Gaia Realini (Trek-Segafredo) was more than happy to finish on the podium of La Vuelta Femenina, standing alongside overall winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar Team) and runner-up Demi Vollering (Team SD Worx). She fought with the two Dutchwomen on the last three days of the race and leapfrogged everybody else in the GC after the echelons on stage 3 put her on the back foot.
“Because of how the race had panned out by the end of the third stage, on which I lost some time because of the wind, I didn’t expect to be up there in the GC despite that being our initial goal. Being on the podium now is amazing,” the 21-year-old said.
Realini had done well in the echelons at the UAE Tour Women in February but was less fortunate on the plains of La Mancha, losing 2 minutes, 41 seconds on stage 3. Since she finished exactly 2:41 behind Van Vleuten in the final GC on Sunday, it is tempting to ask what could have been possible had the minuscule Italian climber – 1.50 metres in height and weighing only 40 kilograms – not been on the wrong side of the split.
“As a team, we never stopped believing in our ambitions and our strength to achieve something in this Vuelta. We were convinced and motivated and I am really happy that I could repay my teammates’ efforts. I want to dedicate this result to them,” Realini thanked her team for the support during the race.
Before signing with Trek-Segafredo for 2023, Realini had raced for the small Italian Continental team Isolmant-Premac-Vittoria, combining cyclocross with a summer campaign of mainly Italian road races. She finished 11th and 13th in the Giro Donne in 2021 and 2022, and drew attention on stage 9 of the 2022 edition when she joined Kristen Faulkner on a long-range breakaway over three climbs, eventually finishing fifth on the day.
By that point, Realini had already signed with Trek-Segafredo, and began her 2023 season by pulling Elisa Longo Borghini to victory on the Jebel Hafeet at the UAE Tour Women, finishing second overall herself. After a 1-2 with Amanda Spratt at the Trofeo Oro in Euro, Realini reached the podium in the Flèche Wallonne and finished 7th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, underlining her good form ahead of the Spanish stage races in May.
After the echelon setback on stage 3, Realini was out of contention for the overall victory, but she fought her way back through the GC on the three final stages, only losing contact with stage winner Vollering on the final kilometre of the stage 5…
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