Preview: Vuelta a Burgos, the first Women’s WorldTour stage race of the year
So far the Women’s WorldTour (WWT) calendar has been nothing but one-days, and with the postponement of the Women’s Tour, this late spring/early summer period is a bit sparse racing-wise. There was almost a month between the last WWT race, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and the upcoming Vuelta a Burgos, which starts Thursday. Some riders spent the time at altitude putting in training miles while others spent the time at home, resting.
This will be the second edition of the Vuelta a Burgos. For its inaugural edition, the race was a 2.1-classified race. That 2019 race was four stages, all of them quite hilly. Stine Borgli won the overall for the Norwegian national team with Soraya Paladin (Alé Cipollini) and Mavi García (Movistar) taking second and third. Unfortunately in 2020, the event was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The courses for the 2021 edition feature a whole lot more climbing than those of 2019. There is only one day that suits any sprinter types. The other three will be GC battles for the best of the best.
Given the lack of stage racing on the women’s calendar, the status downgrade of the Giro Rosa, and the fact the women have only five WWT race days between Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tokyo Olympics, the Vuelta a Burgos will be a key race. It’s a chance to get a good look at your competition while still having enough time to shape your fitness before La Course on June 26.
All four stages of the race are relatively short, compared to stages at the Giro Rosa and the Women’s Tour. Short stages mean less road to chase down a break, less time to try and catch a competitor who has escaped, and less opportunity to organize a plan. Teams and riders who are quick to react will flourish. Likewise those who favour an aggressive style of riding.
Stage 1 is a nice 100 km of undulation finishing in a 6 km climb to Sargentes de la Lora. The steepest parts of the final climb hit with 2 km to go but there is also a final kick to the line that is sure to create some time gaps.
As the first stage of the race, the course will likely favour the strong climbers who are fresh. A breakaway could go clear midway through the stage, with the climb to Alto de Coculina at 55.5 km in. Anyone who’s escaped the chasing peloton will need a significant gap at the base of the final climb if they hope to win the day.
Stage 2 is the “flattest” stage of the race and the only one that does not end in some kind of uphill situation. Still, there are two categorized climbs on the route with more secret climbs thrown in throughout the day. At only 97 km in length the second stage is also the shortest day of the four.
With the Alto de Retuerta climb roughly 22 km from the finish, a pure sprinter might not make it to the line with the front of the race. Quick riders who can hang on to the leaders on the climb and recover on the run into the finish will be looking at stage 2 as their only shot at glory. Since it’s also the only day likely to end in a small bunch sprint, it’s hard to see any teams with a strong sprinter letting a break sneak away to the finish.
Stage 3 is a great breakaway day if the GC riders can wait for the final day to decide who is taking the overall. The beginning of the stage doesn’t have any features of note, perhaps a bit of climbing but nothing worth categorizing, so many smaller teams or free agents will try to slip into the day’s break.
With a categorized climb roughly 20 km from the finish a wrench could get thrown in the peloton’s chase giving the break a bit more time to fight to the end.
If the big teams aren’t so keen on a breakaway on stage 3 it’ll be a rider with a strong uphill kick who takes the win. The final kilometre is where the road pitches uphill and from there it takes on two switchbacks before the finish line.
The final stage is general classification territory. After three days of racing and 100 km of build-up the GC battle will come down to the nearly 25 km of climbing on the fourth stage. A little climb before the base of the mountain might launch some daring attacks from riders who don’t feel confident taking on the big names, but with such a long drag to the line, it would take a lot for someone to get enough of a lead to stay away.
The climb itself is pretty steep with grades of 9% and 11% in the final 3 km. There will be massive time gaps on this final stage, and it goes without saying that the GC will be decided there.
The Dutch duo
It’s impossible to look past Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) for the overall win and some stage honours at Vuelta a Burgos. Van der Breggen has proved to be the strongest climber in the women’s peloton this year. She won her seventh straight La Flèche Wallonne in April and has since been training hard. Van der Breggen opted to skip a handful of the pre-Burgos one-day races but showed up in time to win Gran Premio Ciudad de Eibar and Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria.
Van Vleuten, on the other hand, raced all the one-days leading up to Burgos. She won the first one, the Emakumeen Nafarroako Classic, and was third, second, and second in the next three. At the beginning of March, she also won the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, an event Van der Breggen did not attend.
Both Dutch women will be formidable on the first and final stages, especially on the final climb of stage 4. At the end of the day, only one can win and it will be fun to see these two race each other. At the moment Van der Breggen looks to have the edge, but who really knows with Van Vleuten.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope)
The final climb on stage 4 might be a bit too much for Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, but a stage win or podium finish is not out of the question. At Tuesday’s Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria, Uttrup Ludwig spent much of the late race off the front only to be caught and passed by Van der Breggen and Van Vleuten. Afterwards, she fought tooth and nail to get back to the two Dutchwomen and managed to claim third place. It was a gritty ride and one that showed great form physically and mentally.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)
Kasia Niewiadoma finished fourth in Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria but it was also the first time she has raced since Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Polish rider admitted after the race that her preparation had not been perfect but she put in a good performance. It’s unclear how she will go in a four-day stage race at this point, but she was the runner-up at the Giro Rosa in 2020 so we know she can be up there.
Mikayla Harvey and Elise Chabbey will line up alongside Niewiadoma. Both have had strong seasons so far but have been riding for the team goals and haven’t been able to fight for their own results. A stage race offers more opportunities for domestiques, and Chabbey in particular deserves a moment in the spotlight.
Mavi García (Alé BTC Ljubljana)
The Vuelta a Burgos is a rare opportunity on the women’s calendar for someone with the climbing ability of Mavi García to shine. Her 2021 hasn’t been quite as good as her 2019 and 2020, but she’s still had some results, the most important being second overall behind Van Vleuten at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana. The stage race was another climbing-heavy event and is therefore a good indication of form before Vuelta a Burgos. And again, Garcia was third in the inaugural edition of Vuelta a Burgos in 2019.
A complete guide to the riders to watch will be available when a full startlist is released.
How to watch
All four stages will be available on GCN+ and Eurosport in most of Europe. North American and Australian viewers can find streaming on Flobikes. Post-race analysis and rider diaries from inside the race can also be found on the Freewheeling Podcast.