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31st Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile (2.WWT)

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Certain rules of women's cycling were adhered to - Małgorzata Jasińska went on a doomed escapade, and Marianne Vos won a complex uphill finish. Dani Rowe on the commentary explaining Rooijakkers can't really progress beyond her current role at the moment because while she's a really good climber, she is a very nervous rider who struggles to place herself in the péloton so gets dropped off the back when the pace is high in flat stages a lot - certainly a problem for a Dutch rider with their style of waaijer racing and road furniture!!!

A shame that some road conditions meant they had to erase one of the ascents from earlier in the stage - the only categorised one - but the others were present and correct and included some that were harder than the uncategorised ones. And besides, given the layout of the stage, the final rise into Assisi was going to be the difference maker regardless.

With the time gaps involved, I think we can say that the TTT might actually be the biggest obstacle to a Cille podium here, as she was the last one to go with Annemiek yesterday (though she paid for it in the long run and it seems Kasia paced things better, riding back to van der Breggen on the final climb) and she was the strongest of the GC mix today by several seconds' clear advantage. We also learnt that Sunweb do have some good form so who knows what might have happened without the mechanical problems on the sterrato yesterday - Lippert looking much like her usual self with this finish and the team working hard to lead into the climb at pace, and also an excellent uphill finish from Lotte Kopecky as well as another day of really strong prominent performance from Mikayla Harvey - is she the revelation for this year? Can she keep it up for all 9 days?

Another thing that was a shame was that the climb had to be abridged due to the safety issues and so the finish was moved down to a lower square - one wonders how much more of a difference the climb may have made had they done it in full, given it broke the race up very quickly, but on the plus side, it meant they took a steeper road to get to it to make up for the loss of the longer element of climbing. And you know, in women's cycling, give the elites a 700m climb and they'll race it for 700m. Sometimes in the Tour it's felt like you give them a 20km climb and they'll probably race it for 700m. And also, while some rules of women's cycling were adhered to, a case of poor positioning on the short climb meant that Niewiadoma was unable to launch a full attack as she is mandated by law to do when the road goes uphill, and instead had to fight on to the briefly-escaping group of 5 - Vos, Uttrup, Kopecky, Lippert and Longo Borghini who was really trying to fight her way back into contention. The fact that these six riders managed to distance Anna and Annemiek was a real eye-opening moment that means that some of these riders might fancy they have more of a chance than they might have thought this time yesterday - well, Kasia and Cille at least. The others mightn't be so sure because they lost too much time yesterday, but nevertheless, especially given Boels have sent a largely rouleuse-oriented team and Mitchelton don't look quite as strong as anticipated with Spratt a bit below what we've come to expect from her the last 2-3 years form-wise when she's hit the Giro in super form, the two super-strong Dutchwomen don't seem quite as unbeatable as they did 24 hours ago.

What I took from the finish, though, is that Cille is really, really good at the super-steep gradients. She's manoeuvring herself into a sort of wallrider role, à la Purito. Lippert is really good too, taking scalps of most of the GC men/women, and bearing in mind she's only 22, she's got a good couple of years to get stronger at which stage she could be a truly elite puncheuse or she could turn herself into a stage racer. She might well be an outside bet for a medal at the Worlds in a couple of weeks. However, she might be a year or two away from that level, it's hard to tell because she's already competing on a level with the Niewiadomas and Longo Borghinis of this world, backing up her performances from Thüringen and the Women's Tour with this - given she's also good on the cobbled bergs I suspect her skillset is more Gilbert than GC racer, but at the end of the day, nobody can compete with the finishing punch of Eddy Merckx, because, you know, MERCKX. It looked like timing was important and that poor placement coming into the final climb cost Kasia as when the sprint was opened out by the likes of Vos and Uttrup, she was left pedalling squares having expended her effort getting to the group, and she fell behind Annemiek and finished alongside Anna VDB at the bottom of the top 10. Santesteban showing some form as well, and Mavi García holding hers from the Ardêche. Solid finish just outside the top 10 for Katia Ragusa as well, looking at her palmarès she did well in short punchy finishes in Burgos last year too, so might be one to keep an eye on.

Amazing sights of the riders having to dismount after finishing and push the bikes the rest of the way up given they'd had to move the finish down the hill though. Mikayla Harvey in particular looked spent, while Cille was looking rather non-plussed about the whole thing and what was going on in front of the camera as well. Lotte Kopecky in particular just ground to a halt almost the instant she crossed the line and it looks like Niewiadoma took slow-motion evasive action to prevent herself having the world's slowest accident hitting the Belgian's bike at the line as she was "sprinting" to the line with van der Breggen and Moolman-Pasio, though realistically nobody is going to come to any harm to anything other than their pride at that speed. And although she might now be out of the GC mix, ELB will definitely be looking for stages now she's got her customary bad day out of the way...
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How happy is Cille about the 170km stage? This happy.

She did, however, critique the lack of live coverage (which is fair as it was supposed to be a condition of WWT status for 2020, and likely Covid has let a lot of organisers kick the can down the road), although with a slight faux pas in her op-ed, contrasting the event to the Women's Tour in the UK, which is much more professionally organised, has better prize money, strong coverage and appears to treat the riders better and with more fan buy-in... but doesn't have live coverage either.

With a very long neutral zone as well due to more re-routings (the race has had to be put together kind of at a scramble by the race organisers, so while I can totally agree with those criticising some of the shambolic nature of the race with the late changes and so on, I also have some sympathy with the organisers trying to keep the show going (though the gravel on stage 2 was perhaps a bit too rough for a road race, far bigger stones and worse condition than Strade Bianche's routes!!!) in the face of more obstacles than they've been able to shoehorn into the route), this was a really long stage but with the huge time-gaps it was interesting that the breakaway was able to take it. Lizzie Banks took a breakaway stage at the Giro last year too, so this looks like a nice niche for her and it continues Paule Ka's strong race, as Mikayla Harvey also successfully defended her 5th place. Banks was too strong for Eugenia Bujak on an uphill finish, which makes sense as Bujak is good at sprinting after the hills, but not so good at sprinting on the hills.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the time gaps among the big guns in the HTF, however, was not Annemiek being the strongest to reassert herself after yesterday's brief lacuna, or even her raising her arms in celebration as she seemingly forgot the break had been up the road. Rather it was the time lost by Anna van der Breggen, which pushed her behind Niewiadoma in the GC as the latter was among the strongest on the climb. Behind Annemiek, the next strongest was Elisa Longo Borghini, who will rue the disaster of a day in the gravel (I've seen some mention she blew herself up chasing after needing a bike change, but nothing concrete to corroborate that) as she has now moved back into the GC top 10 with her performances on the two HTFs the last two days. After her came Kasia, then Liane Lippert, who again had a bad day on the gravel but has been super strong the last two days, finishing 4th among the favourites today after being 4th yesterday. Then came Cille, then came Mavi, then came the CCC duo of Vos and Moolman-Pasio, and eventually then came van der Breggen tailing home Mikayla Harvey, 37" more time lost to Annemiek, 22" to Niewiadoma and 16" to Uttrup. Given how strong Cille has been the last few days, the most consistently strong I would say across the three road stages (although Annemiek was hamstrung by poor positioning yesterday and may have been stronger than she showed on the narrow finish), that TTT could well be a blessing for van der Breggen to defend the podium if Cille keeps chipping a few seconds away here and there.
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Also interesting to see Cille, Kasia and ELB sprinting out the mountains points. I can certainly see ELB's reasoning, as the QOM and a stage would be an ideal make-good for her having fallen away in the GC, interesting to see 2 of the top 4 fighting out the mid-stage GPMs. Annemiek will likely pick up a good few mountains points just through her GC rides, so I guess it's a good target as I think all three would make good representatives for the GPM - Elisa has of course won the maglia verde before, in 2016.
Today is the best chance for the sprinters, but the pace on the cat.2 climb has split the bunch in two, a lot of the sprinters are stuck in group 2 and have a gap of just under a minute to make up to get back on. No word that anybody of GC interest is behind the split so safe to assume there isn't likely to be too much impetus in the front group unless there's a particularly good sprinter with a strong team who want to drill it to keep competition from coming back. Uttrup took maximum points over the GPM ahead of Olga Shekel and then Amanda Spratt, so looks like the QOM is going to be her target giving her a fallback if her podium bid fails.

Cille is also down one of her stronger helpers as Emilia Fahlin has had to withdraw; she crashed hard yesterday and rode in for the finish, but X-rays showed she had broken her hand. That also puts paid to Sweden's best bullet in the gun for the World Championships.

Edit: two groups not getting back together. 40 or so in the front group now with a few domestiques dropping back after doing their job. And a late solo flyer by Elisa Longo Borghini, with 20+ seconds or so advantage at 10km from the line...
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The reason behind the work in the front group became clear when you saw that the names that missed it included people like Wild and d'Hoore who would have earmarked this as possibly their best chance of a stage win in the race. With Guarischi, Roy, Klein, Buurman, Leleivyte, Confalonieri and Kirchmann all also in the rear group there were a good few sprinting options reduced. I mean, the top 5 is still a pretty strong one, but it's all people with a bit more versatility and a fast finish - Kopecky has really come on in leaps and bounds in terms of her durability and was very good on the punchy finish in Assisi, but perhaps at the expense of a bit of her outright top end speed?

I'm intrigued by the top 10 finish for Sandra Alonso, she looks potentially promising as an all-round prospect with the step up she's made this year, and this is by a factor of many the most eye-catching Giro result she's had after a couple of years of riding it for experience. She's just turned 22 last month, has a strong sprint, and capped returning from quarantine with four straight wins in the Basque calendar - three from small groups, and then smashing everybody in a MTT race to the holy Urkiola pass. Sandra Gutiérrez might be even more promising, finishing on the podium of that Urkiola MTT at the age of just 17, and yes the Spanish national calendar is not especially strong once you take Movistar's riders out of it (though Bizkaia-Durango and Casa Dorada have a couple of noteworthy names). Her results point towards somebody best at being there for a reduced sprint, but if she's going to develop some genuine climbing capabilities she could be an interesting name for the future.
Another enforced change of route today due to tarmac conditions. This means an additional climb of a more sustained gradient rather than the endless false flat of the original profile. though little change to the characteristics of the stage. Makes the stage somewhat similar to yesterday's in characteristics now. You'll note that the original final climb's stats of 4,0km @ 4,8% remain on the graphic, but there's now only 3km of that climb. The original 3,4km @ 6% climb is still there but the false flat has been replaced by a 4,7km @ 5% grinder.

Original profile:

New profile:

The pattern seems to be following yesterday's - Cille took max points over the GPM, Vos won the meta volante to solidify her points lead, then CCC had Rooijakkers, Moolman-Pasio and Paladin stretch them out on the climbs to get rid of as many sprinters as possible. The bunch has split in two as it did yesterday, then between the latter climbs Pauliena Rooijakkers has gone away with Nadine Gill to allow CCC to knock off the work in the run-in and perhaps encourage the likes of Trek to do so instead.
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Interestingly, a minor split in the bunch at the line left by Jelena Erič means that a four second time gap was given to the top 15 or so on the stage. The only GC benefactor was Kasia Niewiadoma, however, as everybody else was behind the split, save for - obviously - Marianne Vos. Perhaps more crucially, a group of four riders was eliminated hors delais - this quartet consisting of Ariana Gilabert of Bizkaia-Durango, Teniel Campbell, the Trinidadian rider for Valcar, Lara Vieceli of Ceratizit-WNT and most surprisingly Audrey Cordon-Ragot of Trek, which leaves Elisa short of both a key engine and a twin. No detail out there to say if a crash or anything was involved.

Interesting to see Sunweb expending Labous as a leadout engine for Coryn but not Floortje or Lippert, while Paladin is very much an engine for managing breaks and ridding the group of sprinters for CCC. And Pauliena Rooijakkers might just have got more TV time than anybody in the last two stages; other than when she's sat on the front to string it out for Vos, she's a bit like a David Moncoutié type, only has two positions: on the back of the péloton or off the front of it. She's a very good climber but her nervousness in the bunch and tendency to lose all manner of pointless time in flat stages have meant she seldom gets to fend for herself on a team as stacked as CCC.
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That was heartbreaking. It was such a strong solo move
It is promising though. She's got plenty of results but a lot of them have been in mixed fields and some of the races like the Turkish one-dayers where the level is hard to judge, so apart from Emakumeen Bira in 2018 I haven't really had the chance to see much of her in races she's been prominent and there have been a good few Russian riders on domestic teams who seem to go well in the smaller races but disappear in stronger fields and Cogeas-Mettler is a bit of a strange team, so the fact that Novolodskaya has been able to be so visible against the very best here is a promising sign; she rides well, you can tell she has some track experience from her style I think, and she's only 20 so she can learn from this. It is a real shame as it robbed us of what could have been a really interesting finale as to whether she could hold on once the real leadout began as she was holding that 30 seconds or so fairly well until the crash.
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She obviously still has some energy to burn, as the current situation on the road with 60k to go on stage 7 is thus:

  • break of Silvia Zanardi (BePink) and Ainara Elbusto (Casa Dorada)
  • counterattack of Alison Jackson (Sunweb), Maria Novolodskaya (Cogeas-Mettler), Aude Biannic (Movistar) around 2'-2'30 back
  • péloton just under 3 minutes back
These comments have been floating around for over half an hour and it was labeled as "confirmed" by NOSwielrennen. And, as such, broadcasted repeteadly.
It looks like it's still missing real confirmation
Also Amanda Spratt suspected collarbone fracture
Still hoping for the best
Fingers crossed for Annemiek and Spratty to continue the race.
Seems that Vos will certainly start tomorrow, though discomforted a bit.

Congrats to Kopecky on a strong finish and victory.

There's something with town and pavement resembling past days of glory.
Oh, it was on very large paved stone tiles, much bigger than cobbles but not tarmac. A bit worn, but no different to a few you see elsewhere. We've definitely seen similarly bad on some of the hilltop finishes in Tirreno-Adriatico and some of the small Italian races before, but those aren't usually flat finishes with sprint speeds on them. The other issue is that the very cobbled-together (pun intended) nature of this Giro route means that there's a bit of straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back about it. The organisers have done a lot of work just to get us a Giro Rosa this year, but as a result some of the organisation has left a bit to be desired. We've had gravel rougher than anything you see in Strade Bianche, re-routings of multiple stages due to road conditions including a stage finish being moved down the hill the day of the stage itself; narrow and sharp corners and technical finishes that are courting catastrophe almost as much as that insane Norwich finish in the Women's Tour a few years ago with a flat sage with a pinch point at 800m to go and then several corners within the last 250m. It was inevitable that at some point it would come to a head and there would be a crash; a lot of key names were involved. It seems like Vos has no lasting damage; FDJ reported Cille was held up but not impacted, other reports suggest she was involved. The big question is going to be Mitchelton and their two injuries as that's their top 2 riders, 2 of last year's podium and obviously the current maglia rosa. Lots of people reported Annemiek's own personal suspicion as fact in the immediate aftermath but it definitely did not look good at all for her.