Confusion reigned in Laredo at the finish of stage six of the Vuelta Femenina on Saturday.
The finale, contested in a close two-up sprint between escapees Gaia Realini (Trek-Segafredo) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), left the commissaires second-guessing themselves. Initially, they awarded the victory to Realini, before reviewing the photo finish imagery and announcing the Dutchwoman as the winner.
Van Vleuten took her place on the podium and celebrated with her stage winner trophy in front of the crowds. But another twist was to come. Intel quickly followed that the commissaires had reverted to their initial decision, and the spoils went to the Italian.
“The moment after the finish was hectic,” Realini, the confirmed victor, said after the race. “First they give the win to me, then to her and then, finally, to me. 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 am just really happy with how I raced but, of course, I’m even happier to have taken the win.”
The victory marks the 21-year-old’s second of the season, and a career first at WorldTour level. After Van Vleuten tore clear from the bunch with 32km to go, Realini bridged across and glued herself to the world champion’s wheel.
The pair then rode in tandem to the finish, where they faced off in a sprint for the stage win.
“Only Gaia Realini could follow me,” Van Vleuten said of the decisive move. “She probably has the most fresh legs for tomorrow, because she had a free ride to the finish with me.”
More controversy came earlier in the day, when race leader Demi Vollering (SD Worx) was dropped after a nature break. The red jersey wearer tried to claw back the lost time, but ended up over a minute in arrears at the finish. She now trails Van Vleuten by 1-11 in the overall standings.
“It was a super good moment [to attack] on the bridge,” the Movistar rider said. “Unfortunately for some girls who went to stop and pee, we had already made the plan.
“It’s also a bit part of the race that you need to go, to stop, in a good moment, and not when crosswinds are coming up. We went full gas, really a team effort. I’m super, super proud of my team.”
Commenting on her compatriot’s move, Vollering said: “That Annemiek van Vleuten claims it was the plan to accelerate there anyway make sense. It’s all very coincidental though. They did everything they could to ride me out of the red jersey.
“I don’t expect to get anything as a gift, but if you do it this way… A shame. So I’m really bummed.”
The SD Worx rider added that she is “hungry for revenge” and “hope[s] to put things right” on Sunday’s final stage, which finishes atop the haute-categorie climb of Lagos de Covadonga.