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Balsamo, van Vleuten, Longo Borghini headline Setmana Ciclista Volta Comunitat Valenciana

There is a stacked start list for the opening women's UCI stage race of the 2022 season with 13 WorldTour teams set to start.

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While the men’s road racing calendar is already bursting at the seams, the women’s is only just grinding into gear.

Following the first taster of racing at the one-day Vuelta CV Feminas, which was won by Marta Bastianelli, the peloton returns to Valencia for the opening women’s UCI stage race of the year.

The four-day Setmana Ciclista Volta Comunitat Valenciana Feminas is just five years old, but it’s a firm fixture in the early-season program. After being postponed in 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions, the event is back in its usual mid-May slot.

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With no fewer than 13 WorldTeams set to line up, it is a chance to blow the winter cobwebs off for some of the sport’s biggest names.

The race will be available to watch, with Spanish language commentary, on the À Punt website.

Stars shining bright in Valencia

Last year, Annemiek van Vleuten charged away to an emphatic victory ahead of home hero Mavi Garcia, with Katrine Aalerud making it a 1-3 for Movistar.

Van Vleuten is back to defend her title as she looks to become not only the first back-to-back winner, but the first to take two overall victories at the race. She has the support of Aalerud again, as well as growing Spanish talent Sara Martin.

As part of the UAE Team ADQ, which took over the Alé BTC Ljubljana squad, Garcia will be looking to go one better this year. The team also has Bastianelli in its seven-rider line-up as she aims to back up her win in the opening race of the year.

There will be special jerseys aplenty in the Trek-Segafredo starting seven with Elisa Balsamo set to debut her rainbow jersey at the race. She’s already taken her first win as world champ at last year’s Women’s Tour, but she’ll be keen to take her first in Trek colors after joining the team over the winter.

Ellen van Dijk will also be there for the team in her European champion’s jersey, but it is Italian champion Elisa Longo Borghini that will headline the squad’s GC ambitions.

Former winner Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig will be aiming to take another step forward in her development with another win at the race. Marta Cavalli and new signing Grace Brown will provide some extra firepower for the FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope team.

Other teams to watch out for are BikeExchange-Jayco and Canyon-SRAM. The BikeExchange brings home rider Ane Santesteban and emerging star Ruby Roseman-Gannon, who already has a GC win on the board at the Santos Festival of Cycling last month, while Canyon-SRAM has the irrepressible Kasia Niewiadoma.

There will be some U.S interest with Human Powered Health and EF Education-TIBCO-SVB both making their debuts as WorldTeams. Meanwhile, last year’s junior worlds road race runner-up Kaia Schmid will be making her professional debut with Human Powered Health.

One team that won’t be there is the Le Col-Wahoo squad after it was forced to pull out following COVID-19 positives within the team.

Climbs and plenty of them

There’s hardly a stretch of flat road over the four days in Valencia, even the sprint stages are fairly undulating.

Racing gets underway with a 114km stage from Tavernes de la Valldigna to Gandia that will test the riders early on. There are three classified climbs, but the sting in the tail is the second category Alto de Barx, which crests at 14km before the finish line. There’s a fast descent from there before a push along the flat to the line.

Day two from Altea to Cocentina puts the peloton into the mountains with the first category Alto de Confrides, which rises to almost 1,000 meters. The climb, however, comes very early on and will not be as decisive as some of those to come.

There is no doubt that the 135km stage 3 is the ‘queen stage’ of the four-day race. The ride from Vila-Real to Vistabella takes the peloton over no fewer than three first-category ascents. The first, the Alto Remolcador, comes after just over 40 kilometers of action.

A brief lull in the climbing follows before the double whammy of the Alto Callao and summit finish of the Vistabella. This will be the toughest test of the entire race and is likely to decide the overall classification.

The race concludes with a comparatively easy 118km stage from Sagunt into Valencia itself. After some rolling terrain over two laps of a 29km circuit, the peloton will head to the second category Alto de l’Oronet.

As with the first day, a quick descent will help the sprinters in the bunch to regain contact, if they’ve lost touch, and get another chance to go for a stage win.