the GP de Plouay and rewarded the chance by finishing 5th. She was also 5th at San Sebastian as she starts to develop into a great one-day hills racer. She was 12th at the Giro Donne and battled for the youth jersey with Fisher-Black and Realini. I think something similar is possible here.

Anna Henderson is certainly still in form with 10th at GP de Plouay. Despite doing well on the rolling hills at Kreiz Breizh Elites, I think these climbs may be just too much. Stage 4’s flatter stage represents her best chance for a result here but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her do well each day at the moment. Teammate Riejanne Markus is in a similar vein of form after winning a Ladies Tour of Norway stage from a solo break. That set up a 7th place Overall finish after hanging in there on the mountain stage. Certainly expect to see her attack at some point here.

Lotte Kopecky is back racing for the first time since the Olympics. She crashed twice there and her hip has caused issues since. She sat out the Simac Ladies Tour in order to be at her best here. That looks a wise decision with hindsight after the crashes and rain in the Netherlands last week. If she doesn’t get dropped, she’s a contender for 3 stage wins. Teammate Alison Jackson has made hay whilst Kopecky has been unavailable. She won the points jersey in Norway before sprinting consistently to 8th place Overall at the Simac Ladies Tour. She should return to lead-out duties here but may get a chance if Kopecky isn’t 100%. Italian Sofia Bertizzolo is also worth a nod after finishing 4th at GP de Plouay. She’ll be a solid wildcard option if given a chance.

Sofia Bertizzolo & Coryn Rivera
Photo Credit: Tommaso Pelagalli/Cor Vos

Last year’s final stage winner Elisa Balsamo should be in the hunt to do the same here. Balsamo confirmed she is moving to Trek Segafredo for 2022, so it’ll be one of the last times for her to use her super Valcar lead-out train. Somewhat surprisingly, she’s not won a race since the GP Oetingen back in mid-March. She’s the best pure sprinter on the startlist here though.

Bizkaia Durango’s Sandra Alonso turned heads back in May this season. She took a sprint win at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana after a couple of decent top-10 results. Alonso carried that form into the Vuelta a Burgos where she took 5th in the only sprint stage. Then she finished outside of the time limit in the mountain time trial at the Giro Donne, so she may have a battle to get an opportunity on Stage 4.

Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta 2021 Outsiders

There’s building hype around Ingvild Gaskjenn but we’ve not really seen her on this sort of parcours in 2021. If she can crest the major climbs then she will become a decent option for any final sprints. She’s been great on rolling terrain and is turning into an option on tougher days.

Ingvild Gaskjenn

After finishing 8th in GC at last year’s Tour de l’Ardeche, I had big hopes for Camilla Alessio at this year’s Giro Donne. She ended up finishing 52nd in GC and largely struggled to make an impact. Only 20 years old, she’s a great climber with potential that we’ve seen in 2021 with 5th at Italian Nationals ahead of some big names. Her teammate Silvia Zanardi is a young sprinter who did great at the 2020 Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, finishing 5th and 6th. She’s been a little quieter in 2021 but might be coming into form at the right time after finishing 10th Overall at Kreiz Breizh Elites.

It felt like Nadine Gill was on the cusp of a couple of great results in 2020. She finished 15th Overall at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and her consistently saw her climb into the top-10 of the Giro Donne before falling away to 33rd after a bad day. She hasn’t raced much at UCI level in 2021 but got herself in the break at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana this season. She’s an outsider who could do surprisingly well on the climbs and stay in touch with the elite riders of the peloton.

Barbara Malcotti

Valcar’s young climber Barbara Malcotti gives them another option than a sprint finish. She finished 21st in the Giro Toscana recently. An 8th place on the last day made up for a poor time trial on day 1. Then she was just outside of the top-20 at the Giro Donne. There Malcotti might’ve snuck inside with a better team time trial or mountain time trial. She’s a solid climber and this parcours gives her a chance.

Rachel Langdon had a great Joe Martin Stage Race last week for the Instafund Racing team. It’s not a team we see particularly often in WWT racing, although they were at the Vuelta a Burgos too. Langdon finished 16th over in America, which included lumpy stages, a TT and a sprint day. She’s probably got her best shout of a result on Stage 4 in this race but her all-round abilities might see her get results on other days too.

Race Prediction

Anna van der Breggen
Annemiek van Vleuten
Elisa Longo Borghini