Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.
The final day of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta came down to a sprint won by Elisa Balsamo (Valcar-Travel & Service). Lorena Wiebes (Team Sunweb), who was active in the intermediate sprints, finished second on the day, and Marta Bastianelli (Alé BTC Ljubljana) was third.
It was necessary to watch the race with a calculator on hand as eight intermediate sprints, all with bonus seconds on the line, made the race an interesting game of tactics.
Wiebes tried to move into the general classification lead that she lost in the stage two time trial, but a solo move by Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), which swept up bonus seconds, kept Wiebes from moving farther up than third overall.
Lisa Brennauer rode well all day to maintain her overall lead, and Longo Borghini held on to second in the overall standings.
How it happened
The last of the three stages was crucial to the overall situation. There were sprint bonus seconds on the finish line every other lap, eight in total. The finish line held 15, 10, and 5 seconds for those who finish first, second, and third. With only ten seconds separating Lisa Brennauer’s overall lead from Elisa Longo Borghini, and stage one winner Lorena Wiebes down on Brennauer by 28 seconds in 11th place, seconds were the currency of the day.
The first sprint was taken by Wiebes, with Brennauer in second. The second, Brennauer took five seconds while Wibes took two. In between sprints, some attacks tried to get away, but none were able to outwit the sprinters hunting for seconds.
Wiebes grabbed two seconds in the third sprint, moving onto the virtual second place, passing Longo Borghini. In the fourth sprint, Wiebes took maximum points, Brennaur took two seconds, making Breannauer’s lead only 13 seconds over Wiebes.
Into the final 50 km, a breakaway of six slipped off the front containing Annemiek van Vleuten and Ellen van Dijk, placed fourth and third respectively, both of them mere seconds off of Brennauer in the overall. The break did not make it far. As they were brought back, Van Dijk’s teammate, Longo Borghini, displaced in the virtual overall by Wiebes, attacked.
With more than 45 km to go to the finish, and nowhere to hide on the course, it was going to be a tall ask for Longo Borghini to stay away to the end. The question was: how many bonus seconds could she take while she was off the front?
Longo Borghini took the fifth sprints bonus seconds, and for the first time in the race so far, Wiebes was unable to take any, moving Longo Borghini back into provisional second place.
Behind Longo Borghini, Valcar-Travel & Service set the pace for their sprinter, Elisa Balsamo, with the break to the lone leader hovering around 8 seconds.
With 30 km to go, Longo Borghini had extended her lead to 24 seconds and again took maximum seconds in the sprint. Brennauer sprinted out of the peloton for two seconds on the line, and Brennauer’s teammate Maria Confalonieri edged out Wiebes to make sure the Sunweb rider did not get any more seconds.
There was still no clear chase on the front of the peloton as Longo Borghini rode into the final 20 km with a 20-second advantage. Yet again Longo Borghini took five seconds in the penultimate intermediate sprint, while Brennauer picked up two and Maaike Boogaard gained one. Wiebes did not sprint for the two and one-second bonuses, saving her energy for the finale.
With 12 km remaining, Longo Borghini was caught by the peloton. She did not steal enough seconds in her solo mission to pass Brennauer in the provisional overall but had gained a few seconds on Wiebes.
Attacks flew from the moment Longo Borghini was brought back. Brennauer swept up the eighth and final bonus seconds, with Longo Borghini taking the two-second bonus and Van Dijk following for one second.
After the final sprint more attacks went from both Malgorzata Jasinska of Cronos Casa Dorada and Eri Yonamine of Alé BTC Ljubljana. Valcar-Travel & Service took to the front and brought back any escapees before the sprint.
The composed lead out of Valcar-Travel & Service delivered Balsamo to the line in the perfect position to take the final stage victory, with Wiebes finishing second on the stage and Marta Bastianelli of Alé BTC Ljubljana wrapping up the podium.
After sweeping up seconds all day long Lisa Brennauer successfully defended her overall title, for the second year in a row, while Longo Borghini’s solo attack held her in second overall, and Wiebes ended the day in third.
1. BALSAMO Elisa (Valcar-Travel & Service) 2:16:49
2. WIEBES Lorena (Team Sunweb) st
3. BASTIANELLI Marta (Alé BTC Ljubljana) st
4. CONSONNI Chiara (Valcar-Travel & Service) st
5. ZANARDI Silvia (BePink) st
6. GUARISCHI Barbara (Movistar Team) st
7. BRENNAUER Lisa (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling) st
8. ALONSO Sandra (Cronos Casa Dorada Women) st
9. ERIC Jelena (Movistar Team) st
10. LONGO BORGHINI Elisa (Trek-Segafredo) st
1. BRENNAUER Lisa (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling) 4:29:21
2. LONGO BORGHINI Elisa (Trek-Segafredo) +0:12
3. WIEBES Lorena (Team Sunweb) +0:13
4. VAN DIJK Ellen (Trek-Segafredo) +0:31
5. KIRCHMANN Leah (Team Sunweb) +0:42
6. VAN VLEUTEN Annemiek (Mitchelton-Scott) +0:44
7. ROY Sarah (Mitchelton-Scott) +0:46
8. BOOGAARD Maaike (Alé BTC Ljubljana) +0:52
9. BARNES Alice (Cayon//SRAM) st
10. KROGER Mieke (Hitec Products) +0:57