Our Women’s programme got their season underway towards the end of last week at Setmana Valenciana-Volta Comunitat Valenciana Fémines. Faced with a stereotypically hilly route over the four days, it would be an intense start to the season with some hard and aggressive racing from the bunch.
Getting up to racing speed, the team’s main focus for the week was to get back into the swing of things and get accustomed to each other again after the winter break and off-season camps. Wanting to be in the mix and at the pointy end of proceedings too, the team looked to race cohesively as a unit, rolling the dice and looking for opportunities on each day.
The first stage of the Volta Comunitat Valenciana Fèmines was a tricky one, with multiple climbs and hills on the parcours. A few riders tried to get away from the peloton in the beginning but they didn’t get enough space from the peloton, before one rider and went solo and managed to get a maximum advantage of one minute and 45 seconds over the bunch. She was caught with the final climb in sight, where the team worked well together to be at the front before the slopes. On the climb the peloton shattered and a six rider group crested the climb with 30” over the the chasing peloton but they were reeled in again with 5km to go, setting up a fast final. In the reduced bunch sprint to the line Juliette Labous was the first rider across the line for us.
”It was a very warm day, and a little bit of a shock to the system,” explained Labous. “The first half of the race was fast but there were almost no attacks and we stayed together well. We focused on Floortje and me for the last climb and on the penultimate climb the girls did a really good job positioning us. On the last climb itself the pace was very very high. I made it to the chasing group and then a group came from behind and it came down to a sprint. I am happy with my shape and everybody did their best so we just have to keep going as a team and it will pay off!”
Stage 2: Altea to Cocentaina (117 kilometres)
It was another scorching hot day in Valenciana Fèmines and with a first category climb on the menu, the race promised to be a hard one. After an infernal pace, Juliette Labous got up the road with three others, and when she was reeled in Floortje Mackaij immediately went on the attack with two more riders. The attacks kept flying left and right and the team was very active all the way to the line, with the stage ending in a very reduced bunch kick. With that spirit, there is definitely a lot to play for in the days to come.
Speaking after the stage Labous said: ”It was a very hard stage, with a lot of attacks and warm weather. On the first long climb the bunch got smaller and Floortje and me made it into first group. When we entered the local laps three girls got away. I was able to bridge to them and we rode well together. A few teams chased us down and they got back to us with 30 kilometres to go but I’m happy that I have tried because that break could have gone to the line. Floortje also did a really good job and was away for a while too. I think we can be happy about how we raced because we were really aggressive and tried to find the best opportunities, so we have to be proud of that.”
Stage 3: Vila-Real to Vistabella del Maestrat (135 kilometres)
The queen stage in the Volta Ciclista Valenciana Femines was a very hard one with three first category climbs on the parcours. The team did a stellar job to position Floortje Mackaij and Juliette Labous towards the front for the key moments, where they fought hard over the final climbs and finished with the first main chasing group. Labous crossed the line in a solid eighth place with Mackaij just behind in 11th.
“Today was the queen stage of Valenciana,” expressed Mackaij. “We positioned ourselves very well all the time as a team and we survived the long climb halfway through the stage. The girls dropped us off really well for the last 20 kilometres of climbing. Juliette and I tried our best and fought hard but Van Vleuten was just too strong. We can be really proud of the way we rode and there are new chances tomorrow, where we will go again as a team.”
Stage 4: Sagunt to Valenica (118 kilometres)
It was a fast and aggressive final day of racing in Valencia for our Women’s program today, with a rolling and hilly parcours enticing lots of attacks. As a result the pace stayed high for the stage and on the final ascent the bunch split. Pfeiffer Georgi and Franziska Koch stayed with Wiebes, before a great display of determined teamwork saw them make it back to the front of the race in the final five kilometres. However, the high pace combined with a twisting and turning parcours made positioning hard, with Wiebes ultimately only able to sprint for ninth at the finish. Nonetheless, it was another committed display from the squad, and Juliette Labous leaves the race in a fine tenth place on GC for the team.