Less sovereign but still just as resilient, Annemiek van Vleuten won her third consecutive Tour of Spain on Sunday by drawing on the suffering to maintain a nine-second lead over her Dutch compatriot Demi Vollering.
At 40, the champion of the Movistar team, who notably won the three Grand Tour (France, Italy, Spain) and the World Championships last year, completes an exceptional record before retiring at the end of of the season.
But it was hard ! While she had a 1 min 11 sec lead in the general classification on Sunday morning over Vollering, she almost lost everything during the final ascent of 12.5 km at an average speed of 6.9% to the prestigious natural theater of the Covadonga Lakes.
But she hung on to limit the damage after being dropped five kilometers from the goal by Vollering (SD Worx), who took off to win her second stage in this Vuelta, and the Italian Gaia Realini (Trek- Segafredo), second in the stage and third overall.
At the top, in a thick fog, Van Vleuten ultimately kept a small nine-second lead over Vollering, the grande dame of this start to the season after having notably achieved the hat-trick in the Ardennes.
“I am very happy and very, very tired”, she reacted.
This is the first victory in 2023 for Van Vleuten, who has evolved a notch below his usual standards since the start of the season and who wins the Vuelta without having won a single stage.
She overturned the table on Saturday during the penultimate stage which was surrounded by controversy. With tears in her eyes at the finish, Demi Vollering, who was still wearing the leader’s red jersey on the morning of the stage, accused Van Vleuten and her team of speeding up when she was taking a toilet break.
Van Vleuten disputed any rogue manoeuvre, assuring that the team had planned to go on the attack at this precise location, 70 km from the finish, to attempt a border shot.
The tiny gap on Sunday evening will inevitably stir up the regrets of Vollering who was aiming, at 26, for his first victory in a Grand Tour.
“Without that, I would have won this Vuelta, she ruminated on Sunday, but I’m happy to have shown what I was capable of today.”
On the French side, Évita Muzic (FDJ-Suez), fourth in the last stage, finished sixth overall, just ahead of Juliette Labous (DSM).