Stage two of the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana was a tough day in the saddle for the CAMS-Tifosi team. The hilly race between Agost and Finestrat was the queen stage, with four classified climbs.
And it was the climbs which proved decisive, shattering the peloton on more than one occasion.
The stage was won by Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen, the Dutchwoman attacking on one of the four classified climbs, catching and passing a lone escapee, before soloing to the line. The Dutchwoman now leads the race overall with two stages remaining.
Our top finisher was Natalie Grinczer, who finished some eight minutes behind the Olympic champion.
“Bigla and Boels-Dolmans put the hammer down from the start, and it was quite open and exposed and windy, so the splits started occurring,” Natalie explained.
“I was in the second split after the climb and I managed to get back on on the longer climb, but got spat with two km to go of that. Then I was in a little group and we kept ploughing away!
“I wasn’t where I wanted to finish, but I’m reading the race fairly well but I’m not necessarily super fit because it’s only February so I didn’t know how it was going to go.”
How the race happened
After yesterday’s crash caused some withdrawals, only 154 riders rolled out of Agost for the 126km stage to Finestrat. The day contained four classified climbs and the start was cagey, the bunch easing into the race, though an early crash caused some abandons.
The day’s first intermediate sprint came before the climbing began, with Maryan Ivaniuk (Astana) taking the five points after 32km were covered.
Then, as the climbs began the race began to split up, and by the time the bunch crested the 2nd category Alto de la Carrasqueta, they were in three groups, with Ane Santesteban (Ceratizit-WNT) taking six mountains classification points.
None of our CAMS-Tifosi riders made it into the front group of 28 women, instead they were working hard in the second group, with Natalie putting in a huge effort some 45 seconds behind.
Approaching the summit of the first category ascent of Alto de Benifallim, Swiss champion Marlen Reusser attacked. Her Bigla-Katusha team mates had been leading the front group, and the moment they sat up allowing the gap to build, two groups came together behind her.
Reusser descended skilfully, and by the time she began the ascent of the day’s third classified climb she led by 1.02. However, on the early slopes of the eight kilometre climb, former world champion, Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) attacked the chasing group and Reusser’s lead began to tumble.
It was here the race exploded and it was every woman for herself, with desperate chases coming from all the CAMS-Tifosi riders as they sought to defend their places on the road.
Within two kilometres the Dutchwoman had caught Reusser, riding straight past her. The Swiss rider then suffered the same fate again, when team mate Clara Koppenburg and Demi Vollering (Parkhotel-Valkenburg) took up the chase.
Though Van der Breggen’s lead waxed and waned over the closing 30km, reducing to as little as 16 seconds for a while, the Olympic champion won with 29 seconds to spare.
“It was a gruesome, rough, tough day, it was pretty immense really,” said Simon Howes CAMS-Tifosi sports director.
“Gaby is over the time limit, but she suffered with a bad shoulder, that said she was in a group of 26, so it may be they give the big group a special dispensation to start tomorrow.
“I’m hugely proud of all the girls,” Simon continued. “It was amazing to see, obviously Gaby was in such pain with her shoulder, and Jo who got dropped on climb two stayed in the cars the whole way up the climb in another world almost.
“Natalie rode brilliantly, she was very good, and you can see that she’s used to racing at that level on that parcours, she’s got that experience.
The CAMS-Tifosi riders will be hoping for a less brutal day for tomorrow’s third and penultimate day. At 94km, between València and Sagunt, it’s a short one, finishing on a 16km circuit. With only one classified climb we could well be set for a sprint
Full results can be found here