Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta History
The Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta has had quite a developmental history. Originally a one-day race in Madrid that saw sprinters take victories, it has slowly grown into the 5-day race that it is this year. A team time trial was added to the sprint stage in 2018, before turning into an individual time trial in 2019. An extra day was added in 2020, a lumpy ish stage started the race before a time trial introduced some time gaps to the general classification. 2021 saw the Ceratizit Challenge turned on its head. Lengthened to 4 days, it was taken away from Madrid for the first time. Genuine hills, including a mountain time trial saw a different type of rider have success in Annemiek van Vleuten. Previously sprinters and time triallists dominated this race.
We return to Madrid in 2022 for the final day sprint stage and the team time trial makes another appearance. Stages 2 and 3 look like ones for the pure climbers, so expect to see Van Vleuten attack to regain any losses against the clock. Afterwards the puncheurs and sprinters get to have their fun.
Annemiek van Vleuten
Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta 2022 Stage Profiles
Stage 1 (TTT)
Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta 2022 Contenders
Annemiek van Vleuten will start the race as the big favourite and is looking to be the first rider to win 3 Grand Tours in the same year. She may have her work cut out for her in the team time trial, which may be a case of limited losses. But Stage 2 looks right up her street for an early attack. Thinking of races like Stage 7 at the Tour de France Femmes where she went and no-one could live with her. Stage 3 will also provide a limited opportunity but after that, time gaps will be had to find. She will always be the number one favourite in a race like this. The sprints will be done by Emma Norsgaard who will have her confidence back after winning Kreiz Breizh Elites Dames almost 2 weeks ago. The Dane may struggle against Vos but she’s one of many who can win any given stage without Wiebes around.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig will lead FJD-Suez-Futuroscope as Marta Cavalli has confirmed she hasn’t fully recovered from her injury at the Tour de France Femmes. She will also miss out on the Worlds too. Uttrup Ludwig was in impressive form at the Tour of Scandinavia, winning what is partially her home race. Her climbing to the top of Norefjell saw her take the GC in comfortable fashion. With Van Vleuten here, that will be tough to repeat in Spain but she certainly has the form to challenge the Dutch star.
SD Worx have previously been dominant when there’s a team time trial. Thinking back to previous editions of the Giro Donne, they’ve always set themselves up for a strong race. Marlen Reusser will power them along but the GC leader will be Demi Vollering here. We’ve not seen her race since suffering a concussion in a crash at the Tour of Scandinavia but you fully expect her to be the rider best able to prevent the Van Vleuten grand tour grand slam. Teammate Niamh Fisher-Black will be a good lieutenant on the climbing stages and has a great chance of taking the youth jersey. Then it’ll be down to Lotte Kopecky to pick up a strong result in the sprint, particularly in the final stage in Madrid.
Team DSM will be able to call upon Juliette Labous as their GC hope with Liane Lippert but able to support and maybe have a stage 4’s finish too. Labous doubled up with the Giro Donne (9th in GC) and Tour de France Femmes (4th in GC) and looks to have moved up to being a genuine GC contender, particularly once the post-Van Vleuten world begins in 2024. Stage 2 and 3 should be no problem for her. The Movistar-bound Liane Lippert was impressive at the Tour of Scandinavia, finishing 2nd in GC there. The uphill finish on Stage 4 will be one for her and will be up against the likes of Vos, Uttrup Ludwig and Niewiadoma for a stage win.
Megan Jastrab is the team’s sprinter and hopefully can stay out of trouble and get her chance in Madrid on Stage 5. Her recent pair of 2nd places is encouraging for next season when she will get more chances to sprint herself.
It’s been a good season for Mavi Garcia, who won the GP Plouay the last time that she raced. She was rewarded for attacking racing there and could do something similar at the Ceratizit Challenge too. Her GC bid may be derailed by the team time trial, even with strong riders like Maaike Boogaard working for her. Stages 2-4 will be her best chance to make up some more time or strike out for a stage win if time has been lost in the TTT.
Stage 4 of this year’s Ceratizit Challenge feels like a Kasia Niewiadoma stage finish. A flattish stage with a short summit finisher will get all of the puncheurs excited but it’s great chance for the Pole to take her first win in 3 years. That scarcely believable streak for women’s cycling fans who can remember when Kasia won plenty, is surely due to be broken. When it comes to the GC, the podium is possible as well but Van Vleuten feels like a tier above. She’s supported by Pauliena Rooijakkers who hasn’t been as strong results wise since her form peak in May but will be a very able lieutenant. Elise Chabbey will be a big help in the team time trial and no doubt we will see her customary attack on the QoM jersey as well. She was 6th at GP Plouay so comes into this race in good form.
Marianne Vos could win 2 or more stages at the Ceratizit Challenge this year. Lorena Wiebes has been astounding and the clear best sprinter of the season but when Wiebes isn’t around Vos has been the next best and hoovered up 8 wins, including 4 at the other grand tours. With no Wiebes here, expect Vos to be the key sprinter at this year’s race.
Elisa Balsamo is going to be nailed on as the favourite for the win in Madrid. It feels like she’s the only rider who has come close to Lorena Wiebes this season, including at the European Championships in Munich. She’s enough of an all-rounder that she may be in with a chance on Stage 4 too. In what could be her last race in the rainbow bands, Balsamo will want to sign-off in style. Elisa Longo Borghini should be Trek’s GC hope here and they’ve come with a team that feels almost perfect for the team time trial. With that firepower at her disposal, it feels like Longo Borghini will have an advantage to take into the climbing stages and can be tough to beat from that position.
Valcar will hope that Silvia Persico‘s great season and continue at the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta this year. It’s remarkable that she’s only won a pair of Italian 1.2 level races given her consistency across all types of terrain in major Women’s WorldTour races. Since the start of the Tour de France Femmes, Persico has only finished outside of the top-10 on 3 races/stages. The TTT will be her downfall for a GC push here but she should be a top-10 lock regardless. Teammate Chiara Consonni had a tough week at the Simac Ladies Tour, suffering after a crash on the first day. We know that at her best, we can see her take sprint wins, including the last day of the Giro Donne. She will be in the mix on Stage 5 in Madrid.
We’ve seen just how good BikeExchange-Jayco have been at time trials in 2022, so a team time trial feels like it’s perfect for them. From Kristen Faulkner winning the Giro opening time trial to getting a pair of riders in the top 6 at the Simac Ladies Tour this week. Faulkner feels like an interesting shout for the podium here if the team can deliver a great team time trial. We started to see some ominous form from Amanda Spratt at the Simac Ladies Tour as well. Maybe not an eye-opening result other than 3rd in the TT, she looks ready to attack at any opportunity. I feel she’s got one solid eye on Wollongong and will want to come through this race unscathed.
Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta 2022 Outsiders
Anna Kiesenhofer will be here as a guest rider for smaller Spanish Continental team Soltec. There’s a team time trial which no doubt she will contribute a lot to but is unlikely to do much but lose time there. I fully expect to see her try and get in at least one breakaway at this year’s Ceratizit Challenge but the peloton is going to be super wary about what she can do after her infamous Olympics victory.
Waiting for the full start list before adding more names