Well, seeing as the men held a GC phony war (again), perhaps we can lay to rest the ghosts of the falsehood of the 'women's cycling is boring' myth, because we got a pretty epic battle out there in the Alps that can hopefully reignite the "what the f*** are ASO doing sticking a one-day race somewhere in the middle of the race and killing off the Route de France in the process?" debate, because what we saw there was some serious racing that gave the lie to the lack of long form stage racing among the women, because what's a tough 10 day Giro in the legs when you're Annemiek van Vleuten and you're made mostly out of titanium and awesomeness? Even after an eight hour drive on your "rest day"? Even Vuelta transfers don't demand that of the riders!
When I said it would be an intriguing battle between one of the strongest climbers in women's cycling, fresh after resting from the Giro but with her form therefore unknown, versus one of the strongest climbers in women's cycling, on incredible form but with ten days of the Giro in her legs, I didn't think it would end quite as closely as that. That was a pretty spectacular finish, it's absolutely gutting for Anna on the line, but at the same time I don't feel too bad for her, she's won plenty enough this year and she is eight years younger than Annemiek so she has plenty more opportunities should she so wish. Obviously her post-race interview was coloured by the outcome, refusing point blank to take any positives out of it seeing as obviously a win she thought was in the bag disappeared at the last (I did think she was looking over her shoulder rather a lot in the last kilometre which gave the lie to her legs seeing as she looked so much more composed whereas Annemiek was looking quite ragged in that final little drag up to the line) and obviously at that moment all she felt was disappointment. But at the same time, that Anna can slot straight back into the bunch at the very elite, appearing with the top two climbers from the Giro Rosa and showing them she's still not to be messed with, is something she should take heart from. As at the Giro, Moolman-Pasio was comfortably best of the rest but didn't have the legs to match Annemiek, and especially once she lost sight of them on the descent, not being able to follow the two Dutchwomen was always going to be a concern, not because Ash is especially bad at descending but simply because Anna and Annemiek are among the very best.
And then there was the heroine of the day, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. I've been a fan of her as a rider back since the Tour de Féminin a couple of years ago, seeing how she rode the hilly stages as a young prospect with BMS-Birn, and had hopes for her as a climbing prospect; since she's developed with Cervélo and got to do the biggest races and got to show what she's all about, however, she's become a superstar in the making. She's an aggressive and likable rider, but even more so she's an incredibly likable and charismatic rider off the bike too. There aren't many who can hold an interview like her, laughing and joking even while she's in floods of tears, and her facial expressions even when just going about her thing in the bunch or in warm-up/cool-down are absolutely top notch. Her interview here was both heartwarming and hilarious ("if you ever have any bad form, I recommend you get your wisdom teeth taken out"), but at the same time she did also illustrate how far there still is to go - fans chanting your name and painting it on the road, holding banners etc. is more or less par for the course for any major contender and hometown hero among the men, but enough to reduce one of the most exciting prospects in women's cycling to tears of joy. That said, an epic solo over the mountains is a thing of glory, and Cille is awesome and I'm really happy for her.
Further back, it looks like the next group through were more or less a group of 7 split at various points - Guarnier and Niewiadoma, both on form in the Giro, Hall and Spratt - again Spratt having been on super form in the Corsa Rosa and Hall showcasing her climbing level - perhaps not quite the very elite but then again with access to a full European season who knows what she might be able to do? She's 31 years old but she's only been on the road properly since 2014 so she doesn't have the miles on the clock several others her age do; Mavi García only just missed the top 10 of the Giro and didn't turn pro until she was 31, I'd say Katie's a better overall climber than Mavi too. Santesteban, Magnaldi and Brand made up the rest of the group, with Nikola Nosková next home, so happy to see that Nosková's climbing legs haven't deserted her as I did have some concern that like BePink's last young climbing breakthrough, Kseniya Tuhai, her success may have been fleeting. Brodie Chapman of Team TIBCO, another late convert Australian like Malseed, was also in the top 15, continuing an impressive first pro season for the 27-year-old - she was 5th in the Tour of California and top 20 in La Flèche Wallonne so this would suggest climbing races to be her speciality too. Less exciting is that, seeing as PFP withdrew early, the best French competitor in the race was Edwige Pitel; the lack of current French GC talent, with the dependency on the increasingly inconsistent and whimsical Ferrand-Prévot being almost total, is likely the biggest handicap to a real commitment to a proper length stage race under ASO's tutelage in France. PFP's string of injuries in the last couple of years allied to her tendency not to stick to any one discipline for too long and to hop between them regularly means that relying on her is increasingly difficult, and the other top level French women are either sprinters (Fournier, for example) or domestiques (Cordon-Ragot especially) though we shall perhaps see how Juliette Labous develops.
Those are questions for another time though. For now, let's agree that this was great racing and enjoy a gutsy solo from a young prospect, a climbing battle between three of the very best in the world right now, and a chasedown finale for the ages, of the kind of Jiménez and Tonkov on the Angliru in the "is there enough time, can she get there in time?" mould. Women's cycling had a chance to showcase itself today and it absolutely delivered. Maybe this can prove to organisers and TV broadcasters that, when given the chance and a course conducive to racing, the women can deliver some pretty damn good racing, we just need to be able to see more of it.