'We didn't expect this': Wind causes havoc on stage three of La Vuelta Femenina as Marianne Vos wins
To the casual observer, glancing at the final 100m of stage three of La Vuelta Femenina, Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) outsprinting Charlotte Kool (DSM) and Chloe Dygert (Canyon-SRAM) to the line is not that unusual a scenario. The greatest female fast-woman of all time, the best pure sprinter at the race, and a resurgent Dygert battling it out is not quite 'you couldn't write it' territory.
However, the final sprint did not tell the full story of a hectic day of wind in the southeast of Spain on Wednesday, one so fast that it was half an hour before the fastest scheduled time from the race organisers. While the 29 riders or so in the front group took advantage of the weather, many others had their days, possibly their races, ruined by mother nature.
Stage three was not just a meandering journey across the plains of Castilla-La Mancha like that of Don Quixote or Sancho Panza, but instead a chaotic mess of echelons and separate groups on the road.
Unlike Don Quixote, La Vuelta's protagonists were not tilting at windmills, rather wind was possibly tilting the whole balance of the race.
Hours before the race came on television, the wind caused chaos in the peloton, with a massive split in the peloton coming with around 96km to go, as the race went through Albacete and turned southwest.
Gaia Realini (Trek-Segafredo), second at this year's UAE Tour, third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, built for climbing not for crosswinds, was distanced as the wind blew, as was Kristen Faulkner (Jayco AlUla), another big contender for the general classification at the Vuelta.
Despite Trek sending essentially its entire squad to help bring Realini back, the gap simply grew, extending to 2-41 by the end of the day. The team succinctly tweeted: "Think it’s safe to say that it’s not our day".
The flat day, 157.8km long, ended up being the fastest ever at WorldTour level, with Vos averaging 45.6km/h across the day.
"It was really good," the Dutchwoman said. "Yesterday we were not far off, so we knew there would be another chance today. But with the crosswinds it was quite a hard day to stay in position and be there. I’m very thankful for my team, and grateful that they brought me to this position, and I’m very happy I could finish it off in the final.
"We were quite prepared for the crosswinds, but still of course you constantly need to focus, and in the beginning it was quite relaxed actually, because there was not much going on, and suddenly you need to switch on and be ready for the action. From then on, it was a constant high speed race, trying to stay in the first echelon."
After becoming the second woman to take the leader's jersey in the women's Spanish, French and Italian Grand Tours – the only other rider to have done that being her compatriot Annemiek Van Vleuten - Vos became the second woman to win at all three too.
Not everyone has as good a day in the wind as Vos and her Jumbo-Visma team, which took its second victory of the race and the season on Wednesday.
Jade Wiel (FDJ-Suez), the leader in the Queen of the Mountains competition, sounded tired at the end of a fast, hard day in the saddle.
"We didn’t expect this, it was a really long day," she said. "100km it was full gas with the wind. It created a lot of echelons, we tried to maintain a small gap with the first group, we lost a bit of time, but it’s not finished."
Likewise, Nina Kessler (Jayco AlUla) suffered in the wind, after puncturing at an inopportune time, which meant she was spat out of the front group. She finished 74th, on the same time as her team's GC leader, Faulkner.
"That was a tough one," she said. "It started off pretty easy, and nothing really happened. We knew it was windy, and after a little town, the echelons started. Me, Teniel [Campbell] and Ane [Santesteban] someone were on the front, it split in three gorups, we were in the front, and then I had a puncture at the worst moment, the car was really far behind. I got a wheel, chased back, and from then on it was about saving as much as possible. We're going to make it up, for sure."
Three days into the newly expanded, moved, and renamed La Vuelta Femenina and the stage is set for a general classification battle, with those who have lost time forced to attack.
On the other side, those GC riders who haven't lost too much time so far - Demi Vollering (SD Worx), Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), Riejanne Markus (Jumbo-Visma), Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) and Juliette Labous (DSM) - will be sleeping much more soundly tonight. Onto the mountains.