Preview: What you need to know about the Ceratizit “Madrid” Challenge

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Originally a one-day race, the Madrid Challenge has grown into a three-day event over the last five years. Held at the end of the Vuelta a España, the Madrid Challenge is kind of the “La Course” version of La Vuelta, albeit one that doesn’t move around from year to year.

Since it was first created in 2015, the Madrid Challenge has always taken place, or ended, in the centre of Madrid.

The first three years it was only a one-day event, but in the last two years, the organizers have added a time trial the day before. This year the race will consist of three stages, starting on Friday November 6. The first is a “hilly” short road stage, the second is an individual time trial, and the third is the classic downtown Madrid circuit race.

Already a lot of women’s teams have announced they will not be participating in the event. With the stages having only been announced the week of the race, and a lot of questions surrounding the rising number of coronavirus cases in Spain, there has been confusion about whether the race was going to happen or not.

About the race

Raced on a kind of banana-style back and forth circuit in the Madrid city centre, the circuit race has come down to a sprint finish every year. In the premier edition of the race, the American Shelley Olds racing for Alé Cipollini was the winner. The following two years Jolien D’Hoore won with Boels-Dolmans. In 2018 the Madrid Challenge became a two-day race — the first stage was a team time trial, won by Team Sunweb, the second was the Madrid circuit. Georgia Bronzini, then riding for Cylance Pro Cycling and now a team director for Trek-Segafredo, won the bunch sprint, while Ellen van Dijk of Sunweb won the overall.

The 2019 edition of the race was also two stages, an ITT and the Madrid circuit, with the ITT won by Lisa Brennauer of WNT-Rotor and the sprint won by Chloe Hosking of Alé Cipollini.

The Stages

The first stage is billed as a “hilly” day, a new feature for the Madrid Challenge. However, the hills don’t appear to be big enough to have a significant impact on the race.

The stage 1 profile.

At only 82.5 km in length, the first stage is a short one by WorldTour standards. The peloton will start in Toledo and make its way east and then north to Escalona.

Stage two, the individual time trial, takes place in Boadilla del Monte — the same location as the TTT and ITT of 2018 and 2019.

The ITT is 9.3 km in length and is also pretty flat.

Finally, the circuit in downtown Madrid is the same as in years past. The peloton will ride back and forth on the Paseo del Prado 17 times, making up a total of 98.6 km.

The contenders

As mentioned, there are a few teams that have already announced they will not participate in the Madrid Challenge this year. Boels-Dolmans and CCC-Liv both raced their final event of 2020 at Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne on October 20th. FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope announced in a statement the week before the Madrid Challenge that they would be sitting it out due to COVID concerns. At the time of their announcement, the race had yet to announce the courses.

Six WorldTour teams and 11 Continental eams will make up the start list. Here are the possible players come November 6.

Lorena Wiebes and Team Sunweb:

With two potential sprint finishes, Lorena Wiebes is a good bet for either the first or third stage of the Madrid Challenge, and potentially both. In the reduced sprint at the end of Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne Wiebes had an incredible lead-out from her Team Sunweb teammates and ended up finishing second behind Jolien D’Hoore. D’Hoore was relegated for deviating from her line soon after the finish, so Wiebes took the victory. Wiebes’ other victories of 2020 were in Omloop van het Hageland, which also came down to a sprint, and Grote Prijs Euromat, a 1.2 that finished in a sprint.

Lining up with Wiebes will be Leah Kirchmann, another strong sprinter, French ITT champion Juliette Labous, who will be one to watch for the stage two time trial, and Liane Lippert, who has had a few notable results in 2020, the first being at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in February, and the most recent being her second place at Brabantse Pijl. She was also fifth at the World Championships.

All in all, Sunweb is bringing a very strong team to the race, and with the way they have tackled the last few races of the season, it’s clear that their teamwork is starting to gel. They ride together like a well-oiled machine, which hasn’t led to as many wins as one might have expected but will come in handy for stages one and three of the Madrid Challenge.

Ellen van Dijk and Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo):

With a time trial on stage two Ellen van Dijk is a strong contender for the overall victory at the end of the three stages. For the last handful of years, Van Dijk has been one of the strongest TTers in the peloton. This year she was unseated by Anna van der Breggen at the European Championship ITT after having won it every year since 2016. Still, Van Dijk held on to third at the World Championship ITT. She also had some significant results on the road this year, with a third-place at Liége-Bastogne-Liége and most recently eighth in De Panne. In 2018 Van Dijk won the Madrid Challenge overall by being part of the winning TTT team and then placing sixth in the Madrid circuit race.

Van Dijk will be racing alongside her Trek-Segafredo teammate Elisa Longo Borghini, who recently became the 2020 Italian road champion, after also claiming the time trial title earlier this summer.

Trek-Segafredo is also bringing Letizia Paternoster to Madrid — her first race with her trade team in 2020. Paternoster is a strong track rider who has been focusing on the velodrome before the Olympic Games in Tokyo. In 2019 Paternoster took Trek-Segafredo’s first team win at the first stage of the Tour Down Under in Birdwood. She was second in last year’s Madrid Challenge circuit race and eighth in the overall.

Sarah Roy (Mitchelton-Scott):

Another rider who has peaked for the later-season races and who will be worthing keeping an eye on in Madrid is Sarah Roy. Roy has been in the top five of the last three races she has done: fourth in De Panne in a reduced sprint finish, fifth at the Tour of Flanders, in a group of 15, and fourth at Gent-Wevelgem, in another reduced bunch situation.

Roy is one of the Mitchelton-Scott riders who has stepped it up this season, along with Grace Brown. The team that usually focuses on supporting the 2019 world champion Annemiek van Vleuten got to switch things up a little when Van Vleuten was sidelined with a broken wrist. It was only for a few races, but Brown won one of them and Roy also performed well.

Van Vleuten will also be racing in the Madrid Challenge, her last with Mitchelton-Scott, as she will ride for Movistar in 2021.

Roy and Van Vleuten both could be aggressive, as neither can top the likes of Wiebes in a bunch sprint, Even so, Roy could come close with the right placement. We shall see.

Alice Barnes (Canyon//SRAM):

Alice Barnes, the 2019 British ITT and road champion has not had as many top results this year as some other on this list. However, given the courses and the rest of the start list, she has a great chance of finishing off her season with a win. She was sixth at De Panne in late October and second in the final stage of the Tour de l’Ardèche behind Chloe Hosking. In a sprint, Barnes is quick, so she’s promising for the first and last stages of the race, and is also a smooth time trialist. If she’s on the right form, and with some luck, she could take this whole thing, especially if it comes down to bonus seconds.

Also, when you’re looking for Barnes in the peloton, note that due to the cancellation of the British Road Championships this summer, Barnes is still the current national champion in both disciplines.

Marta Bastianelli (Alé BTC Ljubljana):

Marta Bastianelli has had an on-and-off season. She started the year in Spain where she won the Vuelta CV Feminas, a 1.1, and was second at both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Omloop van het Hageland. Post COVID break she was 10th at Strade Biache and fourth at GP de Plouay, but then did not finish La Course, Liege, or the Italian Nationals on October 31. She’s definitely a strong rider to watch, and has had some notable performances, so she shouldn’t be ruled out.

Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling):

Last, but most definitely not least, the defending champion of the Madrid Challenge, Lisa Brennauer, has had an amazing season in 2020. She rode into the top 10 of the last five races she’s done, yet did not make it to the top step. Second in De Panne, fourth in Flanders, third in Gent-Wevelgem, ninth in the Worlds road race, and fourth in the Worlds ITT. Hot dang. Earlier in the season she also won the very odd German nationals road title. The race was basically a long criterium, in order to keep the course on closed roads and keep spectators away.

For Brennauer to defend her win from last year would be big for the Madrid Challenge, as the event’s title sponsor is also the title sponsor of Brennauer’s team. There’s a very good chance she can do it, given her time trial and also sprinting abilities.

How to follow the race

Unforunately, at this time, there is no sign of live video of the first two stages. The third will be aired on NBC Sports Gold in the United States, FloBikes in Canada, and Eurosport/GCN in Europe.

The Women’s WorldTour Twitter account does an excellent job following the races, so it is highly recommended to keep an eye on that for some of the race action. And never fear: we will have race reports here on CyclingTips.

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