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While most of the cycling world’s attention is focused on the Tour de France Grand Depart in Leeds at the moment, the biggest stage race on the elite women’s calendar, the Giro Rosa, is also about to start. Contested over ten stages – a prologue individual time trial and nine road stages – this year’s race covers 953km and features three uphill finishes, including on the last two stages.
In this preview CyclingTips editor Matt de Neef looks at the route, considers some of the riders to keep an eye on, and shares some info about how best to follow the race.
A brief history
Now in its 25th year, the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile — also known as the Giro Rosa — is the last surviving Grand Tour on the women’s calendar. The race was shortened to eight stages last year but is back to 10 stages in 2014.
In 2013 it was Mara Abbott who took the title overall following back-to-back stage wins on the summit finishes to stages 5 and 6. It was the second time the American had won the race, her first victory coming back in 2010. Both races in between were won by the all-conquering Marianne Vos.
Check out the VeloFocus website for a great retrospective on the past winners of the Giro Rosa.
Prologue ITT: Caserta (2km)
The 2014 Giro Rosa begins at 8.30pm on Friday night (European time) in Caserta — roughly 50km north of Naples — with a prologue ITT.
Being such a short time trial the time gaps on this stage are likely to be minimal, but look to the likes of world champion Ellen van Dijk (Boels Dolmans), newly crowned Dutch champion Annamiek van Vleuten (Rabo-Liv) or Orica-AIS’s Oceania champion Shara Gillow to take the win.
Stage 1: Santa Maria a Vico to Santa Maria a Vico (95km)
Stage 1 of the Giro Rosa is a circuit race held in the town of Santa Maria a Vico, just 15km down the road from where the prologue was held in Caserta.
This 95km stage features 11 laps of an 8.6km long circuit which includes a 1.8km long climb. The finishing straight is 600m long and dead flat.
This stage is likely to be a war of attrition. As with last year’s world championship road race the field is likely to thin out each time up the climb, with the final selection taking place on the final lap. The winner could come from a small bunch sprint at the end.
Stage 2: Frattamaggiore to Frattamaggiore (120km)
Stage 2 is another circuit race, held in the town of Frattamaggiore just outside of Naples. The 120km stage features six laps of a roughly 20km circuit, starting and finishing in “Fratta”.
With only minimal climbing to speak of on the circuit, look to the sprinters on stage 2. Former world champion Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-Honda) will be a big favourite, as will Aussies Chloe Hosking (Hitec Products) and Mel Hoskins (Orica-AIS).
Stage 3: Caserta to San Donato Val di Comino (125km)
The Giro Rosa is normally characterised by long transfers, but until the fourth day of racing in the 2014 edition, the riders won’t have to change hotels. On stage 3 the race heads northwest out of Caserta to San Donato val di Comino where the general classification will get its first shake-up. There’s the 7km Belmonte Castello ascent after about 80km and then, after a series of ups and downs, the 5km climb to the finish in San Donato val di Comino.
It’s the Belmonte Castello ascent that’s likely to do the biggest damage on this stage. At the top of that climb the peloton is likely to be thinned right down, before thinning out even further on the final climb. Expect a select group of 5-10 riders to be in contention as the finish approaches.
Stage 4: Alba Adriatica to Jesi (118km)
After the first long transfer of the race (more than 200km north to the Adriatic coast), stage 4 is a mostly flat affair. There is a 3km climb that peaks 9km from the end of the stage but the run into the finish in Jesi is flat.
Were it not for the climb just before the finish this would be a perfect stage for the sprinters. As it is, it might be a good stage for the opportunists and breakaway specialists — the climb could make a perfect launching pad for a late attack.
Stage 5: Jesi to Cesenatico (118km)
On Stage 5 the race heads out of Jesi (where stage 4 finished), back out to the Adriatic coast and up to the finish in Cesenatico. There’s only one difficulty on the stage — a short climb that peaks roughly 70km into the 118km stage.
This is one of the few stages that should go the way of the sprinters. The day’s climb shouldn’t be long enough to see the sprinters dropped from contention, but if they are, they’ve got plenty of road to try to catch back on. That said, there are no certainties when it comes to bike racing — if a team like Rabo-Liv decide to drive the pace on the climb and beyond, it might be hard to catch back on, particularly if there are strong coastal breezes to contend with.
Stage 6: Gaiarine to San Fior (112km)
After a couple days racing along the coast, the Giro Rosa heads to the mountains of north east Italy on stage 6, courtesy of a 300km transfer the night before. From Gaiarine the riders have 112km to look forward to, which includes three challenging climbs.
The first of those is short but steep and peaks after 33km. The second climb is longer but gentler and tops out after 60km. The third and final climb is the longest of the race so far: more than 13km at an average gradient of above 7%. This climb peaks with about 28km left to race, after which there’s a long descent and mostly flat run to the finish in San Fior.
This is the first alpine stage of the Giro Rosa and one that’s sure to shape the general classification. The opening two ascents are likely to thin out the bunch — with the amount depending on how hard the strong teams decide to force the pace — while the real fireworks will happen on the final climb.
But this is no summit finish — there’s more than 25km to the finish from the top of the last climb. Will the pure climbers be able to hang on for that long? Or will the race be won from a chase group? Should be a very interesting stage.
Stage 7: Aprica to Chiavenna (92km)
There’s another big transfer between stages 6 and 7 — nearly 350km from San Fior to Aprica close to the Swiss border. Aprica itself is a ski resort and the stage actually begins with a 20km long neutral section off the mountain. And then the climbing begins — there’s a 5.4km ascent at about 8% that begins as soon as the flag drops. That climb is the only significant difficulty on the day, apart from a long uphill drag to the finish line in Chiavenna.
This is fascinating way to start a stage. If the pace is on up that first climb it will make for a very long day for the riders that can’t stay with the frontrunners. But then again, there’s more than 80km of racing before the final drag into Chiavenna; a lot can happen in that time.
There could be a reasonably large group that gets to the base of that final climb together, in which case look to the likes of Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv) or Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS).
Stage 8: Verbania to San Domenico di Varzo (90km)
If the race wasn’t on already , it will be when the riders take on stage 8, the “queen stage” of this year’s race. After another 2.5 hour transfer the night before, the peloton heads out from Verbania on a stage that’s all about the final climb. The 13km ascent rises more than 1,000m (an average gradient of around 8%) making it a stage for the pure climbers.
Stage 6 of last year’s Giro Rosa finished on the same climb to San Domenico di Varzo and it was here that Mara Abbott won solo and strengthened her lead in the general classification. She’ll be the one to watch this time around again — can anyone best her on a long climb like this?
Stage 9: Trezzo sull’Adda to Madonna del Ghisallo (80km)
Unlike in the men’s Grand Tours, there’s no processional stage to finish the Giro Rosa — the GC is up for grabs until the final stage. Starting in Trezzo sull’Adda (roughly 150km south east of the previous day’s finish), stage 9 of the Giro Rosa features another summit finish.
That final climb is the Ghisallo, an 8km ascent made famous by the Giro di Lombardia. It’s average grade might only be about 5% but that doesn’t tell the full story as there’s a 2km descent in there. The first 5km of the climb hovers around 10% and the final 2km to the end of the stage is also steep. It’s at the top, near the church of Madonna del Ghisallo that the winner of the 2014 Giro Rosa will be crowned.
This is obviously another stage for the climbers and one that will determine the final standings in the race. Will it be Mara Abbott again, or one of the Rabo-Liv riders? Or someone else entirely?
In much the same way that the Criterium du Dauphine and Tour de Suisse are considered good indicators of fitness before the Tour de France, the four-day Emakumeen Euskal Bira often provides insight into who’s coming into form for the Giro Rosa.
This year’s Bira was a Rabo-Liv whitewash, with the Dutch squad winning all four stages, the top three overall, and every classification bar the best young rider. For the sake of having an interesting race we can only hope the Giro Rosa doesn’t go the same way as Bira did.
Here are some of the favourites for the Giro Rosa overall:
Mara Abbott (UnitedHealthcare)
It would be a mistake to overlook Mara Abbott for overall honours again in 2014. She moved teams from Exergy Twenty16 to the new UnitedHealthcare Women’s Team in 2014 and has continued her winning ways at the new team (note: she was racing for the US national team at the Giro last year). Abbott won the UCI 2.1 Vuelta a El Salvador in March off the back off a stage victory on the summit finish to stage 4. She also won the Grand Prix de Oriente one-day race in El Salvador a few days earlier, also on a summit finish.
Abbott has done more UCI-ranked racing this year than she did last year in the lead-up to the Giro, but she didn’t race Emakumeen Euskal Bira so it’s a little hard to tell how her form has been progressing in recent months. But the two-time winner is arguably the strongest climber in the Giro and she’ll be hard to beat on the alpine stages later in the race.
She also comes into the race supported by a strong UnitedHealthcare squad which includes all-rounder Alison Powers, the current US national ITT, road race and criterium champion.
Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv)
What can be said about Marianne Vos that hasn’t already been said? Two-time winner of the Giro Rosa, two-time world champion on the road (not to mention six-time CX world champion), winner of just about every major race on the elite women’s calendar, many of them several times over … she’s the ultimate cyclist with the palmares to prove it.
She won three stages and the points classification in last year’s race, but was sixth overall on GC after losing time on the big mountain stages. Vos is perhaps at her best on the shorter punchier climbs (think back to her world champs win last year) and probably isn’t as suited to the longer, steeper climbs as a pure climber like Abbott. Expect to her to win a couple of stages at this year’s race, but will she be good enough on the big climbs to win her third Giro Rosa?
One thing that might work to her advantage is a delayed start to her season — she didn’t do her first UCI-ranked race until April and has built up strongly since then. Actually that’s a huge understatement — in the 21 race she’s done so far this year (including the Dutch ITT and road race championships) her worst result is sixth. She’s won 11 of those races, including three stages and the overall at the Women’s Tour of Britain.
Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Rabo-Liv)
The rise of Frenchwoman Pauline Ferrand-Prevot has been one of the most exciting stories of this season. She won Fleche Wallonne, two stages and the overall at Emakumeen Euskal Bira, and, just last week, both the ITT and road race at the French national titles.
Ferrand-Prevot is another impressively strong all-rounder who performs well against the clock and on the climbs. But it’s not clear how her early season form will translate to the longer climbs of the Giro Rosa. In last year’s race she lost more than 20 minutes to Mara Abbott on stages 5 and 6 combined — we know she has improved out of sight in the past 12 months, but has she done enough to be a contender for the overall?
It will also be interesting to see how Rabo-Liv plays its cards. Do they go into the race with Marianne Vos supporting Ferrand-Prevot, as we saw at Emakumeen Euskal Bira?
Emma Pooley (Lotto-Belisol Ladies)
Pooley is back racing full time after a much quieter 2013 in which she was focused on her PhD in geotechnical engineering. Pooley came second in the Giro in both 2011 and 2012 and despite a modest return to the sport this year, she’s coming into some good form, winning the British ITT championship last week. It will be interesting to see whether Pooley is able to pick up where she left off at the Giro and snag another overall podium.
Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS)
Newly crowned Swedish ITT and road race champion Emma Johansson is the #1 rider in the world in the past 12 months, and this year alone she’s got five UCI victories to her name. She’s also had a lot of near misses, including 13 second- or third-place finishes in 2014.
You can expect Johansson to make almost every decisive split throughout the race but like Vos and Ferrand-Prevot, the question is whether she’ll have the staying power on the long, steep climbs.
Johansson will be ably supported in the hills by her Orica-AIS teammate Shara Gillow who finished fourth overall in last year’s race after top-eight performances on both alpine stages. Recent Orica-AIS recruit Katrin Garfoot should also prove to be a valuable ally in the hills.
Claudia Lichtenberg (Giant-Shimano)
Claudia Lichtenberg (nee Hausler) won the Giro Rosa back in 2009, she was third overall in last year’s edition and was second behind Abbott on the climb to San Domenico on stage 6 last year. She rode solidly at Bira a few weeks ago, finishing top 10 on each stage. All going well she should be in the mix on the big climbs this year as well.
Elisa Longo Bhorgini (Hitec Products)
A huge crash in the Italian national championships last year ruined Elisa Longo Bhorgini’s chances of winning her home-town stage in the 2013 Giro Rosa. Instead she watched the race pass by while sitting on the roadside in a wheelchair.
But things have been much smoother for the Italian this year and the race goes through her home town again, this time on stage 8. She’s had four podium finishes in UCI-ranked races so far this year, plus a win in the Italian national ITT championships last month. And while she’s unlikely to win the overall, expect her to be very active throughout the race, particularly in front of her home crowd on stage 8.
There are probably only two or three stages in this year’s Giro Rosa that will come down to a bunch finish, and with a number of world-class sprinters in the field, these finishes will be hotly contested. Stage 1 winner in last year’s race, Kirsten Wild (Giant-Shimano) isn’t taking part this year, which will be of some relief to the other fast finishers in the race.
Two-time world champion Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-Honda) is likely to be the rider to beat in the bunch sprints but Chloe Hosking (Hitec Products) and Mel Hoskins (Orica-AIS) should feature heavily as well.
Jolien D’Hoore (Lotto Belisol Ladies) shouldn’t be ruled out in the fast finishes either — she won the Belgian nationals road race last week and she’s had another six podium finishes so far this year — and nor should Lucy Garner (Giant-Shimano). The young Briton has taken five podium places so far this season, including at the UCI 1.1 Dwars door de Westhoek.
Other riders to watch
Of course there are dozens of riders that will have an impact on the race at one time or another, but here a small selection of the riders that are worth keeping your eye on:
Tatiana Guderzo (Ale Cippolini)
Guderzo was second overall last year after netting an impressive four top-five finishes. She’s done less racing this year than last and her lead-up to the Giro Rosa hasn’t been as impressive, but she’ll still be a rider to watch when the road tilts up.
Ellen van Dijk (Boels Dolmans)
The world time trial champion is unlikely to factor in the GC but expect her to be very strong in the prologue ITT and visible throughout the rest of the race.
She’s riding in support of GC hopeful Megan Guarnier (Lizzie Armitsead is skipping the race to focus on her Commonwealth Games preparation) so expect to see her driving the bunch to shut down breaks, while also being given latitude to go off in search of her own wins.
Anna van der Breggen and teammates (Rabo-Liv)
The Rabo-Liv team list is a tour de force. In addition to Marianne Vos and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, the Dutch team has the likes of Iris Slappendel, Anna van der Breggen, Annemiek van Vleuten and Lucinda Brand to deploy as they see fit. That’s a whole lot of aggressive, stage-winning firepower.
Valentina Scandolara (Orica-AIS)
Fresh off her podium place in the Italian national road race, and her win at the Giro del Trentino, Valentina Scandolara is coming into some great form ahead of her home tour. She was third on a stage back in 2012 and came third in the QOM classification last year. While she won’t challenge for the overall, Scandolara is another super-aggressive rider that will likely be in breakaways and moves throughout the entire race.
Tiff Cromwell (Specialized-Lululemon)
Cromwell won a stage of the Giro Rosa back in 2012 when she embarked on a 100km solo breakaway and went on to win the stage more than eight-and-a-half minutes clear of the second-placed rider.
She was second in the QOM classification last year, behind race winner Mara Abbott, and was involved in a two-up breakaway with Marianne Vos on stage 3 when she crashed on a descent just 8km from the finish.
The South Australian climber is one of several super-aggressive riders on the Specialized-Lululemon squad and she’ll be well worth watching when the road heads skyward. You’ll also see her riding in support of team leader Evie Stevens who is coming off a win the Philadelphia Cycling Classic last month.
How to follow the race
Sadly there’s no live TV or online streaming of the Giro Rosa and as with most races on the women’s calendar, Twitter is your best bet for live coverage of the race. In addition to the #GiroRosa hashtag, you should also follow these twitter users for up-to-the minute information:
– @GiroRosaCyling – the official Giro Rosa account
– @richiesteege – Boels Dolmans mechanic
– @semversteeg – Rabo-Liv mechanic
– @Karl_Lima_Hitec – Hitec Products boss
– @Velofocus – a great women’s cycling website
– @_pigeons_ – Sarah Connolly, “women’s cycling aficionado”
It’s also worth checking out Sarah Connolly’s Twitter list of good people to follow for women’s cycling.
There will be video highlights of the race on YouTube and if you can get access to a RAI 2 live stream, you’ll be able to watch an hour of highlights every night after the stage.
And then there’s our daily stage reports here at CyclingTips, which will be written by Tiff Cromwell, providing an inside perspective on how the race is unfolding.