The stage race season begins for the women’s peloton with the sixth edition of Setmana Ciclista Valenciana. The four stages involve one sprint, one mountaintop finish and two punchy days. With a start list full of the best riders in the world, the racing should be exciting and full of aggression.
Too hard for the sprinters. The final climb begins with 4.65km at 5.7%, and we have some beautiful harpin bends. The horrible part of the hill comes next, as it continues to gradually rise for another 4km, this will kill the legs of many riders. Once the climb has been dealt with there is an 11km descent into town, you don’t stand a chance of getting back into the bunch if you’ve been dropped on the climb. It looks like a reduced bunch sprint to me.
The second stage starts with a long, grippy climb. Most of the opening 33km is uphill, this isn’t an easy way to start the stage. The climb is around 20km at 3.5%, so not the hardest in the world, but it all depends on how it’s raced. The rest of the day is rarely flat, the road is constantly undulating, which makes it hard for the bunch to chase the break. If it does come back together, the final kilometre averages close to 3%.
The big day! The final climb is a monster, it starts with 11km at 5.4%, has a short descent and then has another 7km at 5.3%. It’s a beast of a climb and we’ll see huge gaps at the end of the stage.
The race ends with a sprint stage, something most will be delighted with.
Annemiek van Vleuten – of course she starts as the overwhelming favourite to take home the title. Despite being 39, she shows no sign of slowing down just yet. Movistar always want to win on home soil, and this is no different, they bring a decent team to support van Vleuten. I would expect to see lots of Katrine Aalerud and Lourdes Oyarbide throughout the week, particularly when it comes to stage 3. Some of the rival teams arrive with two options, but that doesn’t normally matter when van Vleuten hits the turbo button.
Elisa Longo Borghini – she didn’t win as many races in 2021 as her form probably deserved. Most fans of the sport love watching Longo Borghini, she always seems to be attacking. The opening two stages are good for her, but I’m not sure how she’ll match up in stage 3. In 2021 she seemed to struggle in the big mountains compared to some of the riders at this race.
Juliette Labous – she ended the season in fine form, finishing 2nd in The Women’s Tour, it rounded off a strong year for the young French climber. Still just 23, she’s a rider who’s yet to reach her peak, we should see a better version of her this year. She’ll be well supported by Liane Lippert, the two of them form a strong partnership for DSM.
Mavi García – 2021 was another great season for the Spanish veteran. Whenever the road goes up, she’s there at the front. She’s another who isn’t afraid of attacking and risking losing a race, it’s what you must do when racing against van Vleuten. After a rebranding, she now rides for the new UAE team, she’ll be keen on a good result to impress her new bosses.
Katarzyna Niewiadoma – she rides at such a consistently high level but doesn’t win enough. Her last success was back in 2019, it’s certainly been a while. No doubt we’ll see her challenging for the overall win, but probably falling just short.
FDJ – they have two strong options in this race. Marta Cavalli is another of the promising youngsters who should be better than last year. The Italian is 23 and already is a regular top 10 finisher in the biggest races. They also have fan’s favourite, Cecile Ludwig, one of the best climbers in the world. She might only have won once in 2021, but she was a regular challenger in the big races. FDJ have the cards to play but beating van Vleuten is still going to be hard.
Clara Koppenburg – she’s made the switch to Cofidis, and I’m interested to see how she responds to a relatively poor 2021. The German is a brilliant climber, the Queen stage should be right up her street. I’m hoping she starts the season with a bang and gets back to her best.
It’s hard to see past Annemiek van Vleuten.