Realini seizes ‘now or never’ moment to claim to-and-fro Vuelta Femenina win

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 A close call at the finish line of stage 6 of La Vuelta Femenina for Gaia Realini and Annemiek van Vleuten

A close call at the finish line of stage 6 of La Vuelta Femenina for Gaia Realini and Annemiek van Vleuten

It was such a tight finish between Gaia Realini and world champion Annemiek van Vleuten on stage 6 of La Vuelta Feminina that uncertainty ruled after the finish line, but eventually a decision was made that left the Trek-Segafredo rider enjoying an emotional celebration of her first Women’s WorldTour victory.

“The moment after the finish was hectic. First, they give the win to me, then to her and then, finally, to me,” said Realini in a media statement. “Of course, it was not easy but I was ready to accept the decision of the jury and I wouldn’t have been too disappointed if Annemiek was the winner.

“I was just really happy with how I raced but, of course, I’m even happier to have taken the win.”

A lead group had formed early in the stage after a controversial split in the crosswinds occured in the midst of a nature break for Demi Vollering (SD Worx), at the time in the red race leader’s jersey. In that lead group Realini could be seen sticking attentively to Van Vleuten, who was unsurprisingly endeavouring to make the most of the split forced by her Movistar team.

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Van Vleuten was pushing the pace to break up the race further, first whittling the lead bunch to seven riders at more than 45km to go, then quickly down to five, while at just over 30km it looked like the race’s defending champion may be set to fly solo. Realini, however, had other ideas.

“When Annemiek attacked, there was no cooperation to follow her so I knew I needed to bridge across to her,” said Realini. “It was a now or never moment if I wanted to fight for the stage win. I just followed, followed, followed and stayed on her wheel.”

The result was that the two remained out the front through the remains of the lumpy stage and right through to the Laredo finish line, with Van Vleuten continuing to push the pace as she pursued every possible second in the successful chase for the overall lead. Realini, however, was well down in the overall, so the key goal was the stage and therefore remaining on Van Vleuten’s wheel was the tactically smart play to salvage a Vuelta Feminina that had hit some early bumps for Trek-Segafredo.

“It has not been an easy Vuelta especially on the second stage when I lost time due to the echelons,” said Realini. “It was disappointing but, as a team, we didn’t lose our confidence or our motivation to do our best and try to win, that’s why we came here. I think this victory is a reward for my effort and the effort of the whole team in these days.”

La Vuelta Feminina is also not yet over, with a climbing stage on Sunday that plays to Realini’s strengths. Her move to jump over to Van Vleuten on stage 6, and once there remain in her slipstream, may have put her in the ideal position to take not just her first Women’s WorldTour victory, but perhaps a second as well.

“I think Realini will be the freshest of us all at the start tomorrow … she had a free ride to the finish from me,” said Van Vleuten on her blog post about the stage.

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