La Vuelta Femenina 2024: contenders and prediction

Who will be wearing the red jersey in Madrid at the end of this eight-stage race?

“They did everything they could to ride me out of the red jersey. This is top sport. I don’t expect any gifts, but if you want to do it this way... a shame.” This is what a tearful Demi Vollering said after stage six of the 2023 Vuelta Femenina, having been ridden out of the prestigious red leader’s jersey after a controversial attack was made by Movistar’s Annemiek van Vleuten – who went on to win the overall race – when Vollering and some other riders stopped for a nature break. 

Vollering finished her interview after the contentious stage saying she was “hungry for revenge”, and while she did go on to win the final stage of the race, she missed out on the Vuelta title by just nine seconds. The SD-Worx Protime rider will be back in Spain this April as she searches to add this 'Grand Tour' to her glittering palmarès, however, if she manages to secure this fabled title, revenge won’t taste quite as sweet, as the prolific Van Vleuten retired at the end of the 2023 season. 

We might have thought, at the end of last season anyway, that no Van Vleuten meant that Vollering and SD Worx would be scooping up the majority of wins – something they demonstrated last year, winning a staggering 62 titles, including the Tour de France Femmes won by Vollering. But as the Classics have come to a close for the 2024 season and we await the first of the stage races, this belief that Vollering will effortlessly dominate the Vuelta without her Dutch rival evident is turning out to be misguided. So far, Vollering is yet to secure any victories and seems to be struggling to find her winning form up against the new-found strength of other teams. 

So, winning this race will be no walk in the park for Vollering, especially with organisers ASO extending the race to eight stages instead of seven and making the overall distance 126km longer than the 2023 edition, including three mountain stages, one medium mountain stage, a team time trial, two hilly stages and one flat stage. These more demanding mountain stages will certainly entice those who thrive on uphill terrain, including Vollering herself, and with so many talented climbers on the start list, it is going to be interesting to see how the race unfolds.

Will Vollering finally reach her peak performance to claim the overall title, or is the Vuelta an elusive race she can’t quite grasp? Rouleur looks at which riders might upset her chances for glory once again. 

Gaia Realini (Lidl-Trek)

In her first year as a pro, Gaia Realini firmly announced herself as one of the most exciting GC riders to watch. She came second on GC at the women’s UAE Tour, followed by third overall at the Vuelta, where she also secured a stage win in a sprint against Van Vleuten and the mountains jersey, and then, she clinched third overall at the Giro Donne, as well as first in the young riders jersey, which she won by an impressive 6:21. 

Realini is small and light, so is the perfect stature for excelling in any type of uphill terrain, something this race has plenty of. But despite her size, she also boasts an explosive finish, something we witnessed in last year’s race when she came head-to-head with Van Vlueten to take her first WorldTour stage win. This is only her second year as a pro, but Lidl-Trek has given her the green light to go for the GC with a super strong team to support her, including Elisa Longo Borghini, who has seemed to be in the form of her life at the moment. Not only will the strength of her team help her achieve the best result possible, but they will also have a greater understanding of how to beat a dominant team like SD Worx after a successful spring. 

Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon//SRAM) 

The queen of consistency, we can always expect Kasia Niewiadoma to come out of a race with a strong result. But she surprised everyone at Le Flèche Wallonne last week when she attacked on the Mur de Huy and secured her first road victory in five years. While a one-day race is different to a week-long stage race, her training in the lead-up to the Ardennes, time spent at altitude and the enormous confidence boost this win would have given her will make her a serious contender for this year’s Vuelta. 

She came 10th overall in last year’s edition, but since, we’ve seen her demonstrate what an all-round rider she is, placing second in this year’s Tour of Flanders, second on the GC at the 2024 Volta Femenina de la Comunitat Valenciana, as well as third overall at last year’s Tour de France Femmes with the mountain classification to her name after an epic display of strength on the Col du Tourmalet where she took second place. Niewiadoma will also have the backing of Tour de France Femmes stage winner Ricarda Baurnfeind, Giro Donne stage winner Antonia Niedermaier, as well as Neve Bradbury and Zoe Bäckstedt

Évita Muzic (FDJ-Suez)

Évita Muzic is FDJ-Suez’s purest climber and with three mountain stages in this year’s race, she may finally get the backing of the whole team as it is not yet confirmed whether the French team's main leaders – Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Marta Cavalli – will be riding this eight-stage race. However, last year, Muzic topped Cavalli’s place in the GC standings, taking sixth place overall and just missing out on a podium spot on the race’s two mountain stages. So far, she’s had a good start to the season with a top 10 place at Strade Bianche and fourth at La Flèche Wallonne, showcasing that she is more than just a climber. If she can get the backing from her teammates, we expect to see the French rider produce some very good results. 

Juliette Labous (Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL) 

Another GC talent to come out of France is Juliette Labous, however, she is a rider much like Kasia Niewiadoma – consistent in good results, but lacking in the winning department. Her last Women’s WorldTour win was in 2022, and since then, she has been dependable for producing a top 10 finish in all the big stages races, including seventh at the Vuelta, second at the Giro Donne and fifth at the Tour de France Femmes in 2023. She is a climber and, therefore, will be fine with the elevation in this race, but the 25-year-old rider seems to lack that explosiveness that sees riders such as Vollering and Niewiadoma pip her to the post. The DSM team are also bringing their star sprinter Charlotte Kool, who will no doubt be aiming for the race’s sprint opportunities, in particular, stage four’s expected bunch sprint into Zaragoza. 

Other contenders 

Mavi García (Liv Alula Jayco) is one of the peloton’s most consistent GC riders. She is at home in the mountains but can pack a punch on the hillier stages too, and while she may not win the overall at her home stage race, we expect at least a top-10 finish from her. García will be supported by Georgia Baker, Ingvild Gåskjenn, and Georgie Howe

Veronica Ewers (EF Education-Cannondale) is another climber who has excellent abilities on long mountain passes and could be a contender for the GC. However, she is heading to the Vuelta in a supporting role this year, despite being fourth in last year’s race. She hasn’t had the best start to her 2024 racing season and will be using the Vuelta as a way to get back into the groove of stage racing ahead of some bigger goals she is said to have later in the year. The EF Education-Cannondale team will be bringing the 2023 Paris-Roubaix winner, Alison Jackson, all-rounder Kristen Faulkner, and Kiwi Kim Cadzow, all of whom could take a stage win in this race. 

Going into this year’s race confident in their form will be Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez). She is a punchy rider who will be a threat if she can get away, but she also proved she has a strong sprint when needed, adding another string to her bow. While Muzic may be the favourite for GC out of the French team, Brown will be a real contender for stage wins if the opportunities arise. 

Without Annemiek van Vleuten on the team, Movistar lacks an outright GC contender. Lianne Lippert looks their best bet, having won a stage at last year’s Tour de France Femmes, however, she is yet to race this year due to recovering from an injury, and the Vuelta will be her 2024 debut. She secured good results in three of the women’s big-stage races, but her form going into this race is still unknown. Movistar will also have Olivia Baril, who could be a contender for the bigger climbs, or Emma Norsgaard, who’ll be suited to the more explosive stages. 

Our prediction 

The Women’s WorldTour has been unpredictable this year, making it hard to nail down a winner for this upcoming stage race. However, despite a rocky start to her season, we still think Demi Vollering will take the top spot in the Spanish race, making this race her first win of the season.

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