The 2020 edition of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta (November 6-8) will be like none before. Not only did the race organisers, their partners, the local authorities and the teams engage in a massive effort to prepare an exciting weekend of racing to cap off the 2020 UCI Women’s WorldTour in the context of the ongoing pandemic, but the event also keeps growing: for the first time, it will include three days of competition.
The race will kick off on November 6 with an unprecedented three-stage format for this sixth edition. “It’s very important for us to keep developing a project that we believe to be full of opportunities,” said Javier Guillén, the general manager of La Vuelta, while also stressing the organiser’s “vocation to support women’s cycling. We want to push this project forward despite the difficulties generated by the health crisis.”
“I think it’s incredibly important that we’re able to finish the season with this race that year upon year has been increasing,” Hannah Walker confirms. The former WNT-Rotor (now Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling) rider finished her racing career on the spectacular Madrid circuit, in 2017. “My sole job was to attack, to make the race hard and fast, and it was so hard to escape the peloton with the nature of the circuit,” she recalls. “It’s just so fast, and with the intermediate sprints, the riders battle from start to finish.”
“An incredible battle”
The 2017 edition was the last one to be disputed as a single day event, with Jolien D’hoore winning for the second year in a row. Hannah Walker was back in Madrid in 2018, when the organisers introduced a 9.3km time trial in Boadilla del Monte on the Saturday, and the following year she returned to commentate on the race.
“Last year, given how close it was in the standings, there was an incredible battle for the time bonuses between Lucinda Brand and Lisa Brennauer,” recalls Hannah Walker, who will again take on the role of commentator this week.
The German star Brennauer, who won her 2020 National Championships and claimed numerous podium and top-10 finishes in the biggest events of this season (2nd in Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne, 3rd at Gent-Wevelgem In Flanders Fields, 4th in the individual time trial and 9th in the road race in the UCI Road World Championships…) eventually won the race with a 10’’ advantage over Brand, while Chloe Hosking dominated the sprint in Madrid. Pernille Mathiesen (DEN) finished third overall.
Brennauer returns to Spain this November with a strong supporting cast and Walker, who still enjoys a strong relationship with the Ceratizit-WNT crew, has no doubt “they’re coming here to win, and defend last year’s victory. Of course the sponsor of the team is also the title sponsor of the race so it adds motivation to come here and perform. They’ve been keeping their heads down and training hard.”
Three days of full gas racing
The riders know the route of Saturday’s Boadilla del Monte individual time trial (9.3km) very well. On the following day, the Madrid circuit has been slightly adapted but it should provide more of the exhilarating racing witnessed every year since 2015, with 17 laps through the Spanish capital adding up to 98.6km. But on Friday, the race will start with an unprecedented 82.8km hilly stage in the province of Toledo, welcoming the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta for the first time in the race's history. Watch out for the 800m uphill finish in Escalona to open first differences in the GC battle for the 11th and final event of the 2020 UCI Women's WorldTour, a series that has seen 10 of these races held in the past 3 months.
The Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta will also be a last chance for the riders and teams to earn points in the season-long UCI Women’s WorldTour rankings. Trek Segafredo has had a successful condensed season: it currently leads the UCI Women’s WorldTour team ranking and has two riders in the top three of the individual ranking with Elizabeth Deignan (1st) and Elisa Longo Borghini (3rd). The two team mates are separated by second-placed Anna Van der Breggen. The UCI World Champion’s team, Boels Dolmans CyclingTeam is second in the team’s ranking before the final UCI WWT race of the season. Meanwhile Team Sunweb’s Liane Lippert will aim to hold on to her Youth Ranking leader’s jersey in Madrid.
Crowds won’t be able to gather on the side of the road to cheer for the riders, due to a new wave of coronavirus contaminations in Spain. The race organisation, the same who managed to keep Covid-19 away from La Vuelta, is enforcing strict protocols to also protect the riders and staff participating in the Ceratizit Challenge, and the teams have shown their commitment to race in these unique conditions. As for the fans, "we thank them for following the race at home, on TV and through social media, to support the riders and be part of an environment allowing the development of such an important event," said Javier Guillén.
The stage is set, it's time to race to Madrid!