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Annemiek van Vleuten: Challenge by La Vuelta not ready to be called a grand tour yet

The Dutchwoman returns to racing after Tour de France Femmes win, builds up to world championships

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The Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta is not yet ready to be classified as a true grand tour but it is on its way, says Annemiek van Vleuten.

The Movistar rider has already won the Giro d’Italia Donne and the Tour de France Femmes Avec Zwift this season — which can both lay claim to being a women’s grand tour — and is a major favorite for the Vuelta, which begins Wednesday.

It could be easy to describe the Challenge by La Vuelta as a grand tour given the status of its equivalent men’s race. However, if Van Vleuten can defend her title from last year at the Spanish race, she says that it could not realistically be called a grand tour triple as the five-day Vuelta is not yet hard enough.

“People say I can win three Grand Tours, but if you look at the course you can conclude that the Vuelta is not ready to call itself a grand tour yet,” Van Vleuten said on her website. “It’s a five-day stage race that I’m really looking forward to, but with an average of 96 kilometers per day, I hope that the organization will wake up and see why the Giro and Tour can be called a grand tour, but theirs not. In many respects they are still in the beginning of this course. They have been around for a number of years, but hopefully the Tour will also allow them to develop more.

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“Only the second day is difficult I think. We start with a 20-kilometer-long team time trial. That’s nice and I think we have a good team for that. The second day is the difficult stage and the other days it is attentive, with short stages and laps in Madrid on the final day. Still, I’m very motivated to make it a great race. If I want to make a difference, it will have to be the first two days.”

The Challenge by La Vuelta is the first major race for Van Vleuten since she romped to victory at the Tour de France Femmes over the summer. The win came just a few weeks after she took a dominant victory at the Giro d’Italia Donne.

The Dutchwoman did two criteriums in Belgium before heading off to Livigno in Italy for a short training camp to prepare for her final goals of the season.

After racing in Spain, she will hotfoot it to Australia for the world championships, where she is scheduled to ride in the individual time trial, the mixed team relay, and the road race. Competing in Spain will mean a late arrival in Australia, but it is the home race of her Movistar team.

“After the Tour, I reminisced for a while but after that, I also had a good training block. It was really necessary to leave again,” Van Vleuten said. “Although it is difficult to pick up the rhythm towards the end of the season, that is easier in a place like Livigno. I’ve had a lot of different training company and trained with multiple male pros. I almost never had to train alone. Now I am really looking forward to racing.

“It was a good training block, during which my mother also came over with a friend. Such a training camp also feels nice with good company. After the Pro round of Etten-Leur I packed my bag for six weeks, with the training camp, the Vuelta, and then the world championships. The team wanted me to ride the Vuelta as well. That is also important for the team. I know that I make compromises with a view to jet lag, but I also like to race in Spain and often find this a fairly relaxed race to ride.”