The Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta is bigger and badder than ever in 2021.
The Spanish Women’s WorldTour race has grown in stature on the calendar from its beginnings back in 2015 as a one-day critérium-esque race around Madrid.
For its fourth edition, the organizers have drawn out a record four-day route that has attracted some of the biggest GC names in the peloton.
Previous winners have included sprinters Shelley Olds, Jolien D’hoore, and Lisa Brennauer but it will be a very different kind of champion this year. Instead, it will be the likes of Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen duking it out for victory.
With lots of great riding to be had, it should prove to be a good final race for many before the double-header of the European and world road championships.
This is everything you need to know about the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, which will take place from September 2 to 5.
A menu of mountains
Mountains have not been a feature in the five previous editions, but the route planners have more than made up for it this year.
The switch to the mountains is thanks to the decision to move the finish of the men’s Vuelta a España to Santiago de Compostela and the Galicia region. While there are some mountains not too far from Madrid, the change in location has given the Challenge by La Vuelta parcours designers space to explore their creativity and pile on the altitude meters.
When you’ve got only four days to explore the mountains around northwest Spain, why wait to get stuck in?
Stage 1 puts the riders into the climby stuff, but it’s not before an almost 20km descent to start the day — something that will please the sprinters hoping to get a win towards the end of the week.
The Alto da Portela just before the halfway mark is the only categorized climb of the day, but there is still plenty of ups and downs around it. The first category, 14.5k Portela crests at 1,125 meters and averages 5.3 percent with peaks of about 10 percent.
Some heavy rolling terrain follows before a long descent towards the finish, which could see a small group or a solo rider contest the stage victory.
Stage 2 is a chronoescalada, or an uphill time trial, at the Estación de Montaña de Manzaneda. It is only 7.3k but it packs a punch with around 400 meters in altitude gain and will provide some big gaps that could well be decisive in the overall classification.
Saturday’s stage 3 is much less arduous but there are still two classified climbs for the riders to contend with over some heavily undulating terrain. This is prime territory for a plucky rouleur ride away and take a stage win. If the GC is still close together, there is some opportunity to make some changes with a complicated descent, which features some small rises, between the second category Alto de A Lama to the finish line.
The final ride into Santiago de Compostela will be a short and sweet affair at 107.4k and it will be the only chance for any of the pure sprinters in the bunch to take a stage win. For the GC leader, it will be a stage to keep mindful of their position in the bunch and avoiding any late crashes.
— CERATIZIT Challenge by La Vuelta (@ChallengeVuelta) July 13, 2021
Annemiek van Vleuten vs Anna van der Breggen
There haven’t been too many opportunities to see the Dutch duo go head-to-head this season. The last time they directly went up against each other in a GC contest was the Vuelta a Burgos in May. Van der Breggen won that face-off, beating van Vleuten by just three seconds after a thrilling contest to Lagunas de Neila on the final day.
Since the Olympic Games, Van Vleuten has been on a winning streak with victory at San Sebastián and the Ladies Tour of Norway. Meanwhile, van der Breggen’s only appearance since, which came at the GP de Plouay, ended in a DNF.
Van der Breggen’s DNF isn’t necessarily a sign that the world champion is out of sorts, and we could still be in for a huge battle. If she does falter, the team has rising star Niamh Fisher-Black, while multi-discipline talent Kata Blanka Vas is making her road debut for the team.
Of course, it’s not just the Annemiek and Anna show in Spain this week with several more climbing stars ready to get in amongst it. Chief among those contenders is the Italian champion Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), who got her autumn campaign get off to a flying start with a superb win at GP de Plouay.
FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope has named a formidable team with Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Marta Cavalli, and Evita Muzic, who are surely going to light up the race with some aggressive riding. Meanwhile, Canyon-SRAM has Kasia Niewiadoma and Mikayla Harvey in its arsenal for the Spanish race.
Team BikeExchange takes a strong climbing contingent of Amanda Spratt, Lucy Kennedy, Ane Santesteban, and Urška Žigart. The team has had a slightly disappointing season and it will be looking to get a good result before 2021 is out.
Defending champion Lisa Brennauer will be back to race, but the German will likely be looking for stages ahead of overall success with the new parcours.
How do I watch it?
I’m glad you asked.
Viewers in Canada and the USA will be able to watch the race on the GCN+ app. Meanwhile, Canadian viewers can also watch on FloBikes. Broadcasts are expected to be around an hour, except for the time trial stage, which will be nearly the whole stage.
The stages are scheduled to finish around 14:00 CEST, which is 08:00 EST and 06:00 MT. If you’re not an early riser, then replays are available via the two providers.