The inaugural edition of Itzulia Women, a three-stage Women’s WorldTour level race around the Basque country will take place from May 13-15 2022, following a stalled attempt to get it off the ground in 2021.
Visiting all three regions of the Euskadi territory, the route takes in thirteen categorised climbs in total and covers 363.3km across the characteristic challenging terrain of Northern Spain.
Stage One - Vitoria-Gasteiz > Labastida, 105.9km
The shortest of the three stages, stage one gives the riders a taste of what’s to come in the classically undulating landscape of the Basque Country, with climbing from kilometre zero. The peloton will face a third category climb immediately after starting the race, inviting the possibility of a breakaway group of climbing specialists, and while the following 25km is largely downhill, the uphill challenges keep on coming – both categorised and uncategorised.
There are two intermediate sprint opportunities before an uphill finish into the beautiful Euskadi town of Labastida. The day will favour punchy riders and at just over 100km, should be a day ripe for attacking riding.
Stage Two – Mallabia > Mallabia, 117.9km
Stage two winds its way around the town of Mallabia and its locale, testing the legs of the peloton with six categorised ascents across the day, which begins with another climb. The breakaway will have to be quick on this stage though, as it’s only 2.5km into the race before the first climb ends and the descending begins.
From there, it’s a day of constant ups and downs that will wear down the peloton and see the strongest climbers rise to the fore to tackle the final climb of the day, the category one test of Karabieta. The climb is 6.7km in length at an average gradient of 5.6%. Around 6km of sharp descent follows, before an uphill finish as the riders return to Mallabia.
Stage 3 – Donostia > Donostia, 139.8km
The longest of the race’s three stages, the final day covers almost identical terrain to that of last year’s Donostia San Sebastián Klasikoa, replicating the route faithfully. The familiarity will not lessen the difficulty though, as the bunch face a series of challenging climbs, including the iconic ascent of Jaizkibel, regularly used in the San Sebastián classic.
At 7.9km and 5.6% average gradient, Jaizkibel is likely to cause splits in the bunch, but it won’t decide the final outcome, as once the riders have successfully navigated the longest climb of the day, there are further challenges ahead.
Two intermediate sprints and a third category climb later, the riders face the ‘wall’ of Murgil Tontorra. A beast at just 2.1km in distance but with an intimidating average gradient of 10.1%, and pitches of up to 19%, only 8km of the race will remain beyond the wall, meaning it will likely decide the day and possibly even the overall outcome of the race.
The shift from one-days classics to summer stage racing begins for many of the teams with Itzulia. It’s hard to judge form as teams shift composition, with many top riders preparing for goals later in the season. Having said that, there are some general conclusions that can be drawn as we view the teams for this three-day race.
The stars of the Ardennes classics were undoubtedly FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine-Futuroscope, and they arrive in Euskadi with the in-form Marta Cavalli (pictured below) looking to continue her spring success as team leader. She will be ably supported by Brodie Chapman, who has looked spritely in recent weeks, and French national champion Évita Muzic, who has also been visible of late.
Credit: Getty Images
Another team to watch will be Team DSM. In Liane Lippert they have an attacking climber who has shown good form in the classics and will be well suited to the demands of the parcours. So too Juliette Labous who has been consistent throughout the spring.
It goes without saying that SD Worx will be among the top favourites for the overall classification. With Ashleigh Moolman Pasio’s climbing prowess and Demi Vollering’s all-around strength, the team will come into the race confident in their chances. They bring a strong unit with veteran Marlen Reusser and young climbing talent Anna Shackley and Niamh Fisher-Black in support.
Trek-Segafredo arrive with a team that’s light on pure climbers but strong on puncheurs such as Lucinda Brand and Shirin van Anrooij. Canyon//SRAM arrive with a well-balanced team of all-rounders including Pauliena Rooijakkers who showed great attacking form in the Ardennes, along with Elise Chabbey and Ella Harris.
Both UAE Team ADQ and Team BikeExchange have local knowledge on tap with the climbing talents of Mavi García and Ane Santesteban respectively. The Basque riders have both showed well in recent races. García came second on GC and topped the mountains classification at last week’s Ruta del Sol, and Santesteban gave solid performances in the Ardennes, making the top ten at La Flèche Wallonne. Both will be keen to represent on home turf.
Movistar also represent Spanish hopes – in the absence of Annemiek van Vleuten who sets her sight on bigger goals, they will place their faith in Katrine Allerud and Paula Patiño who both put in decent rides at the Ruta del Sol. There will also local representation in the shape of continental Basque teams Laboral Kutxa Fundación Euskadi and Bizkaia Durango, who will be keen to show themselves at the front of the race.
With just three stages to make an impression and barely any flat terrain, the race promises to be attacking and unpredictable from the outset. The strongest teams will prevail overall and of those, we think that FDJ have shown they’re more than capable of victory. We reckon Marta Cavalli will take the honours for her team at the first ever edition of Itzulia Women.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix