La Vuelta Femenina 2024 – essential race preview

Demi Vollering, Kasia Niewiadoma and Gaia Realini battle for the red jersey on tough climbing course in Spain

Clock15:00, Tuesday 23rd April 2024
Demi Vollering, Kasia Niewiadoma and Elisa Longo Borghini will be in action at the Vuelta Femenina

© Getty Images

Demi Vollering, Kasia Niewiadoma and Elisa Longo Borghini will be in action at the Vuelta Femenina

With the Classics done and dusted, it’s straight into stage racing season with the first Grand Tour of the year. The Vuelta Femenina starts this Sunday, 28 April and runs until Sunday, 5 May. Billed as the women’s equivalent to the Vuelta a España, the Vuelta Femenina started life as a one-day race in Madrid, but has slowly grown in length and difficulty before relaunching as a week-long stage race in May of last year. This year, the race is sticking to the May schedule and is one day longer with eight stages.

As one of the most important stage races on the calendar alongside the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift and the Giro d’Italia Women, the Vuelta has attracted a strong line-up of GC contenders, including Tour champion Demi Vollering (SD Worx-Protime), last year’s podium finisher Gaia Realini (Lidl-Trek) and consistent top GC rider Kasia Niewiadoma. With defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten now retired, and Vollering looking slightly off her top level so far this year, the battle for the leader’s red jersey looks open.

As well as the general classification, there are sprints and punchy stages up for grabs, with the organisers once again putting together a varied route, starting in Valencia and finishing in Valdesquí a week later. The climbs to Laguna Negra on stage 6 and to Valdesquí on the final day will define the GC battle, but the opening team time trial will also be key, as will the hilly days on stages 2 and 7. Like last year, the GC will be fought every day, so there will be no room to slip in this Grand Tour.

With the prestigious red jersey up for grabs next week, here’s everything you need to know about the stages and contenders for this year’s Vuelta Femenina.

La Vuelta Femenina 2024 route: backloaded mountains will define the GC, but plenty of intrigue early on

As any Grand Tour should, the route for the 2024 Vuelta Femenina comprises of stages to suit every type of rider. There’s a team time trial, sprints and punchy days, medium hills and full-on mountains. The only thing that’s missing is an individual time trial, with this often something that organisers struggle to squeeze into women’s stage races. Only one stage is classified as ‘flat’ but there should be two or three chances for the sprinters – a similar proportion to the 2023 race.

The race starts with a team time trial on Sunday. It’s 16km in length, so fairly average for a TTT, and pan-flat. There are a few turns in the first and final kilometres, but it’s basically an out-and-back route along a wide road, with a 180-degree turn in the middle. This will be about being powerful, fast and organised, and should see the biggest teams top the standings, whilst the less dialled squads fill out the lower rankings.

Stage 2 brings a gentle introduction to the climbing, with a slightly lumpy day that has one category 3 climb but a flat finish in Moncofa. Things ramp up for stage 3, with the race cresting 1,000m of altitude for the first time, and a finish which is flat but comes after quite a bit of climbing. Stage 4 is the only officially-labelled flat day, and is basically downhill all day, so should bring a fast sprint in Zaragoza.

Stage 5 sees the race head into the mountains for its first summit finish. There are two main climbs in the final 50km of racing: the Alto del Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña (18.5km at 3%), followed by a descent and straight run into the Alto del Fuerte Rapitán (3.4km at 7.9%), with the finish at the top of this climb. It’s not the biggest day, but will see the GC start to shake out. Stage 6 is harder, with a fairly long stage all leading up to the first category 1 climb of the race to Laguna Negra. This climb is 6.5km long at 6.8%, and finishes 1,730m above sea level.

The final weekend brings a duo of two quite different stages. Stage 7 is a flat day with a punchy finish on a steep, 500m climb in Sigüenza, which will likely be for the explosive riders. Stage 8 goes back to the mountains for the biggest day of the race, featuring back-to-back category 1 climbs in a short but brutal 89km stage. The Puerto de la Morcuera comes first, with 9.1km at 6.8%, and then the stage and the whole race will culminate in Valdesquí atop a 12.8km climb, with a 4.8% average gradient. The penultimate stage will keep the non-GC riders attentive until the last weekend, but it’s really all about the last stage, and it’s fairly likely that whoever wins here will also be the overall winner.

Visit the individual stage pages for previews, profiles and maps of each of the eight stages in this year's Vuelta Femenina.

La Vuelta Femenina 2024 contenders: Vollering and Realini favourites but plenty of competition

Predicting who the overall winner will be is fairly difficult. This time last year, the Vuelta Femenina looked like a two-horse race: Annemiek van Vleuten vs Demi Vollering, with Van Vleuten the favourite after not being defeated in a Grand Tour for a long time. And that’s what happened, Van Vleuten won the race, somewhat due to a controversial attack, while Vollering had stopped for a nature break. At the start of this season, many might have picked Tour de France Femmes winner Vollering as the new clear favourite for this year’s race, but after the spring, things are looking more open.

As the reigning Tour champion, Vollering is of course a favourite. She is the most proven Grand Tour rider in the peloton, and usually the strongest climber on big, long climbs, of which there are plenty in this race. With last year’s disappointment as fuel, she will be heading to Spain to win. However, the reality is that Vollering has not quite looked her best during the spring, not even in the Ardennes, which she finished without a win after taking all three titles last year. Stage racing is different, but the Vollering that heads to the Vuelta is one still looking for her first win of the year, not a dominant force, and she is up against a women’s field that seems to be getting stronger each year.

One of the riders who has cropped up as a real threat to Vollering is Gaia Realini (Lidl-Trek). Though still only 22, the Italian is a hugely impressive climber with strong race craft and a surprisingly explosive finish, given her small stature. She rode to third overall in this race last year, her first Grand Tour podium, after a performance that saw her beat Annemiek van Vleuten on a stage. She’ll be hoping to improve on that this year. She will have a good ally in Elisa Longo Borghini, who could also be a contender herself, but will perhaps struggle in the very highest of mountains – but even so, it means Trek have a very strong squad here.

The other key contender for the podium is Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), who has been in some of her best form so far this spring. Though not a prolific stage race winner, Niewiadoma is very consistent in stage races, with two Tour de France podiums to her name. She trained specifically around the hillier Classics, which paid off with her Flèche Wallonne win, and this should translate well to the Vuelta, as she’s spent a considerable amount of time on a climbing/altitude training camp. The Pole also has a supremely strong team around her, including Ricarda Bauernfeind and Antonia Niedermaier – Grand Tour stage winners in their own right – and Neve Bradbury, who has been at her best climbing level so far this year. Confidence from her first win in five years should breed more confidence, and the podium is a very realistic goal for Niewiadoma.

A rider who has the rare accolade of having beaten the once-unbeatable Van Vleuten on a mountain stage is Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (AG Insurance-Soudal) who comes into this race as a slight unknown. The 38-year-old has raced much this year, but has been climbing well, and should really come to the fore on the hard stages of this race. Her team also have multiple options, with Tour Down Under winner Sarah Gigante hoping to test herself in a European stage race, whilst Justine Ghekiere must also be a serious consideration for a top result.

There are a handful of riders starting this race with previous podium finishes in Grand Tours, and one of them is Juliette Labous (dsm-firmenich PostNL) who sometimes flies under the radar but is a serious and talented GC rider. She’s done well in Spanish stage races before, and has had a light but consistent race programme so far this year, which means she should arrive relatively fresh.

Other riders who might struggle for the podium but should be hopeful for the top 10 and good stage placings are Mavi García (Liv AlUla Jayco), Liane Lippert (Movistar) and Évita Muzic (FDJ-SUEZ). They’re all good climbers and strong on the punchy finishes, so just need to be consistent throughout the week to put together a good GC result.

In terms of the sprinters and punchy riders, Charlotte Kool (dsm-firmenich PostNL) will be the main rider to watch on the flat stages, as probably the fastest rider in the field. Marianne Vos (Visma-Lease a Bike) will also be a contender, particularly on the slightly harder stages, and she found success in this race last year. Other opportunists to keep an eye on throughout the race include Anna Henderson (Visma-Lease a Bike), Mischa Bredewold (SD Worx-Protime) and Kristen Faulkner (EF Education-Cannondale), or in fact the whole EF Education-Cannondale team, who have been exciting so far this season.

Find out more about the Vuelta Femenina 2024, including stage-by-stage previews, the start list, results and standings in our dedicated race hub. Visit the GCN website throughout the race for reports and news from each stage.

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