Giro Rosa 2019, 5/7 - 14/7

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Drama in Piedicavallo, as while Wiles still held a small advantage coming into the final kilometres, several attacks were going on within the péloton that was increasing the pace manifold. The most effective of these moves was the one from Lucy Kennedy, who managed to gain several seconds and, coming into the final cobbled rise, looked to have it sewn up. But then, in a scene reminiscent of her teammate and compatriot Gracie Elvin dying a thousand deaths in her solo win atop the Steiler Wand von Meerane a few years ago, the rough surface took its toll, and the 30-year-old latecomer to the sport was fighting, teeth clenched, to hold on as the sprint of the elites broke out behind. And who, pray tell, might be incredibly good on rough surfaces due to a strong cyclocross background, who might excel in short uphill finishes and might just be on excellent form? Why, Marianne Vos, of course! Eddy burst out of the bunch on the cobbled uphill and stalked her prey, literally passing the Australian on the line to steal the victory, which actually raised an audible groan from the assembled crowd (somewhat unsurprisingly given everybody loves it when a break survives, but also surprisingly given that Marianne tends to be one of those dominant champions like, say, Valentino Rossi, who retain a high level of popularity through their dominance). Kennedy held on for second on the stage, but perhaps most intriguingly, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig snuck through for third on the stage - sprinting is not normally one of the Dane's strong suits, but on this finish, perhaps buoyed by her Flanders performance, she seemed to be confident and strong as it was just uphill enough for her, and she took the four bonus seconds ahead of Annemiek.

This also benefits Cille for the GC, as she was already the strongest placed non-Canyon rider, and with Niewiadoma not scoring any bonus seconds, she can tighten the screws at the head of the field.

Thanks to Peter van den Veen, the top 10:
1 Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) NED
2 Lucy Kennedy (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS
3 Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla) DEN
4 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv) RSA
5 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) NED
6 Lucinda Brand (Sunweb) DEN
7 Soraya Paladin (Alé-Cipollini) ITA
8 Ane Santesteban González (WNT-Rotor) ESP
9 Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) NED
10 Erica Magnaldi (WNT-Rotor) ITA

Thanks to Movistar we know that Merino was in the front group safely; Ensing also finished in the group. No news is good news when it comes to Canyon, on the basis that if Kasia had lost time or the maglia rosa we'd likely know by now. I caught a glimpse of a pink jersey coming in behind the WNT riders at the bottom of the top 10 on the 15 second video of the finale, but only briefly in the background and so fleetingly it's hard to tell whether that might be because it's the maglia rosa, or it may be de Vuyst or Vollering in the Parkhotel jerseys.
PMG coverage here.

Kasia retains the maglia rosa, but only has 4" lead over Marianne Vos now, and 14" over Cille. Time gaps were given - so I'll edit my earlier post to add those in. GC top 10 is now:

1 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) POL 5'39'54
2 Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) NED +4"
3 Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla) DEN +14"
4 Alena Amialiusik (Canyon-SRAM) BLR +34"
5 Omer Shapira (Canyon-SRAM) ISR +38"
6 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv) RSA +40"
7 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) NED +41"
8 Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS +51"
9 Lucy Kennedy (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS +53"
10 Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) NED +1'01".

Elisa Longo Borghini holds the best Italian jersey and de Vuyst appears to remain in charge of the GPM.

The actual coverage makes a couple of things clear. Firstly, Kennedy raised her arm around 10m from the line which she paid for - she would probably still have been caught anyway, but it is one of those lessons learned things, I guess. There are definite time gaps there, Niewiadoma wasn't far back but enough to justify a few seconds' loss. Vollering left a bit of a gap in front of her as well in coasting to the line, which she did early on in the Women's Tour too, which might be something she needs to curb as obviously it matters a lot more in stage racing. Spratt looks to have rolled across 11th, with a short gap to Niewiadoma and Hall, probably worth a second, then Vollering and Guderzo, Ensing, de Vuyst and then Merino. Behind them there's a Eurotarget-Bianchi rider (a useful finish for them, will be top 20) and a Lotto rider who I assume is Julie van de Velde from skillset.

Interestingly, while PMG-Sport and RAI record time gaps, FirstCycling list no time gaps until Vollering at +9", which suggests that as this was classified a flat stage, time gaps of under 3" were erased. I didn't think Demi left quite that much, but it's possible. There's also some serious divergence in the GC as well, as FirstCycling has Cille at +20" (which would reflect deleting the 6" time gap she would have had from Niewiadoma) and Vos at +25", which is a turnaround of some 21". Vos obviously gets the 10" time bonus, but the other 6" doesn't account for the rest, unless there is time from Metas Volantes that hasn't been included by FirstCycling.

FirstCycling has Kasia, Cille +20", Vos +25", Amialiusik +40", Shapira +44", Ash +45", Annemiek +47", Spratt +52", Kennedy +59" and Anna VDB +1'04". I suspect this may be more correct as more time will have elapsed and the race directors more likely to have come to a conclusion regarding time gaps.

I am not in favour of the 3 second rule, and there were at least two stages in the Women's Tour where I thought a time gap should have been given (d'Hoore in stage 1 and Niewiadoma in stage 4 most notably) but wasn't, and Vos yesterday I thought was another. Today the finish was demonstrably uphill, and there were clearly time gaps between riders, but because the uphill finish wasn't long enough to classify as a hilltop finish, the time gaps created are essentially null and void.
Some notable time-losses:

Vollering, Guderzo, Merino and Winder among those who lost 9". Not a good day for Trek either, as in addition to Wiles' escape being caught but meaning she lost almost a minute at the finish, Elisa Longo Borghini lost an unexpected 32" at the line too. Hanna Nilsson lost 43", as did Nosková, but the latter, great climber though she can be, most likely is here to work for Cille so isn't all that interested in her GC position. Jasinska, Kirchmann and Aalerud all lost over 3 minutes - I thought Aalerud would probably be a protected rider here, evidently I was wrong, unless she's ill or something. Rooijakkers continues her standing policy of being utterly anonymous or backmarking in flat stages, losing 9 minutes, while d'Agostin I thought might have been a bit of a potential surprise but is going to probably stagehunt from here on in, losing a lot of time. It's her first Giro and she's on a small team though, so I guess she will probably be using the breaks or just trying to see what she can do in the mountain stages, with licence to lose time as she pleases elsewhere. Rodríguez and Gutiérrez were once more last of everybody to cross the line, which tends to back up my suspicions both have been somewhat injured in their respective crashes and are just trying to survive at this stage to be there to help Eider later in the race.
A breakaway of three Italian U23s contested the fourth stage, the last one suited to the sprinters until the very last day of the race. A bit of a farce ensued when the péloton were sent the wrong way at a signalling post, which resulted in much eye-rolling about ensuring an Italian win. In fairness, it's not like Canyon would be complaining - none of the three were a threat on the GC, and most of the other teams with designs on the GC were happy enough to ensure that Vos didn't gain any more potentially important time on them, leaving those few teams who had brought an actual sprinter to the race to do the honour of chasing them down.

You would have got some very long odds on the tiny Aromitalia-Vaiano team winning a stage of this Giro, I would wager, and even longer ones on the team winning a stage with a rider other than Rasa Leleivyte, who has been their main breadwinner for the last five years. This is a massive coup for them, even if all of the pictures will show Quagliotto with her hands raised instead, so the Alé sponsors will be in clear view and the Aromitalia ones hidden! Quagliotto is the best sprinter of the three and generally I would say the strongest, having done very well in the Giro della Campania and Giro della Marche last year, but in fairness to Borghesi, as well as being the youngest of the three she did finish in the top 10 of Brabantse Pijl, so she's no scrub. Quagliotto did lead out most of the final kilometre, but still looked to have done enough... and had she kept pedalling all the way to the line she would have done. With the time bonuses taken off the agenda, the péloton stayed agrupado, with few riders losing time that hadn't already been removed from contention anyway (i.e. the only ones you would consider strong enough climbers to think about tipping for a top 10 in the main mountain stages were riders like Aalerud who we've already ascertained is far below her best). We did see a few DNFs, though - the Movistar duo who've been running around at the back following crashes in stages 1 and 2, Gloria Rodríguez and Sheyla Gutiérrez, both climbed off, as did Russian TT champ Pliaskina, one-time Ardêche podium rider Clemilda Silva, and returnee Francesca Cauz, for whom somewhat unsurprisingly a ten day race off a complete cold open, having not competed on the road for 18 months, was too much. Conceria Zabri-Fanini lost three riders, which is a bit of a disaster for them.

The top end of the GC is therefore unchanged from yesterday. We therefore head to the Lago di Cancano stage with the GC of what you'd say were the 'key' riders as follows:

Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) maglia rosa
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla) +20"
Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) +25"
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv) +45"
Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) +47"
Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) +52"
Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) +1'04"
Lucinda Brand (Sunweb) +1'13"
Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo) +1'16"
Katherine Hall (Boels-Dolmans) +1'16"
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) +1'39"
Ane Santesteban González (WNT-Rotor) +1'50"
Erica Magnaldi (WNT-Rotor) +1'50"
Eider Merino Cortazar (Movistar) +2'02"
Tayler Wiles (Trek-Segafredo) +2'17"
Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenburg) +3'02"
Hanna Nilsson (BTC-City Ljubljana) +3'12"

You could argue Kennedy ought to be mentioned here as well, she's at +59", but I felt with Annemiek and Spratt both on her team it's more likely she'll be a domestique with one of those being the aggressor and the other being the foil.
Right, shall we say I didn't expect that? Well, actually I totally did expect it, in that I definitely expected IJzeren Annemiek to win the stage, but to do so in such a complete exhibition with such an advantage when nobody was really able to make decisive time gaps behind, was a surprise. I think with an ITT that so completely suits her, it seems the race for the win is almost certainly now gone, unless Boels can do something creative with their hydra-head (I doubt they can because Spratt is in the way on the GC too, so Mitchelton-Scott can counterpunch them, and Hall losing 30 seconds today is a sign she's not in the kind of form that will make that too likely, especially as the TT is not her strength), but there's still some battling for the podium to do. After all, Kasia has never podiumed the Giro, and she's in a strong position. She even managed to take some bonus seconds today, which is pretty remarkable, given that she's historically been one of the most dreadful sprinters in the bunch, and while the likes of Longo Borghini are indeed among the worst outright (I'd back Kasia in a sprint over Elisa 9 times out of 10), Soraya Paladin and Ash Moolman-Pasio are pretty reasonable finishers. Pleased to see Paladin climbing like this, takes me back to Trentino when she was 2nd to Niewiadoma in the queen stage a couple of years ago, only to lose places to Lichtenberg on the final day, and also while losing 30 seconds or so, excellent performances from débutante Demi Vollering and best young rider Juliette Labous to be in the second group (well, third, counting van Vleuten out front on her own). More disappointing is the timeloss from Merino and Cille. The former is less surprising as days like that sometimes follow naturally from being a proper featherweight climber, the problem is in the women's calendar where there aren't many real climbing days, a couple of missed peaks for stages like this can ruin a season; Cecilie I'm surprised by and disappointed - mainly because I wanted her to podium and she was in a good position. She's very much flying solo with Bigla and it's possible that, given she's into her first season as a team leader, that's taking its toll, but I expect her to come back brighter; I just wanted all the good results all the time, because a) a happy Cille is a good thing, b) a successful Cille makes me happy because I am a fan, and c) a successful Cille makes it more likely that we will have a Cille interview, and that makes everybody happier.

The one thing it is worth saying is that this stage did show to a great extent why women's cycling is good fun; while the victory on the final climb was a bit of a foregone conclusion, the fact you had the maglia rosa attacking on the first climb of the day despite being somebody who will at least at that point have had definite designs on defending it. My hypothesis is that it was simply the product of the universal laws of women's cycling: the road went uphill, and therefore Kasia Niewiadoma was compelled by an insatiable desire to attack.
Definitely I think it was affected by the fact that van der Breggen clearly didn't feel great and Niewiadoma was isolated as well as struggling herself on a couple of occasions. Hall set a lot of tempo but I wonder if some of it was a somewhat false tempo to help Anna VDB? It took until 2/3 the way up the climb when Magnaldi had a go for anybody else to be aggressive and I wonder if a few people were looking to either Kasia or Boels (seeing as they had numbers in the group) to set tempo (less likely Sunweb, who had two for some time, once Kirchmann was caught but since Kirchmann had already been away on the attack she had reasons not to be working). I think WNT were the only others with two in the group, and they did sit in for a while, but then were the first to really kick on when Magnaldi attacked.
Thought AVV would win the stage by around 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, so 3 minutes is beyond expectations - The writing was on the wall during the Dutch Championship's when AVV won the ITT by 1 1/2 minutes and in the final of the RR, AVV often accelerated in the last 10kms to test out AVB who couldn't stay in the leading group. AVV spends lots of time at altitude, so we can only assume this helps her performance - AFAIK, female riders don't use altitude as often as male riders - Finally, gotta think the nine-day training camp with the men must have helped.

DJ Sprtsch said:
Today's 12.1k TT

1 VAN VLEUTEN Annemiek 24:31
3 LONGO BORGHINI Elisa +1:48

Look at those time gaps!
What's more telling is that after the top two, the next six were spread over just 20 seconds. This rather explains a bit more how the race became so neutralized yesterday as there's clearly not too much between the chasing group for form; while van der Breggen was strong at the end of the Passo Torre di Fraele, she was also dropped at one point, and didn't seem at her imperious best for much of the climb, before coming into it more as the climb went on further. I'm really impressed with Juliette Labous - hopefully she can hold it together for the whole race, rather than like her fellow young Sunweb gun Liane Lippert at the Women's Tour having a day that undoes all that good work. It's forgivable at their age and experience level, but still sad because they'd raced so well to get there. Just outside the top 10 you have another 10 riders all covered by around 20 seconds, with a lot of the secondary group in it - Vollering, Arzuffi, and some of the helpers like Amialiusik and Shapira. And a second jour sans in a row for Cille, too.

One would argue that realistically therefore, Eider limited her losses to only around the 1 minute mark to most - because Annemiek and to a lesser extent Anna were outlying. The main body of the contenders are spread from Elisa at 1'48 to Magnaldi at 2'24, with a few secondary contenders and surprising underperformances below; Merino still took time on a few contenders such as Guderzo and Paladin, and also, most surprisingly of all, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, who thereby drops from the podium to 9th place overall, which is a real shock. Pleased to see that Sheyla is, in fact, still in the race and the report of her demise was premature.

The interesting thing now is whether those from 4th down can depose either Kasia (more likely) or Anna (less likely) from the podium; Brand needs a minute on the duo, Spratt and Longo Borghini a bit more. The other question is, whether Longo Borghini will have her traditional bad day on a day to come, and open up a bit more competition for that maglia azzurra too, as Magnaldi and Paladin look up for a fight.
I did expect AVV to win the Giro. I did not expect her to murder everyone else like this. It’s one of the most one sided stompings I can recall in a major stage race. It’s not as if a load of her rivals are missing. These are the best GC riders there are.