In what was anticipated to be a routine sprint stage, the fourth day of La Vuelta Femenina turned into a significant reshaping of the general classification, thanks to fierce crosswinds and a brilliant solo win by Kristen Faulkner of EF Education-Cannondale. The stage stretched 142.3 kilometres from Molina de Aragón to Zaragoza and became the fastest in not only the race’s history but Women’s WorldTour history, clocking an average speed of 46.754 km/h.

Echelons dominated the early part of the stage
(Photo Credit: CXCLING)

From the outset, the peloton was nervous, prompted by strong winds that set the stage for a day of hard racing. Early in the stage, at kilometre 28, decisive echelons formed, splitting the race into several groups. The front selection was a powerhouse of 19 riders including race favourites and teammates from the leading teams such as SD Worx-Protime, Lidl-Trek, Canyon SRAM, and UAE Team ADQ. This group powered ahead, leaving others battling to close the gap.

Faulkner described the critical moment that defined the race, “It was right after a town, our DS told us to be in a good position. We hit the town and SD Worx went straight to the front and drilled it. Fortunately, Alison (Jackson) and I were in a good position and made the front group. From then on we just cooperated with the group.”

As the race wore on, the lead group worked well together to fend off the chasers. By the non-categorised climb of Paniza, the chasers had narrowed the gap to 30 seconds, but couldn’t sustain the chase, allowing the leaders to extend their advantage once again.

Marianne Vos wears the leader’s red jersey for the first time in this year’s edition
(Photo Credit: Sprint Cycling Agency)

In a stunning move at 6.5 kilometres from the finish, Faulkner attacked from the leading group and held off the chasers to win the stage, marking EF Education-Cannondale’s second victory in this edition of La Vuelta. Faulkner reflected on her strategy, saying, “I knew a lot of teams would try to go on that climb, so I decided rather than attack myself I’d try to follow or counter one. SD Worx tried a few attacks so I hopped into the wheels. Demi [Vollering] and Elisa Longo Borghini tried one, and I was right on their wheel, so I knew that was the counter I had to go on.”

Behind her, Georgia Baker and the previous day’s winner Marianne Vos led the group over the line, ten seconds adrift. Vos’s efforts earlier in the stage paid off as she collected enough bonus seconds to snatch the red jersey from Blanka Vas of SD Worx-Protime, now leading the general classification by a slim margin.

Reflecting on the chaotic yet victorious day, Faulkner shared, “When the gap came down to 30 seconds we had to rally people and the gap went back out. It was a good day. We came here to win stages and we’ve already won two. It’s early in the Vuelta but we’re already so proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.”

Kristen Faulkner, Alison Jackson and Clara Koppenburg celebrate the victory
(Photo Credit: Jennifer Lindini)

Marianne Vos, who finished third on the stage, secured enough bonus seconds to take over the red leader’s jersey from Vas. Vos commented on the day’s strategy, “It was not our main goal today, but it’s always beautiful to wear the leader’s jersey. Seeing Riejanne Markus and Sophie von Berswordt also make it into the decisive group when the split happened was great. We rode well together, but unfortunately, one was just too strong. Faulkner deservedly won.”

Juliette Labous of Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL, who was also in the leading group, managed to finish ninth despite a late mechanical issue. “It was a fast day from the start because of the wind. We immediately went into echelons on an uphill, false-flat section, and I made it into the front. Some other GC contenders were dropped so the pace stayed high. In the last few kilometres, I had a front wheel puncture but managed to continue without losing time. We can be happy with today as we head towards the more challenging climbs,” Labous explained.

As La Vuelta Femenina continues tomorrow, the riders face the first of three summit finishes, promising more drama and potential shake-ups in the general classification.

2024 Vuelta Femenina Stage 4 result

Results powered by FirstCycling.com

Main photo credit: Sprint Cycling Agency