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Itzulia Women Race History
With this year’s Itzulia Women, women’s racing in the Basque County has come full circle after quite a lot of change in recent years. We used to have the long-term staple of the Emakumeen Bira stage race which ran from 1988 to 2019. One of the major stage races, surprisingly given the climbing it was a race that neither Anna van der Breggen nor Annemiek van Vleuten ever actually won. Kasia Niewiadoma took her first major victory there in 2015 and the likes of Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Elisa Longo Borghini won in the following years. That race was already under pressure to return in 2020 before Covid hit, with the organisers confirming in September 2019 that they had hosted the last edition.
2019 had already seen the creation of a women’s Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa, matching one of the major men’s classics and made famous by the txapela (think massive beret hat) given to the winner. Lucy Kennedy won the first edition with Covid preventing the 2020 race from taking place. When the race returned in 2021, Annemiek van Vleuten took the victory. That race has now been effectively absorbed into the final stage of the 2022 Itzulia Women. Starting and ending in San Sebastian, the stage will include the legendary Jaizkibel climb.
The parcours of the 2022 Itzulia Women naturally suits climbers but those with a little extra punch or finishing kick will do well as there is no summit finish. With no Annemiek van Vleuten due to a wrist injury in training (although she is riding again), the race is going to be wide open.
Friday 13th May – Sunday 15th May
Live on Eurosport/GCN
Stage 1: 11:30-13:00
Stage 2: 11:30-13:00
Stage 3: 11:30-13:00
All times in BST
Itzulia Women 2022 Contenders
SD Worx will bring the strong pairing of Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Demi Vollering. Whilst it’s tempting to say Vollering will be the main rider here, Moolman-Pasio has the #1 bib and is traditionally very keen on the Spanish races. She’s quietly had a great start to the 2022 season with no result worth than 10th in the 6 races she’s done so far. All the more impressive given how she’s usually been working for others. It’s been hard to make out whether Demi Vollering‘s spring has been a success. For anyone else, the results would be great but so many near misses and only a win at Brabantse Pijl to show for it will feel a little bit underwhelming. I expect to see Vollering working for Moolman-Pasio here but it will be a great opener ahead of the Tour de France Femmes.
FDJ’s Marta Cavalli was the star of the Ardennes this season. With no Anna van der Breggen, there was a new opportunity for a rider to step up and boy did Cavalli step up. She won Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne with solid top-10s at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and interrupting Paris Roubaix. Itzulia Women will be her first stage race of the year since Setmana Ciclista Valenciana back in February when she was 3rd. If the Ardennes form is still in the legs, Cavalli will be a big contender. She’s ably supported by Evita Muzic, who has shown some flashes of quality since returning from her injuries at the 2021 Women’s Tour, and everyone’s favourite attacking rider from this Spring, Brodie Chapman.
There will be question marks now after the crash at the end of Emakumeen Nafarroako but Mavi Garcia says she didn’t break anything. It was a proper tank slapper of a crash whilst riders were going round the last corner and launching their sprint. We’ve seen Garcia be her usual solid climbing self this year but maybe missing that little edge that will see her win races. She was my favourite to win the Vuelta Andalucia but lost out to Arlenis Sierra and it’s a similar story at the GP Eibar and Emakumeen Nafarroako. Garcia will once again be strong enough to be in the front group but maybe only on the lower steps of the podium.UAE Team ADQ has completely pulled out of Itzulia Women – Mavi Garcia test positive for Covid and others on the team too.
Another rider with a strong Ardennes season was Team DSM’s Liane Lippert. The German made the podium at both Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold whilst also making the top-10 at both Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The short steep climb at the end of Stage 1 feels tailor-made for Lippert’s puncheur strengths. The end of Stage 3’s Murgil-Tontorra climb should also give her a decent launching pad. Her teammate Juliette Labous should be a useful lieutenant who may also become the team’s GC contender. In theory, Labous will be better on the longer climbs but we’ll probably see her launching Lippert into the late climbs at Itzulia Women.
Trek Segafredo has come with an interesting team. It feels like Leah Thomas will be the best GC threat with Lucinda Brand and Shirin van Anrooij outsiders for stage wins. Thomas can certainly climb, last year’s winner of the Tour de l’Ardeche hasn’t really done Spain month (aka May) before. However in 2020, whilst at Bigla-Katusha, Thomas was 4th Overall at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and won a stage too. Often racing as an elite lieutenant, it’s sometimes easy to forget how good Thomas can be when racing for herself.
Canyon SRAM’s Pauliena Rooijakkers looked to have kicked on a step in this year’s spring classics. We were always used to seeing her either attacking off the front or sitting at the back of the peloton avoiding the hustle and bustle. So this year it was great to see her regularly mixing it with the front groups in major races. Stage 1 feels like it could suit her here, an uphill finish that doesn’t have a flat sprint to worry about. I think a solid top-10 should be on the cards. Teammate Soraya Paladin had a relatively quiet spring campaign after finishing 3rd at Trofeo Alfredo Binda but will be a useful wildcard here. In theory, Paladin will lack a bit on the major climbing but Stages 2 and 3 offer opportunities.
Team BikeExchange possibly have one of the strongest teams here. Local favourite Ane Santesteban will no doubt look to impress and has been doing well in recent races. 2nd at GP Eibar and then 6th from the second group on the road at Emakumeen Nafarroako. Now a fully fit Amanda Spratt was the obvious leader and after coming close all spring, she was 10th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. That hints she may be close to being back to her best. Spratt was 1st and 2nd in the last two editions of the Emakumeen Bira and the Basque Country is somewhere Spratt clearly loves racing. It’s similar to Urska Zigart, who seems to get her best results in Spain. She wasn’t far away in 13th at GP Eibar and then was 8th at Emakumeen Nafarroako having been in the first main break of the race. On her return from injury, Kristen Faulkner was 4th at Emakumeen Nafarroako as well this week. Between them, BikeExchange should have the strength in depth to be comparable with SD Worx and FDJ at the Itzulia Women.
Veronica Ewers is starting to get into her stride in recent weeks. She hit the ground running at the end of last season making an immediate impact when joining TIBCO. So 2nd with a stage win at Festival Elsy Jacobs and then 2nd in Emakumeen Nafarroako behind Sarah Gigante is a sign we’re going to see more of the American. In this form, she’ll be the team’s undoubted leader. Her teammate Krista Doebel-Hickok will provide useful support, especially on the climbs. A pair of stage wins took her to 2nd overall at the Tour of the Gila back in the US and she was in the top-10 herself at Emakumeen Nafarroako too.
Movistar is missing Annemiek van Vleuten who is recovering from breaking her wrist so Paula Patino seems to be in the best form for the team. 4th in GC at the Vuelta Andalucia, 6th at GP Eibar and 3rd at Emakumeen Nafarroako too. The latter was particularly impressive as she ran interference for teammate Sarah Gigante who was ahead up the road, before being given some free rein once the gap was big enough. In her current form, Patino has the potential to be knocking around the top 5 at Itzulia Women.
Not on the original startlist was Sarah Gigante but room has been found for the winner of Emakumeen Nafarroako this week. Her solo 30km break was enough to secure the win, with the group behind unable to form a coherent chase. The first European win of her career, the promise that Gigante showed coming out of Australia is starting to be delivered after a tough couple of years. In this form, she becomes a potential contender on these climbs.
Olivia Baril might be Canadian but she is local to the Basque Country and used that local knowledge to win the GP Eibar last weekend. The Valcar rider was also 7th at Festival Elsy Jacobs and has shown she can do well on the medium hills. With that in mind, Stage 2 might be a tough ask but Stages 1 & 3 will offer her chances to do well.
Itzulia Women 2022 Outsiders
Brit Lizzie Holden traditionally does well in Spain, helped somewhat by racing 2 years for the Bizkaia Durango team. With that in mind, Holden will know the roads well and has some good results in 2022 too. 9th in GC at Bloeizone Fryslan as well as 18th and 21st at Amstel Gold and the Tour of Flanders respectively. I kinda expect to see her in the breaks this week for Le Col-Wahoo.
Greta Marturano has had a big May so far. 13th at Festival Elsy Jacobs which included a 9th place and plenty of attacking was backed up with 15th at Bretagne Ladies Tour where Marturano was 3rd on the final stage. The major climbs here might be too much and especially against a higher quality line-up but I suspect we’ll see the Italian attacking.
One of the perks of seeing more of the women’s races live is that we get to see riders make an impact that doesn’t always show on the results sheets. Aurelia Nerlo has been on the attack a lot recently but you’d just see 23rd at Vuelta Andalucia and 59th at GP Eibar on her recent results. The Polish Massi Tactic rider will be keen to get the team’s jersey out there again and I suspect we see her in the breaks again at Itzulia Women.