AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step began the day with a plan to make sure Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio won the overall victory and have Justine Ghekiere outscore Katia Ragusa in the Queen of the Mountains competition. As it turned out, things didn’t go to plan but they still worked out. Justine Ghekiere got herself into the large break of the day, which also contained Katia Ragusa, as the QoM jersey was going to be properly contested. Ghekiere pulled level on points on the first climb and had the decider tie-break too. The penultimate climb was geared up for the battle but Ragusa dropped early and the jersey was sealed by Ghekiere.
From there, the expected GC battle on the final Alto Barx climb never really materialised. Not the toughest climb in the world, the roadbook made it look an ideal launchpad with the finish line only 14km from its summit. The only rider to try was Trek-Segafredo’s Gaia Realini. She bridged across to what was left of the break and her pace saw only Ghekiere and Elise Uijen remain with her. The descent however, saw the Italian dropped with Ghekiere as Elise Uijen pushed on. The former junior national and European time trial champion was setting a strong pace. Ghekiere managed to close the gap but Gaia Realini couldn’t join and had to drop back to the GC group.
In the meantime, the GC contenders had barely attacked each other. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig had a go but it didn’t stick. The group appeared to be completely neutralised and not really prepared to ride hard to close the gap to the lead riders. UAE Team ADQ was seen to be riding hard, just making sure that Eleonora Gasparrini’s youth jersey win was secure. The gap slowly came down but could’ve been closed with a stronger chase.
The lead pair launched their sprint together and it was Elise Uijen able to finish the fastest and take the first pro win of her career. That settled the bonus seconds and the quick maths showed that Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio needed to finish within 15 seconds and the gap was very close to that. Eventually, the official timing showed it was 16 seconds and that the Belgian Ghekiere had beaten her teammate to the GC by a single second.
“I just don’t know what to say. I have no words and don’t really realise what happened. I wanted to go for that polka dot jersey and was only second behind the leader in that classification. It was all or nothing today and I succeeded in my goal. Then I found myself in that breakaway and held on to Gaia Realini and Elise Uijen on the final climb.
It’s a shame I didn’t win that sprint for the stage win but by then I knew I had won the mountain classification. I was already really happy about that until I realised I had won the general classification too. This team is fantastic and I feel so good. Everyone believes in each other and works for each other. It was not great I took the win away from Ashleigh but we keep it in the team. We did it!”Justine Ghekiere
“Today we were really looking to make the race as a team; attacking and going for the stage win. In the end after a lot of attacks I made it into a group. We knew it could go all the way for the stage win so I tried to do my best as possible. In the end it came down to a sprint with another rider and I could finish it off. I’m really happy to take my first pro win and for the team too. We were able to put the cherry on the cake here, because this week we have really built on something, and it’s a blast to end it this way.”Elise Uijen
Main photo credit: Vicent Bravo
2023 Setmana CIclista Valenciana Stage 4 result
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