The Women's Road Racing Thread 2021

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Highlights are here. Let's all agree 45 minute highlight packages are a good thing after the difficulties of the last couple of years.

The stage was Unipuerto, so it was always going to come down to a climbing battle on the final slopes, but obviously the ascents were far more serious than any seen thus far in the race and this was also always going to give us our first real look at who the likely candidates for overall victory are. The péloton were all too keenly aware too, snuffing out most break attempts as they sped towards the base of the final climb, pausing only for an intermediate sprint where WaowDeals prevented any major rivals getting any bonus seconds. The main protagonists as the bunch shed numbers until only the elites were left were Sabrina Stultiens, Elisa Longo Borghini and Kasia Niewiadoma, as yesterday, with the Dutchwoman most keen to control the pace, and with Moolman-Pasio and van Vleuten keeping a close watch on her. The group eventually was trimmed to just 12 riders, with Shara Gillow and Asja Paladin among the last to fall victim to Stultiens' pacesetting, as well as the maglia rosa having to settle into the second group on the road along with Erica Magnaldi, Winder paying for yesterday's exertions and leaving Brand to fend alone for Sunweb at the front. When the American let go, she looked like she'd blown up completely so how she managed her losses after that is pretty impressive. The veteran Evgeniya Vysotska, well into her 40s now, also went impressively deep into the stage in the lead group, although the pace was assisted by a few occasions where others would ride up alongside and run a few wide for a bit before allowing Stultiens to resume pacesetting which she seemed only too willing to do, stretching them out with a couple of attacks from the front - though the quickest responses to her were from Moolman-Pasio, Longo Borghini and Merino.

In fact, there was a surreal moment with 7km to go as the Spanish women sought to be the same kind of agitants they were in the men's game back in the 1960s and 70s, with Ane Santesteban attacking and Eider Merino looking very smooth and untroubled chasing her down, before Stultiens took back control, forcing Niewiadoma to expend energy chasing her. Once the former European champion had been caught by her successor in that role, the impetus went out of the move and the second group, with the likes of Gillow and Magnaldi in it, rejoined them. The next attack was from Brand, during a respite in the ascent, with van Vleuten the one to chase her down, followed by Niewiadoma, Moolman-Pasio and Fahlin (!). The counter-attack came from Spratt and there was hesitation - and suddenly, just as at the Emakumeen Bira, the Aussie had space and time. Niewiadoma pulled hard and brought her back, but serious damage was done - just 10 riders were left, with Santesteban trying to rejoin them. Van Vleuten was next to go as Mitchelton-Scott tried to use their numbers; the only other teams with 2 were Cervélo and Movistar, and nobody was expecting the Movistar girls to be at the front, and Cille was now hanging on for grim death. Another dig from Annemiek, and just five riders were up front - Annemiek, Amanda Spratt, Niewiadoma, Moolman-Pasio and more surprisingly Margarita Victoria García. It was at this point that Elisa Longo Borghini disappeared not to be seen again by the elite escaladoras. The chase was led by Brand and Guarnier, with Merino and Ludwig as passengers, not chasing their teammates ahead, and Stultiens paying for her earlier exuberance with Santesteban at the back. Niewiadoma decided the best form of defence was to do what comes naturally to her, i.e. attack, to try to negate those numbers that Mitchelton held as an advantage. Spratt found a good spot to attack and sprinted away on a flatter section where she could accelerate more quickly, and using her teammate as a shield on the left hand side to prevent others from being able to slipstream her, quickly got an advantage which Niewiadoma could not close. A strong recovery ride saw the chase gain legs when Megan Guarnier joined them, but the prospect of an MTT tomorrow with Annemiek running interference meant a cohesive chase of Spratt didn't materialise, allowing the Australian to build an advantage that proved decisive. Merino was the next to bridge the gap, the Spanish champion looking fairly accomplished among these star climbers, before being followed by the rest of the chasing group. Interestingly, then, that the lack of cohesion in the chase encouraged counter attacks, with Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig launching an unsuccessful counter-attack in pursuit of Spratt in the last 2km, before Annemiek successfully used that she'd done no work for the last 4km with her teammate leading to gain a couple of extra seconds at the end.

Stage:
1 Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS 2'57'49
2 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) NED +29"
3 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) RSA +31"
4 Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) USA +32"
5 Ane Santesteban González (Alé-Cipollini) ESP +32"
6 Margarita Victoria García Cañellas (Movistar) ESP +32"
7 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) POL +34"
8 Sabrina Stultiens (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +35"
9 Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) NED +35"
10 Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) DEN +35"

GC
1 Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS 15'38'44
2 Ruth Winder (Team Sunweb) USA +30"
3 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) NED +33"
4 Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) NED +40"
5 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) RSA +58"
6 Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) DEN +1'06"
7 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) POL +1'16"
8 Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) USA +1'49"
9 Leah Kirchmann (Team Sunweb) CAN +2'08"
10 Sabrina Stultiens (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +2'31"

The other star escaladoras from today are further back - Merino at +3'09", Santesteban at +3'11" and García at +3'42". Similarly close are Kathrin Hammes and Asja Paladin, while ELB is at +3'39" so not out of it yet.

GuyIncognito said:
Libertine Seguros said:
Cille has put in a great climbing performance today to be up in the upper GC mix alongside Ash
I believe I can sum up your reaction
Hahaha, but yes I don't think anybody would miss that I'm a fan from the tone of my posts. And of course I love mountain goats too, so after a fairly quiet season I am quite excited to see her up with the best in the mountains here.
 
Well, there's a good chance that today we learnt who was going to win the Giro Rosa, and it wasn't a surprise.

Coverage is here.

Anyway, van Vleuten was most people's tip for the win this year, with van der Breggen not starting and with the parcours as it was; she was the one demanding more mountains from the organisers, and she was the one to profit. Last year the organizers included a brutally tough time trial with some painful uphill sections, and Annemiek crushed the field, even catching an ailing Niewiadoma at the finish; this year, with a full-blown cronoescalada on the menu, it seemed perfect for her. After all, Annemiek won the one-climb shootout on the Col d'Izoard, a not dissimilar profile to today's ascent to Campo Moro, and Annemiek is also better than most at dosing efforts when racing one woman against the clock, seeing as she's currently wearing rainbow bands in time trials.

No, what was a surprise was the sheer scale of the destruction. Annemiek gambled on using a time trial bike, whereas most of her rivals opted for their usual road bikes, and it seems to have paid off, as she is at one with her chrono machine, and when even world class climbers like Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, the nearest rival she had today, are losing over two minutes, you know that you're watching a race-winning performance. Having been able to relax late on in yesterday's stage while others had to chase Amanda Spratt, van Vleuten had everything fall perfectly into place for her. Perhaps the most remarkable performance of the day is the third place finish for Lucinda Brand, doing better in a mountain time trial than Guarnier, Spratt, Longo Borghini or Niewiadoma and, while the climb may have been better suited to tempos for much of it, it also included some very steep ramps late on and so we have to consider Brand within the contenders; her comparative size relative to slender climbers like Niewiadoma may place her at a disadvantage on the Zoncolan but for now she's climbing as strongly as almost anybody and setting up a remarkable GC finish.

The four climbers I mentioned above were all very close to one another in time, showcasing how competitive the climbing has become in level, and in the order mentioned above. After them came Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who continues her good form although clearly she may be sacrificed for Ash given how strongly the South African went, putting the best part of a minute into that quartet and it's only the incredible performance from Annemiek that prevents her standing out. The trio of Spaniards who helped light up the race yesterday all finished within the top 20 here but not so decisively as when there were others to manage efforts against; Merino the weakest, but then she is also the least experienced of the three. Most impressively, perhaps, Alice Maria Arzuffi, the combative cyclocross specialist riding on the smallest team in the race, and who has been in two big breakaways in the flatter first half of the race, preserved some more energy yesterday and put in a very impressive 9th place today, while Tayler Wiles also put in a top 10.

Of yesterday's major players Sabrina Stultiens is the one to suffer most; she lost a minute or more to all of the main contenders, two to Moolman-Pasio and well over four to Annemiek; perhaps that willingness to do the work on the front for so long cost her. She remains in the top 10 of the GC, but the time gaps now look a lot more like a typical Giro, and her grip on it is somewhat tenuous. The time gaps were herculean; Ruth Winder managed to just about preserve her own GC position, finishing 22nd on the day, but she was the last woman within six entire minutes of van Vleuten. Partly I wonder if the lack of real TT mileage and especially MTT mileage in the women's calendar means riders have little experience of setting their own pace on a genuine, sustained climb without the benefit of drafting and/or others to help pace them; some riders looked pretty far gone at the finishing line so perhaps a few went out too hard and paid for their efforts later on? Guderzo and Vos, who used to dice for the GC here (the latter successfully on multiple occasions of course), both lost over 8 minutes, and the most outclassed climbers among the national péloton riders were over 20 minutes back, and will be reliant on the generosity of the race jury to be allowed to continue to race.

Now, it looks like Annemiek will need a monstrous pajará to throw the race away, but there's plenty to play for among the placements. Especially regards the podium, with Moolman-Pasio just one second behind Spratt, and Brand less than 10 seconds off the podium.

Stage:
1 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) NED 46'06
2 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) RSA +2'29"
3 Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) NED +2'54"
4 Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) USA +3'17"
5 Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS +3'26"
6 Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High 5) ITA +3'28"
7 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) POL +3'38"
8 Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) DEN +4'06"
9 Alice Maria Arzuffi (Bizkaia Durango-Euskadi Murias) ITA +4'18"
10 Tayler Wiles (Trek-Drops) USA +4'30"

GC after stage 7:
1 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) NED 16'25'23
2 Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS +2'53"
3 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) RSA +2'54"
4 Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) NED +3'01"
5 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) POL +4'21"
6 Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) USA +4'33"
7 Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) DEN +4'39"
8 Ruth Winder (Team Sunweb) USA +5'52"
9 Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High 5) ITA +6'34"
10 Sabrina Stultiens (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +6'36"
 
Re:

claude cat said:
That was a huge ride by van Vleuten.
An amazing ride. She has seen everything in her cycling career. I'll never forget her horrible crash in the Olympics. But now she is back at the pinnacle, current World TT Champion and looking at a very possible Giro title.
 
Re: Re:

JosephK said:
claude cat said:
That was a huge ride by van Vleuten.
An amazing ride. She has seen everything in her cycling career. I'll never forget her horrible crash in the Olympics. But now she is back at the pinnacle, current World TT Champion and looking at a very possible Giro title.
More than possible! She would have to suffer a catastrophe to lose from here (although she has had a catastrophe before of course)
 
May 19, 2010
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Best of luck to Annemiek! She's certainly had her share of misery. I believe she was the one who fared worst in the Rabo TTT demolition a few years back.
 
The destruction of Rabobank was the best thing for AVV's career. She joined MS who gave her leadership responsibilities and further developed her skill set. And she is popular in Australia and may live there post cycling. To think that in 2016, MS failed to enter the Giro Rosa.
 
Mar 16, 2015
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Re: The Women's Road Racing Thread 2018

Is there a way to watch tomorrow's stage of the Giro rosa somewhere in Europe?
The Zoncolan beats anything the Tour has to offer in the first weeks.
 
Califootman - I believe van der Breggen fared worst in that accident but both were in a bad way. Certainly it was Anna who was prone in the road that caused issues for the next teams coming through, but Annemiek does have a few devastating crashes in her history and none more terrifying than the Rio descent accident.

yaco - Annemiek actually left Rabo before the exodus, she rode for Bigla (precursor to today's Cervélo-Bigla team) alongside Lotta, Ash, Carmen Small and Shelley Olds. I think basically the 2014 Rabo team was running out of roles for her with Vos so dominant, PFP at the peak of her powers and van der Breggen obviously positioned to take on the same kind of role as Annemiek, being similar in skillset at the time, but of course eight years younger. Annemiek moved over to Orica in 2016 when they lost Emma Johansson and wanted a replacement overseas experienced star to help with their riders' development as they were pretty much an all-Aussie concern at the time otherwise; that's also why they didn't do the 2016 Giro as they were supplying the entirety of Australia's Olympic RR team (a controversial decision for other reasons, namely Tiffany Cromwell not being selected despite being Australia's leading WWT rider at the time).

Mozart92 - unfortunately not live, but we will have the hour long highlights from PMG Sport in the early evening (you can stream these online). RAI will then broadcast these later, and this year, pleasingly, Eurosport International have been showing the coverage with Declan Quigley dubbing English commentary on top, but they're running a day behind PMG/RAI. If you have Eurosport Player, however, you can watch back through the race to date (the TT will be broadcast this evening).

With regards to the Trek team, I do fear this will harm Drops seeing as they have proven a pretty adept lower-tier team with some good presence in strong races thanks last year to Alice Barnes and Ann-Sophie Duyck, and this year thanks to Eva Buurman and Tayler Wiles, I do have a suspicion they may be raided or merged to populate the domestique corps of the new Trek Factory team (after all I'm sure that while the asking price for a women's team is much, much lower than the equivalent level men's, at the same time Lizzie and Elisa Longo Borghini will be among the best earners in the bunch and with good reason), although they may benefit from replenishing using the less experienced Wiggle riders once Trek and other teams with sufficient budget to contest for them have skimmed off the cream of the crop.
 
Mar 16, 2015
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Re: The Women's Road Racing Thread 2018

Ty libertine, a bit disappointed there's no live coverage (probably because of the tdf) but it will do, I watch the stages in the evening anyway due to work.
 
The Giro Rosa continued to mix up its GC with a hilly stage at the foothills of the Alps, taking in the hometowns of multiple Italian champion riders, including rainbow jersey winners Alessandra Cappellotto and Tatiana Guderzo and Giro and Vuelta-winner Giovanni Battaglin. The latter two both hail from the same town - Marostica - and two laps around the town punctuated the early part of the stage, with an intermediate sprint early in the day and a GPM on the second time up the ascent which leads out from it. Lucinda Brand - ever combative - took maximum points and, more crucially, bonus seconds, in the first sprint, as she continues a somewhat unexpected assault on the podium - last year perhaps but on this course I have to say I did not have her pegged as a podium rider; she has won multiple difficult stages at the Giro, including last year's queen stage and the 2015 Naso di Gatto stage, but the former was won because Anna VDB, Annemiek and Elisa were marking one another and she utilized her superb descending skills to bring back solo breakaway Tetyana Riabchenko, and a lot of the gradients were lower levels last year - 4-5% ascents rather than the more serious 7-8% ramps we've seen more of here to punctuate the more gradual ascents - as well as this year's route featuring precious little descending in the key stages thanks to Unipuerto MTFs and a cronoescalada; the latter was won in a breakaway.

The first climbs split the group up into two, with the number of riders dropped amounting to just under half of the péloton. This enabled a typically aggressive late-race move to develop, with Rossella Ratto - who showed plenty of aggression in the relatively similar stage 5 - leading the move and drawing two national champions, Aude Biannic and Ana Maria Covrig, out with her. Covrig is a staple of these late-Giro moves over the last five years or so, she seems to have good recovery to be able to get into them but not the nous in either climbing or sprinting to make the most of them. Another surreal moment saw Chloe Hosking, of all people, trying to bridge, but Boels wanted to put somebody up the road to join them, sent Christine Majerus, and the other big teams were not keen on allowing them to offer Guarnier a stepping stone and the group was recaptured. Several of the riders also got involved in a move between the climbing loops, including Ratto and Hosking alongside other rouleuses like Pieters and Lepistö, but also, more threateningly, Elisa Longo Borghini, which doomed any hope the group had of success.

After the second intermediate sprint, in which Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio took the maximum bonus in order to sneak slightly closer to the head of the race, only for Brand to also push toward the podium with another two seconds' bonification. Around 20km from the line, Katie Unknown went on the attack, ensuring that the Universal Laws of Women's Cycling were adhered to (rule 274.48/b: "if the road gradient tends towards positive numbers, Katarzyna Niewiadoma must attack"), but it was only a minimal ramp and not the actual final climb for real, and there was no way the other big guns were going to let the Polka go up the road. Boels pulled her back, and the method for this swiftly became clear as Chantal Blaak was next to try her luck, with van Dijk and Jasinska in tow. The group reconvened as the road started to turn up towards the genuine climb, with the likes of Stultiens and Merino quickly finding their way to the front, although this only necessitated a phony war as Sunweb happily controlled the front of the bunch for a while, perhaps forgetting they were no longer carrying the maglia rosa among their number.

Annemiek for her part wasn't really too bothered about whether her teammates were there; she was fixed entirely on the wheels she was keeping an eye on, and on the climb that meant the wheel of Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio above all else. She clearly felt she needs to mark Ash more tightly than Brand with Monte Zoncolan tomorrow, as the other rider in podium contention is Spratt who is of course her teammate. There wasn't too much in the way of real attacks on the final climb, but we did see the bunch trimmed down drastically as sprinters who'd been clinging on like Lotta Lepistö were sent packing by the increased pace of a nervous GC bunch. Longo Borghini was the most active, as she seems to have designs on wrestling the QOM away from Spratty's shoulders, but she was marked tightly by Marianne Vos, who seemed to have earmarked this stage as the best for her characteristics - even at her peak this wouldn't have been a Giro for her, as Abbott's success in the 2013 edition at the height of Vos' domination shows.

Over the summit, however, the chase became a notable one as the front of the bunch became detached from the rest of it as Vos, Longo Borghini and Brand, three of the best descenders in the péloton, sought to force home an advantage over the summit. Narrow, twisty roads plus top quality descenders meant the bunch had to work especially hard to bring them back, even after it opened up and the splintered remains of the péloton had the trio in sight. There were only 30 or so riders left in the group, many of whom weren't really bothered by the trio's small gap, so it fell to Cervélo to try to reel them in, with Moolman-Pasio the most at threat (and Spratt, but clearly preserving Annemiek's GC lead is the higher priority and they were a long way from causing Annemiek any headaches) from the move with Brand poised to move into 2nd overall. The three worked smoothly together - Lucinda and Elisa stood to gain on the GC from the move while Vos, some way further down the GC, stood in the best position to win a sprint as well as not wanting the group behind to come back owing to the presence of some decently fast riders like Eugenia Bujak and Amy Pieters. Van Vleuten was happy to allow the group some time but not too much, so Gracie Elvin was tasked with pegging them to only a small time gain, which the ever-willing Aussie was only too happy to do, while Boels were happy to help a little, in the hope of a sprint for Pieters, but without wasting any energy for Megan Guarnier, so we were left with Vos, Brand and Longo Borghini vs. Elvin and Canuel in a TT battle, which the former unsurprisingly won. Some surprising contributors, Ratto and Santesteban, got involved late on, but too late to bring back the elite trio up front, so they contested the sprint, in which unsurprisingly Marianne Vos won, with enough time to celebrate comfortably and still almost merit a time gap - you can see how cooked Lucinda Brand was by her efforts because Longo Borghini beat her in a sprint, and I'm not convinced on a normal day that Elisa could even beat Niewiadoma that way.

The method in the madness of Ratto's last minute contribution to the chase became clear late on, however, and in fact made it questionable why she hadn't contributed earlier, as it turned out there was another strong sprinter in the group - employing the same mysterious ability to go unnoticed as she used to win the World Championships all those years ago, Giorgia Bronzini emerged from the group to take the sprint for the minor placements (seriously, go back and watch those Geelong Worlds - every lap the GPS picks up the first 20 or so riders through the checkpoint. At the end of the race there's only 24 in the bunch - but Giorgia is only picked up among the first 20 or so once or twice in the whole race). There's also quite an interesting battle at play for the maglia bianca, between World Tour U23 leader Sofia Bertizzolo and Top Girls Fassa Bortolo's Nadia Quagliotto, with both making the selection and battling for the sprint too.

Stage:
1 Marianne Vos (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED
2 Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High 5) ITA +st
3 Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) NED +st
4 Giorgia Bronzini (Cylance Pro Cycling) ITA +23"
5 Asja Paladin (Alé-Cipollini) ITA +23"
6 Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Valcar-PBM) ITA +23"
7 Sofia Bertizzolo (Astana) ITA +23"
8 Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM) ITA +23"
9 Nadia Quagliotto (Top Girls-Fassa Bortolo) ITA +23"
10 Eugenia Bujak (BTC City-Ljubljana) SLO +23"

GC:
1 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) NED 19'32'24
2 Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) NED +2'29
3 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) RSA +2'51
4 Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS +2'53"
5 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) POL +4'21"
6 Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) USA +4'33"
7 Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) DEN +4'39"
8 Ruth Winder (Team Sunweb) USA +5'52"
9 Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High 5) ITA +6'05
10 Sabrina Stultiens (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +6'36"

Tomorrow...
 
For William T. Sherman, war is hell. For Jean-Paul Sartre, hell is other people. For HP Lovecraft, adulthood is hell. For cyclists, hell is a 10km stretch of tarmac in northern Italy, which they grind up at a tortuous pace, called Monte Zoncolan. The women were the first to climb it, back in 1998, but that was from Sutrio and they'd never taken on the more difficult Ovaro side until now; apart from maybe Vysotska, none of the main protagonists will have been cycling at the highest level back then anyway. In the case of some of the main protagonists, they would only have been small children - while van Vleuten, Guarnier and Moolman-Pasio may have been old enough to have feasibly had some inspiration back then (notwithstanding that Ash came to the sport relatively late and the other two had their breakouts in their mid to late 20s), the likes of Merino (August '94), Niewiadoma (September '94) and Ludwig (August '95) would have been hard pushed to remember much of 1998 at all, let alone the Giro Donne in that era.

This was of course the day everybody had been waiting for, with some trepidation in most cases, as surviving the beast was paramount - for many riders it was expected solely to be a time trial; the benefit of drafting at this pace is minimal so it's a climb simply to survive. As a one-climb stage, we basically got to see the péloton explode as soon as the climb began, and shortly after that we got a decisive attack, as Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio attempted to replicate the tactics she'd used to defeat a similarly dominant-looking hydra-head of Spratt and van Vleuten (and Garfoot as well that time) on the Jaizkibel to sneak away with the Emakumeen Bira overall title last year, going hard and going early, drawing Annemiek out of the bunch with her. In fact, the comparisons to that epic Basque stage continued, as who should be proving the next strongest climber but, of course, Eider Merino, now clad in her (awful) Spanish champion's jersey, which again was won on a climb, as she starts to really showcase that she's a proper specialist in the mountains, with Amanda Spratt fighting to stick with the young Basque escaladora. The next quartet was led by Lucinda Brand and featured the other two Spaniards, as the nation does look to be developing into the same kind of role it held in men's cycling back in the 50s and 60s - producing great climbers but not being competitive over other terrains - as well as 2016 Giro winner Megan Guarnier. Brand's climbing has been something of a revelation as this race has gone on, as while she's always been a versatile rider, her best climbing performances have typically been from breaks and as she seldom raced for her own goals in events like the Emakumeen Bira and the Giro del Trentino, it's been unusual to see her in full on mountain goat mode and riding up the Zoncolan ahead of the likes of Niewiadoma and Longo Borghini is not something I would have predicted pre-race.

We got an interesting duel between the chasing duo, as Merino clearly was not keen to ride with Spratt, who simultaneously could climb up onto the podium if she could utilise the Movistar rider's help, and attacked the Australian repeatedly but for the most part unsuccessfully, while Annemiek took everything that Moolman-Pasio could throw at her and more, eventually putting in a dart on a lower gradient stretch of road, one of the few parts of the Zoncolan where something legitimately approaching an actual attack higher up the climb can take place, and Ash lost the wheel once and for all. And I'll tell you what, while the crowds were nothing remotely like the men see here, it's fantastic to see Annemiek riding through assembled fans a kilometre from the finish, since the women's races tend to see people congregate only around the finish and dotted around elsewhere; the Zoncolan's natural amphitheatre makes for great viewing however.

At one stage the race leader's advantage got above a minute, but Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio is nothing if not tough, and she dug into her suitcase of courage (©Phil & Paul) and put in a great recovery ride to pull back to a little over 30 seconds' deficit at the line, safe in the knowledge the others were well down the mountain and she had all but secured 2nd place in the overall. Poor Eider Merino did everything she could to get rid of Amanda Spratt, but the queen of the mountains stuck to her like glue and then outsprinted her for the time bonuses and a fairly sizable gap as the Basque struggled her way up that final slope. Guarnier and Brand proved the strongest of the remainder, with Meg similarly gaining a few seconds in the last few metres, while Ane Santesteban dropped around 30 seconds from them in the final kilometre. Next across the line was Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, the young Dane having been no longer needed by Ash from early on so able to ride her own tempo and enabling the prior group to come back to her in part as the climb went on, passing the ailing Mavi García late on to take 8th, while an almighty impressive performance from 23-year-old Norwegian Katrine Aalerud for the Virtu team saw her round out the top 10, just relegating the Niewiadoma-Magnaldi duo who would have been much more highly-fancied for that role at the start of the day, with Longo Borghini and Stultiens, two of the most active when the mountains began in this race, a little further behind at the 6 minute mark, with the WaowDeals rider losing out on her top 10 position as the two Spaniards, Merino and Santesteban, move up into it at the expense of her and Winder. Despite having had her breakthrough on a longer climb (La Crosetta) it does really feel that Niewiadoma is finding a bit of an obstacle in the Giro with the longer climbs; she's now consistently finishing between 5th and 7th as this looks like being her fourth finish in that area in a row, but while she's an extremely strong climber, this seems to manifest itself most in climbs of the 4-8km kind of range, perhaps as that's the kind of size of those climbs in the Beskids that she'll have grown up with; the number of women's races with truly epic long climbs to test yourself in racing condition are few, however, so not sure what she can do to rectify that, but if she wants to win the Giro, and with her skillset and talent she should want to win the Giro, then she'll need a bit more durability on the longest ascents than she seemingly has at present.

The gaps in the GC are now pretty herculean, showcasing how tough the climbs have been this year and more resembling the Grand Tour that this is - last year the top 5 were inside the current advantage Annemiek holds over Ash in 2nd, while her advantage over Ane Santesteban in 10th, 12'35", was the gap from van der Breggen all the way down to Dani Rowe in 24th; the first rider outside of 12'35" last year was Hannah Barnes - this year it's one of the more active climbers in the race, last year it was a durable sprinter. For another comparison, last year Cille was at +9'53" and finished 16th; with one stage remaining of this year's race she's at +10'01" and 6th.

One last point to make, however, which is pretty great: of course the Unipuerto stage makes it difficult to compare, but according to jens attacks' climbing times sheets, Annemiek van Vleuten's flat 48 minute ascent of Monte Zoncolan would have put her in the top 40 of the men's Giro stage that Chris Froome won a couple of months ago. Which in turn means Moolman-Pasio's time is plenty competitive too, being relatively close at hand. And Annemiek slots into the top 200 fastest ascents of the Zoncolan, which considering the rocket fuel of 2007, is also pretty impressive, no?

Stage:
1 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) NED 3'17'54
2 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) RSA +40"
3 Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS +2'54"
4 Eider Merino Cortazar (Movistar) ESP +2'59"
5 Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) USA +4'00"
6 Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) NED +4'06"
7 Ane Santesteban González (Alé-Cipollini) ESP +4'39"
8 Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) DEN +4'52"
9 Margarita Victoria García Cañellas (Movistar) ESP +5'16"
10 Katrine Aalerud (Virtu Pro Cycling) NOR +5'28"

GC:
1 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) NED 22'50'08
2 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) RSA +3'35"
3 Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS +5'53"
4 Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) NED +7'05"
5 Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) USA +8'43"
6 Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) DEN +10'01"
7 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) POL +10'13"
8 Eider Merino Cortazar (Movistar) ESP +11'12"
9 Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High 5) ITA +12'14"
10 Ane Santesteban González (Alé-Cipollini) ESP +12'35"

As has been the case for the last couple of years the final stage is flat but for a fairly serious final climb with the finish on the descent. Today's climb is, according to the official race ticker, 4km at a shade under 10%, so plenty tough enough for some gaps to be made. I don't see too much in the way of major GC shakeup owing to the gaps involved, but if she has any legs left after yesterday this would be an opportunity for redemption for Kasia as this is in her 'zone' of the type of climbs she's typically gone really well on. She's one of the few people at the business end fof the GC (Santesteban is the other) who doesn't actually need a lot of time to gain on the GC. Brand might think about the podium given her demon descending skills but I think Mitchelton-Scott are strong enough to protect Spratty because Annemiek's advantage is so sizable that even if she suffers the mother of all pajarás she should still be able to keep herself within three and a half minutes of Ash. Could be a good fight to get into the break today too - I've isolated Soraya Paladin as somebody I think might try something, she's a pretty good climber and has been on the podium of the Giro del Trentino (the year that Katie Unknown and Claudia Lichtenberg did the 1-2), but who came in with the sprinters yesterday so I wonder if she's saved a bit of energy. Rasa Leleivyte also finished well down; this climb is perhaps a little long for her but she won't be tightly marked and she did finish on the podium of the Giro dell'Emilia last year. She also has a good history on the Côte de Cadoudal as she likes puncheuse finishes and, having started out as a versatile sprinter, she has a good kick to the line too. Ellen van Dijk is some way down, she can descend and solo well but the climb may be a bit severe for her. It isn't so severe for Rossella Ratto as she's a decent climber, but she's also woefully inconsistent as well as incredibly combative, so she might be one to look out for. Karol-Ann Canuel can climb pretty well too, and Boels, rather remarkably, haven't won a stage here so with her having a fair bit of leeway could she try to win from the break, in much the same way as Rabo salvaged a somewhat disappointing race a couple of years ago with Thalita de Jong winning on a similar profile stage on the last day? Canyon I think only have Cecchini as a stagehunting option, because with Amialiusik having gone home and with the gradients of that final climb being too much for too long for Ryan or the Barnes sisters, Cecchini is the only rider besides a GC-relevant push from Niewiadoma that I'd see as a viable winner here. Oh, and Arzuffi will probably attack again of course.

Realistically though I see this as being one that the break will have some leeway but the GC contenders will probably take just because the length of the climb, while nothing on Zoncolan or Gerola Alta, will be sufficient for the big name climbers to pull a lot of them back. Annemiek will manage the race, Ash may or may not try something as a final hail mary, and we will get to see if Eider has learnt any descending skills in the last 14 months, seeing as she was as stereotypically Basque as they come in her breakout at home, going uphill like a gazelle and going downhill like Bambi on ice.
 
...and just as I say that, the break of the day is created.

Chantal Blaak (Boels), Chloe Hosking, Roxane Knetemann (Alé), Katia Ragusa (BePink), Dani Christmas (Bizkaia Durango), Elena Cecchini (Canyon), Carmela Cipriani (Conceria Zabri), Sheyla Gutiérrez (Cylance), Małgorzata Jasińska (Movistar), Anna Ceoloni (Michela Fanini-Rox), Juliette Labous (Sunweb), Eva Buurman (Trek-Drops), Jeanne Korevaar (WaowDeals).

Blaaki might be able to get over that climb, Cecchini's won the nationals on Supergà so I would make her the favourite but Jasińska is a pretty strong and experienced climber herself. Those are the three I'd be backing from that group. Buurman's had a pretty good season thus far in terms of contesting hilly stages but I think this final climb is probably a bridge too far for her.
 
The break added to its advantage with a maximum lead of three minutes, but then the big guns' teams decided they wanted some of that action, and as the stage is the last possible opportunity for some of them - Boels and Canyon most notably, who will have come into the race with high hopes - to take something out of the race, with the GC podium looking unlikely and this being the final stage for them to get anything from, tensions were high seeing as both had strong stagehunters in the group but also their main leaders behind. Ellen van Dijk launched a speculative counterattack as the bunch started to try to reel in the escapees, moving into a chasse-patate a minute behind the break but a minute ahead of the bunch. Sunweb were clearly cooking something up, as once the climb began and Ellen was drawn back by the group, Juliette Labous was on the move with Mavi García in between the break and the péloton once more, though at this stage the break only had 50" with the climb commencing and that was unlikely to be enough.

It will be interesting to see how the climb unfolded once the highlights are available because the next update we have is that Annemiek was taking the summit of the climb in the lead solo, so clearly the break was absolutely demolished by the climb, and she had Spratt and Moolman-Pasio chasing at around 20" disadvantage. This might suggest Ash has attempted a last ditch effort to dethrone the maglia rosa elect, only for Annemiek to go up and over with Spratty marking Ash, or that Annemiek has launched away pre-emptively to make sure no disasters befall her now that she knows she's the top grimpeuse in the race and remembering her Olympic disaster. The next news was that Niewiadoma and Santesteban were chasing, but then at the line we know that Annemiek took the stage with a few seconds' advantage, and Brand and Niewiadoma were 2nd and 3rd on the stage, so not sure if the rest of the 'bigs' got back together or if Kasia and Lucinda gained anything on the descent - as it wasn't clear from the update whether Kasia and Ane chasing meant they were pursuing Annemiek up front, or if they were dropped by the rest of the heads of state and were chasing back on. Either way, the top 3 on the stage was Annemiek, Lucinda and Kasia. It looks like Merino (classically inconsistent?) and Longo Borghini missed the selection, but Ludwig, Santesteban, Niewiadoma and García all made it, so there's the possibility of some movement at the lower end of the top 10, however nobody in the top 7 didn't make the cut, so there shouldn't be any changes in the upper echelons and therefore we can safely say that the GC podium is van Vleuten, Moolman-Pasio, Spratt. With a combined age of 97 (Annemiek is 35, Ash is 32, Spratt is 30) this is the oldest GC podium in the history of the Giro Rosa I think, mainly as some youngster or another would ruin previous elder stateswoman podiums, such as Claudia Häusler in 2008 making the podium behind veterans Luperini and Neben.
 
Mitchelton Scott took the mickey out of the Giro winning 6 stages in a variety of terrains - First and third on the GC, winning the points and KOM competitions - This after losing Georgie Williams to a training crash a few days before the Giro and then losing Lucy Kennedy who would have been the number one support rider in the mountains - Management expected to win the Giro but they must have exceeded their own expectations with their dominance.
 
Final stage results now clear:

1 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) NED 3'00'24
2 Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) NED +27"
3 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) POL +27"
4 Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) USA +27"
5 Margarita Victoria García Cañellas (Movistar) ESP +27"
6 Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS +27"
7 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) RSA +27"
8 Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) DEN +27"
9 Ane Santesteban González (Alé-Cipollini) ESP +27"
10 Juliette Labous (Team Sunweb) +1'14"

Final GC:
1 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) NED 25'50'22
2 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) RSA +4'12"
3 Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS +6'30"
4 Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) NED +7'36"
5 Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) USA +9'20"
6 Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) DEN +10'38"
7 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) POL +10'46"
8 Eider Merino Cortazar (Movistar) ESP +12'37"
9 Ane Santesteban González (Alé-Cipollini) ESP +13'12"
10 Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High 5) ITA +13'47"

A few statistics for you.

At 35, Annemiek van Vleuten becomes the second oldest winner of the race; the oldest was Maria Canins, in the first ever Giro Donne. It being her first victory in the Giro makes it especially interesting.
Eider Merino's 8th place is the first Spanish top 10 in 10 years, since Anna Sanchis was 7th in 2008. Ane Santesteban being only one place behind her means this is the most successful Spanish Giro Femminile since Maribel Moreno's podium in 2007 which obviously has a massive cloud over it now.
As mentioned above, with a combined age of 97 this is the oldest ever Giro podium.
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio is the first African to podium a Grand Tour (or rather, representing Africa, obviously there's that fellow Chris Froome).
Amanda Spratt is the first Australian since 1994 to make the podium; no Australian has won the race but they had three podiums in the first five editions - two with Kathy Watt and one with Elizabeth Hepple - and none since, despite their prominence in the women's game.
Elisa Longo Borghini takes her fourth jersey for the best Italian rider, bringing her level with Tatiana Guderzo for most wins in this classification. Fabiana Luperini would hold this by a mile had the jersey been available during her heyday, however - she only has one due to its relative recency.
Sofia Bertizzolo won the maglia bianca finishing a lowly 21st on the GC - the lowest position required to take the jersey home since its inception.
Ane Santesteban is the best-placed rider on an Italian-registered team. The last time an Italian rider on an Italian team made the top 10 was 2013, when both Tatiana Guderzo and Francesca Cauz achieved the feat.
Annemiek's victory margin of 4'12" is the clearest margin of victory since 1997, when Fabiana Luperini finished 4'46" ahead of Linda Jackson. 4 riders being inside ten minutes from the winner is the least since 2011, when only three riders were within that margin from Vos' time.
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio is the oldest first time podium rider since... Annemiek van Vleuten last year. But before that, it was Amber Neben in 2008.
While the time gaps at the front of this race are enormous compared to last year, at the back they are somewhat smaller. Last year's maglia nera, Bryony van Velzen, finished 2 hours 5 minutes behind van der Breggen. This year's last placed finisher, 21-year-old Marzia Salton Basei of the Conceria Zabri team (who actually enjoyed her birthday mid-race), finished 2 hours 12 minutes behind van Vleuten, despite the increased difficulty of the race with two big mountaintop finishes and a mountain time trial. In fact, as the overall time to complete the race was 11 minutes shorter this year, she actually completed the race faster than van Velzen last year.
The exact same number of riders finished this year as last year - 130.
 
No rest for the grimpeuses, however, because La Course by Le Tour de France, the most divisive race on the calendar, is up next.



This is an infinitely more interesting route than last year, and it isn't trying to kill off any 30-year-old stage races this time, so that's at least something, but of course the women getting a one-day race shoehorned into a midweek during the Tour to warm up the crowd is of course still a matter of debate, as is the fact that ASO did not help the Route de France, which has now died, to survive even though they had a calendar slot that fit perfectly to La Course, and an organisational framework in place. But then, of course, the ASO is also the organisation that is unable to figure out how to work an 'on' switch during La Flèche Wallonne.

Anyway: this is an interesting route with two big mountains and two big descents, and obviously we have only just had the Giro. The startlist is very strong, as you can imagine - it's on the World Tour, and of course it's a major climbing race which we don't have many of, which is one of the plus points to La Course - and we will see just how many of the Giro protagonists still have something in the tank.

The startlist includes many of the Giro's main protagonists - Mitchelton only have 5 riders according to Cyclingfever as presumably Kennedy was originally intended to race here, but they do have Annemiek van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt, so you know, they've got the women in form. And their main nemesis from the Giro, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, is also in attendance, with the mighty Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig in support as well; other top Giro names in attendance are Megan Guarnier, Lucinda Brand, who leads a Sunweb team unchanged from Italy other than Floortje Mackaij jumping in for Ellen van Dijk, Kasia Niewiadoma, and the Spanish climbing armada, Alé's Ane Santesteban and Movistar's duo of Mavi García and Eider Merino. Some of the secondary climbing names from Italy, like Sabrina Stultiens who went so well on Gerola Alta but faded on Zoncolan and in the final stage, Shara Gillow, Erica Magnaldi of BePink and the Trek-Drops duo of Kathrin Hammes and Tayler Wiles, both of whom have had strong performances when the road goes up this year.

There are a few high profile omissions, the highest of which is inevitably Elisa Longo Borghini, who is resting up after giving it her all in her home race and as a result Wiggle's lineup is fairly inexperienced and light on legitimate contenders; a lot of eyes will be on the return of Anna van der Breggen as well, who is fresh and raring to go after voluntarily ceding her Giro crown; a fresh van der Breggen against riders with 10 days of difficult racing in their legs might not be a fair fight, but at least it means it's likely Mitchelton don't get things all their way because van der Breggen & Guarnier vs. van Vleuten & Spratt could be a tag team battle royale for the ages, even more so if you can potentially add in Moolman-Pasio & Ludwig and make it a Triple Threat match. Pauline Ferrand-Prévot sat out the Giro but is back on the startlist for La Course it seems, theoretically she and Kasia could make another dual threat, especially if Kasia's form is coming back since she was better on the final day of the Giro than she had been on the previous couple of stages, but because of her moonlighting in various formats and the inconsistent road calendar she rides, Pauline's form is becoming ever harder to predict, however she ought to at least be motivated in a big home race as she's usually pretty active in La Course. Speaking of French returns in the race, the Cogeas-Mettler team has elected to supplement its roster of mostly young Russian prospects with 51-year-old Edwige Pitel.

But she's not even the most interesting wildcard to throw into the mix, however. That would be Katie Hall, since UHC and Tibco are entering the race (Shannon Malseed may also be an interesting card to play but I think less likely to be in genuine podium contention than Hall). Katie has been cannibalizing the US calendar this year even though the Tour de Féminin Krasná Lipá is the first race outside of the States that she's done all season. It's still not a truly fair fight seeing as she's comparatively fresh as against those who've done the Giro, but we don't get to see her test her climbing against the very best often; she won California, yes, but that was against a field where apart from Niewiadoma, the A-team climbers at the WWT level weren't there this season, and last year when she pushed close to the win, van der Breggen and co were coming straight from the Ardennes so the suitability of the race as a judgement can be called into question. Even so, she beat the likes of Wiles and Magnaldi along with Niewiadoma fairly handily and without the ten days of the Giro in her she will be an interesting card to play. Surely it's time for her to gamble on coming to Europe - would love to see her at the Emakumeen Bira and the Giro, but I can't really see it happening so long as she's at UHC, but she's also clearly outgrown the national scene in the US as she's winning absolutely everything, and fairly comfortably.

Another wildcard is Nikola Nosková, the diminutive cyclocrosser on the BePink team who showed such excellent capabilities in the mountains last year. She's been quieter this year, but she did annihilate the field on home roads in Zlín in the European U23 championships, winning by a humongous margin with Aafke Soet over three and a half minutes back, and the bronze medal, Letizia Paternoster, over seven minutes down, so she's on form.
 
Jun 30, 2014
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Today La Gazzetta had an interview with the race organizer and he mentioned the fact that next year they actually want to have a stage finish on Monte Crostis!
They already talked with Cainero, the guy who organozes the big Giro mountain stages in the Friuli region and they'll do a recon, there are still some logistic problems, but they actually want to have a Crostis stage in the Giro Rosa!
 

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