Tiff Cromwell’s Giro Rosa Diary: prologue
Over the next 10 days Australia’s Tiffany Cromwell (Specialized-lululemon) is going to be blogging for us from within the 25th Giro Rosa, the women’s Giro d’Italia. It’s the longest and most important stage race on the women’s UCI calendar and a race that attracts the very best riders in the women’s peloton. Here’s Tiff’s report from the evening prologue, held yesterday.
The 2014 edition of the Giro Rosa begins in Southern Italy in the town of Caserta, close to Naples, before making its way North via the Amalfi coast and finally finishing on top of the famous Madonna del Ghisallo near Como.
For me it’s my seventh start in this race — I’m becoming quite the veteran these days at the ripe old age of almost 26. I have many great memories from over the years, from fighting for the young rider’s jersey in the early days, to my 100km solo breakaway victory in 2012 being the absolute highlight so far. Most of all I love this race because we get to spend 10 days racing through the picturesque roads of Italy, a beautiful country full of passionate fans and amazing food.
Here at Specialized-Lululemon we are coming into the race fielding a strong team with big ambitions. We have Evelyn Stevens as our GC leader; she already has a proven track record with stage wins to her name and spent days in the pink jersey too in previous editions. We have a squad with many different cards to play on both the flat roads and in the mountains with riders who are capable of victory on any given stage.
The 2014 Giro began with a super short and sweet 2km prologue in the centre of Caserta. It’s quite a happening little town from what I saw — I was trying not to get distracted by all the ‘sales’ signs in the shop windows and remember that I was here to race my bike, not to burn a hole in my pocket by increasing my wardrobe collection.
It was a simple out and back circuit with a twist; the entire course was raced over Italian pave. Large rectangular pavers in typical Italian order — all over the place at different levels. Basically there was no fast or smooth line and add in some speed humps along the way for extra amusement. The second challenge was the first rider departed the start gate at 8.30pm as the sun was setting and the last rider began well into the night, just before 10:30pm. Nothing like an evening prologue in the dark. Got to love the Italian style; it never changes.
I personally like prologues — they’re a short but intense effort to open the lungs and it’s over before the pain receptors in your legs make it to your brain. It requires immense focus and precision to get it exactly right as the smallest of margins will split the top 10 and beyond. This one however, was potentially challenging for me, being a smaller rider bouncing all over the cobbled street. The key was being able to push the power down and not fight the rough road, suited to the bigger powerful riders.
I probably road the course five or 10 times before the start, practising different lines and getting a good feeling. With a race so short every little detail can make the difference between first and second. I had one trick up my sleeve that I practised numerous times in my course reconnaissance — I just wasn’t sure I had the balls to do it come the race.
After the turnaround with 1km to go there was a nice smooth gutter that was possible to ride on up until 250m to go and you could transition back to the cobbles easily enough if needed. The challenge was you needed to be confident in your bike handling skills in the aero bars — there’s the risk of hitting the curve and crashing if you lose your line. The other challenge was if a spectator decided to stand too close to the road. The benefit, however, was that it was easily a few seconds faster than staying on the cobbles and over 2km that is a lot of time.
Race time came around at 9:57pm for me, after a short and intense warm-up on the trainer with the heart racing ready to get this thing started. I sprinted out of the start gate and straight into my TT position. The opening straight felt like it went on for an eternity. I was bouncing everywhere but just going with it, trying to get into some kind of rhythm, but it was really happening. I was pushing a bigger gear and just looking ahead for the turn-around.
I probably came out of my bars a little too early before the turnaround but I got around the hairpin and sprinted back out. This was now decision time — stay on the cobbles or take the gutter? I said to myself in the split second I had to think “stuff it, I’m taking the gutter, I’m sick of the cobbles, I’m taking the risk” and it worked out. I got back up to speed and was flying along the smooth surface all the way to the final 250m.
I was satisfied with my effort on the course and ended up not too far off the pace down in 17th by the time everyone had finished. The one thing with the prologue though is there’s so much setting up, organising and fussing around for an effort that lasted, for me, two minutes 39 seconds. It’s over before you know it.
Rabobank-Liv has set the bar high and stamped their authority on the race. Annemiek van Vleuten, fresh off winning the Dutch National time trial title, took the win and the first pink jersey of the race in a blistering time of 2:26 ahead of her teammate Marianne Vos. Indeed Rabo-Liv claimed five of the top six spots on the stage.
Impressive riding by them and it is certainly going to make for some tough but interesting racing over the next nine stages. I’m sure there will be many teams eager to stop their dominance, including us here at Specialized-lululemon.
Until then it’s time to try and sleep — always a difficult task when you race so late at night and you’re full of adrenalin and endorphins.