'This is just the beginning' says Realini after Vuelta Femenina overall podium
Gaia Realini (Trek-Segafredo) was more than happy to finish on the podium of La Vuelta Femenina, standing alongside overall winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar Team) and runner-up Demi Vollering (Team SD Worx). She fought with the two Dutchwomen on the last three days of the race and leapfrogged everybody else in the GC after the echelons on stage 3 put her on the back foot.
“Because of how the race had panned out by the end of the third stage, on which I lost some time because of the wind, I didn’t expect to be up there in the GC despite that being our initial goal. Being on the podium now is amazing,” the 21-year-old said.
Realini had done well in the echelons at the UAE Tour Women in February but was less fortunate on the plains of La Mancha, losing 2 minutes, 41 seconds on stage 3. Since she finished exactly 2:41 behind Van Vleuten in the final GC on Sunday, it is tempting to ask what could have been possible had the minuscule Italian climber – 1.50 metres in height and weighing only 40 kilograms – not been on the wrong side of the split.
“As a team, we never stopped believing in our ambitions and our strength to achieve something in this Vuelta. We were convinced and motivated and I am really happy that I could repay my teammates’ efforts. I want to dedicate this result to them,” Realini thanked her team for the support during the race.
La Vuelta Femenina: Van Vleuten narrowly secures GC while Vollering wins stage 7
Realini seizes ‘now or never’ moment to claim to-and-fro Vuelta Femenina win
La Vuelta Femenina: Realini surges in two-up sprint over Van Vleuten to win stage 6 in Laredo
Before signing with Trek-Segafredo for 2023, Realini had raced for the small Italian Continental team Isolmant-Premac-Vittoria, combining cyclocross with a summer campaign of mainly Italian road races. She finished 11th and 13th in the Giro Donne in 2021 and 2022, and drew attention on stage 9 of the 2022 edition when she joined Kristen Faulkner on a long-range breakaway over three climbs, eventually finishing fifth on the day.
By that point, Realini had already signed with Trek-Segafredo, and began her 2023 season by pulling Elisa Longo Borghini to victory on the Jebel Hafeet at the UAE Tour Women, finishing second overall herself. After a 1-2 with Amanda Spratt at the Trofeo Oro in Euro, Realini reached the podium in the Flèche Wallonne and finished 7th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, underlining her good form ahead of the Spanish stage races in May.
After the echelon setback on stage 3, Realini was out of contention for the overall victory, but she fought her way back through the GC on the three final stages, only losing contact with stage winner Vollering on the final kilometre of the stage 5 mountain-top finish.
The next day, Realini was the only one who could bridge to Van Vleuten when the latter attacked 33 km from the finish, and in the end Realini outsprinted the World Champion to win the stage. On the final stage, the long and grueling ascent to the Lagos de Covadonga made Realini feel truly at home.
“It immediately reminded me of a climb I do at home, the Passo Lanciano. It’s a climb I know very well from training where I do my performance tests, so I took on the climb as if it was that one. I was focused only on the climb and really enjoyed every metre of it, it’s a beautiful climb,” said Realini – probably in a small minority of riders who outright enjoyed the Lagos de Covadonga climb.
Vollering was riding a steady pace on the last 10 kilometres of the climb but seemed unable to shake Van Vleuten. It was Realini who dropped the red jersey with two accelerations, giving Vollering a chance to win back most of the time she had lost the previous day. On the last kilometre, Realini lost contact with Vollering and missed a second consecutive stage victory, but she did win the polka-dot jersey for the best climber.
“In the end I felt the effort of the earlier kilometres, and Demi was so strong. I am pleased about the final result," Realini said.
"This is just the beginning … I know there is a lot to do and to improve on. I am happy for everything I have done here but I need to keep the focus on improving and growing.”