La Vuelta Femenina contenders - The favourites in the hunt for the overall victory
In a major shake-up, organisers Unipublic have significantly revamped and newly named the La Vuelta Feminina, which expanded to seven stages with a mountaintop finish at Lagos de Covadonga, and moved to the spring, now set to take place from May 1-7 in Spain.
The event, formerly known as Challenge by La Vuelta, started as a one-day race in Madrid in 2015 and expanded to two stages in 2018, and a third stage was added in 2020. The race was further expanded in 2021 to four stages and then, last year, to five stages.
This year, the peloton races over 700 kilometres with more than 8,500 metres of elevation across seven stages. A mix of sprint and undulating early stages make way for a challenging final stage, with the Lagos de Covadonga, a 16km ascent with an average of 7.4%, and where the overall champion will be crowned.
Cyclingnews highlights the favourites in the hunt for the red leader's jersey and the overall title at the 2023 La Vuelta Feminina.
The road and time trial Spanish Champion, Mavi García, will be one of the most versatile riders to watch for her home stage race.
She brings an opportunistic quality to the peloton in every race she starts, using her strength in the time trial and power on the climbs to put herself and Liv Racing TeqFind into a position to contest stage victories, particularly on the mid-mountain stages, and the overall classification.
García had a promising start to the season, 9th overall at Setmana Valenciana, followed by 11th at Strade Bianche, 10th at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and 4th at Flèche Wallonne.
Her performances could indicate that her form is on the rise just in time for the busy block of racing this month, which offers three WorldTour stage races in Spain, including Itzulia Women and Vuelta a Burgos.
Annemiek van Vleuten
Movistar may have been disappointed not to secure a victory during the Spring Classics, but Annemiek van Vleuten is undoubtedly a favourite for the mountainous stage races.
The longer and tougher version of the newly-named and revamped La Vuelta Femenina, which includes a final mountaintop finish at Lagos de Covadonga, is exactly the sort of stage that could see her secure the overall title as she did atop La Planche des Belles Filles at the Tour de France Femmes last July.
In her final season of racing before retirement, Van Vleuten is aiming to add a third consecutive overall title to her palmares, off the back of her victories at Challenge by La Vuelta in 2021 and 2022. For Movistar, a win on home soil will be the target.
Juliette Labous gave a solid effort during the Spring Classics with Team DSM, with early-season targets at the Ardennes Classics, but her main focus is on the late-spring and summer stage racing.
Her off-season training plans included more power to climbing as she hunts podiums in the overall classifications at the biggest stages races on the calendar.
Last year, Labous captured the queen stage win at the Giro d'Italia Donne, the overall title at Vuelta a Burgos and fourth overall at Tour de France Femmes, showing that she is truly coming into her own at the highest level of racing.
La Vuelta Femenina will offer a series of mid-mountain stages that will suit Labous, but with the right tactics on the final mountaintop finish, could see the Frenchwoman ride away with the title.
Crowned the new queen of the Ardennes Classics, Demi Vollering's series of victories at the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège shows that she is in prime form and with it, full confidence, ahead of the stage racing season.
She will now transfer her one-day form into the stage races bringing with it her versatility in the time trials, mountain ascents and multi-day racing.
Her goals all point to a peak for the Tour de France Femmes in July, but before that, she will race La Vuelta Feminine, Itzulia Women, Vuelta a Burgos, Tour de Suisse and the Dutch Championship and an altitude training camp.
Kasia Niewiadoma will be Canyon-SRAM's rider to watch win the overall classification, but the team also field a series of talent, including Elise Chabby and the long-awaited return of Chloé Dygert, along with Ricarda Bauernfeind, Pauliena Rooijakkers, Agnieszka Skalniak-Sójka and Alice Towers.
Niewiadoma finished in the top 10s at Strade Bianche, Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, and 11th at both Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Although she didn't get a win, she will be looking to improve her form heading into the stage racing season.
With the team time trial kicking off the race at La Vuelta Femenina, former world champion in the discipline, Dygert, will help bring her team to the opening stage victory.
Trek-Segafredo saw the early return of Lizzie Deignan, who lined up to race at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and the British rider will now turn her attention to La Vuelta Femenina, where she had initially hoped to ease back into racing.
The team will more than likely support new signing Gaia Realini, who has already proven a contender in the climbs helping Elisa Longo Borghini to win the overall title at UAE Tour and finishing third at on the Mur de Huy at Flèche Wallonne.
Realini has finished 11th overall in 2021 and 13th overall in 2022 at the Giro d'Italia Donne, while racing for Isolmant-Premac-Vittoria, but this will be the first opportunity that the cycling world will have to see how Realini performs on the mountain ascent like Lagos de Covadonga with the support of a WorldTeam.
Ane Santesteban will lead the Team Jayco AlUla squad on her home soil. As one of the stronger climbers in the field, she will have several opportunities throughout the seven-day race with stage 5 to Mirador de Peñas Llanas, stage 6 to Laredo and stage 7 that finishes on Lagos de Covadonga.
Team Jayco AlUla will also have contenders in Kristen Faulkner, Ingvild Gåskjenn and Urška Žigart, who are all strong climbers, but Santesteban also showed last year her versatility in the Spanish one-day races to capture podiums at Navarra Classics, Gran Premio Ciudad de Eibar, and was sixth at Challenge by la Vuelta, and third at Tre Valli Varesine in Italy
A series of May races in Spain will certainly be the target for the former Spanish national champion.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
FDJ-SUEZ have not yet confirmed their roster for the seven-day race, but it is likely going to include Danish Champion Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who is one of the strongest climbers in the world and undoubtedly a contender for a podium position in the overall classification.
She has the strength and experience to race against other top performers, Vollering and Van Vleuten, and to be among the selection on longer climbs like Mirador de Peñas Llanas and Lagos de Covadonga.
She was third at Strade Bianche and 10th at Amstel Gold Race, which does show promising early-season form, and she will also likely be focussed on building her form as the season heads toward the Tour de France Femmes in July. La Vuelta Femenina is a place to start for many riders who are coming straight out of the Spring Classics season.