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Ruta del Sol Women: Arlenis Sierra taking strides forward with Movistar

The Cuban champion is flourishing at Movistar and it looks like there will be plenty more to come.

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Arlenis Sierra (Movistar) is enjoying some of the best form of her life at the moment.

After impressive top-10s at the Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège — where she helped teammate Annemiek van Vleuten to second place and then victory respectively — the Cuban resumed racing in emphatic style by claiming a dominant victory at the first-ever women’s Ruta del Sol.

Her win was part of a dominant three days of racing for the Movistar squad with Sierra winning the opening two stages, while her teammate Jelena Erić was given a rare opportunity to go for glory and took the final one with Sierra in second to seal the overall title.

Also read: Movistar completes strengthened 14-rider women’s squad with Arlenis Sierra

“The race ended up being pretty hard today despite the short length, especially over the last climb, yet we kept our minds cold and waited for the finish, where we really had to give everything. It all went as we planned today,” Sierra said Thursday after the race.

“Andalucía is always going to bring me good memories after this. We enjoyed the race so much, and I end this first block of racing so happy about what we achieved. Now I’m going back to Cuba, to compete at the Pan-American road race championships in Argentina later this month, then I’ll start thinking about the big stage races in the summer.”

While she may have been overshadowed slightly by her more famous teammate Van Vleuten, Sierra has been one of the riders of the spring and her performances have helped Movistar open up its tactical game at big races.

The Spanish squad only signed two riders in the off-season, and it picked wisely.

Sierra’s Flanders ride in particular was a demonstration of what she is capable when given the opportunity. It was also an indication that there could be much more to come from the 29-year-old from Manzanillo, Cuba, with the benefit of a full season in the WorldTour.

A steady path to the top

Sierra’s path to the top has been a steady climb after emerging onto the world stage in 2016 as part of the UCI’s World Cycling Centre team — a scheme that was designed for riders such as Sierra. After racking up a series of victories at the Tour de San Luis and the Vuelta a Costa Rica, she made her European debut with a bang with two stage wins and the overall title.

She was soon snapped up by the Astana women’s team and backed up her 2016 performances with a host of other victories. It was her second place to Coryn Labecki (née Rivera) at the 2017 Trofeo Alfredo Binda that announced her as a force to be reckoned with.

Sierra’s fast finish has stood her in good stead throughout her five-and-a-bit years as a professional, but she doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a sprinter, in fact, she doesn’t consider herself to be one.

“I think this started because I won some races through sprints and then lots of people started to say I was a sprinter,” she said in a recent interview with CyclingTips. “I’ve never been a sprinter. Yes, I can sprint but for me a sprinter is someone who when the race is flat they go head-to-head with other sprinters and win from a bunch. I am not a ‘sprinter sprinter.’”

“Maybe I’m quite fast but more from a small group. I can climb pretty well, depending on what form I’m in and who is in the race, I can be up there on long or short climbs, so I don’t know why people say I’m a sprinter. I’m not a sprinter.”

There is no doubt that she’s faster than most in the bunch, but she can handle much hillier terrain, as she’s shown time and again this spring alone. Her two stage victories in Andalucía came on some typically rolling terrain and she won the challenging Navarra Women’s Elite Classics in 2021 from a group that contained her future teammate Van Vleuten, and Ruth Winder.

Sierra has collected 46 UCI wins since claiming the Pan-American road race title back in 2013. She has two WorldTour victories to her name so far with a stage of the Tour of California in 2018 and the Tour of Guangxi later in that season.

Despite coming close on a number of occasions, she hasn’t been able to add to that tally since. With the form that she’s in, she could end her WorldTour drought with some prestigious races to add to her palmarès.

Given her talent, it’s something of a surprise that Sierra wasn’t snapped up by a WorldTeam earlier, but now that she has, we’re beginning to see the full extent of her talents. Though she already had a pretty impressive palmarès before this season, Sierra really looks to be flourishing in her new home of Movistar.