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The rainbow bands were on full display up the cobbled street of Santa Maria a Vico yesterday as Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv) crossed the finish line victorious, comfortably ahead of Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec Products) and teammate Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Rabo-Liv) in the opening road stage of the Giro Rosa. Australian Specialized-lululemon rider Tiffany Cromwell wrote this report about stage 1.
Often the opening road stage of the Giro or any major tour is one for the sprinters. Usually you’ll have a predominantly flat day, perhaps with a small climb in there somewhere to award the mountains classification. Ultimately it’s a chance for everyone to ride herself into the race, settle the nerves and keep the fight for GC still wide open. This year however, the race organisers decided that they wanted to create a GC shake up from the get-go.
One word to describe the course from today’s stage was ‘ugly’, as my director would say, and that it was. Our team took the opportunity yesterday to go out and ride the course in the morning with it being located close to our hotel and immediately we knew we were in for a hard first day of racing.
It was a tough and very technical course with many corners, narrow roads, a 1.5km climb followed by a fast descent with off-camber corners and a road surface that was in pretty bad condition for the majority of the lap. The lap was a total distance of 8.5km and realistically there was only a chance to move up in the peloton on a 3km section of that. With 11 laps to be completed it was going to come down to a race of attrition and a race all about positioning.
After seeing Rabobank-Liv’s dominance in the opening prologue it was interesting to see how they were going to play their cards. For us at Specialized-Lululemon we wanted to be smart but active today in how we used our energy, staying in contention with all the moves and looking for opportunities for a stage victory.
Starting under the hot midday sun in the town of Santa Maria a Vico 157 women took to the start line. The race organisation decided to add an extra lap of the course under neutral to give everyone a chance to see the technical and somewhat dangerous loop and the various obstacles we had to be aware of before the flag was dropped to start racing.
The opening laps were hard, a constant fight for position to stay at the front with riders dropping out the back every lap. Apparently there were many crashes but I didn’t see or hear any. I almost made friends with a wall on the descent during the first lap but luckily saved it just in time and corrected my line – it wouldn’t have been pretty or a nice way the begin the tour.
It took four laps for the racing to heat up and see any significant move go clear off of the front. The ever-aggressive Valentina Scandolara (Orica-AIS) was the first to make her presence felt off the front, riding solo and taking the first mountain points of the day. This created a reaction from behind — first my teammate Trixi Worrack went to bridge across and was soon joined by a well-represented group of seven riders at the head of the field.
With Rabo-Liv only having one rider in the move they weren’t happy with it and sent their troops to the head of the peloton to chase before we hit the next climb, where we saw attacks fired and the peloton shatter.
By the time we reached the start of the sixth lap the situation had changed once again at the head of the race. Pink jersey wearer Annemiek van Vleuten (Rabo-Liv) was off the front with Ashleigh Moolman (Hitec Products) and there was a chase group behind containing all the main contenders. We were happy as we had four riders still in this group, including myself in the continually disintegrating peloton.
Moolman and van Vleuten worked well together at the front of the race, building a steady lead, and they were eventually joined by Tetyana Raibchenko (Michaela Fanini) who had bridged across from the chasing peloton. The three gained a maximum advantage of 1:30.
Back in the peloton there wasn’t a huge amount of organisation with the peloton continually splitting and regrouping every time over the climb and through the following technical section. We tried a couple of attacks to bridge across but weren’t allowed to go anywhere, eventually deciding to sit in and cover any moves with Evie Stevens and myself focusing on the climb.
As the laps ticked down and the legs became heavier each time up the dreaded climb, it came a point where Rabobank decided that they wanted the move back and reset the situation. Once again they were at the front of the chase increasing the speed and reducing the gap to the leaders.
By the time we reached three laps to go the leaders were in sight, opening the door for attacks up the climb — and that is exactly what happened. It was another very hard climb, legs screaming, sweat dripping off everywhere, gluing myself to the wheel in front of me to get myself over still with the front. By the time we reached the top the break had been reeled back in and all was still to play for, for the stage victory.
Two laps to go and it was Hitec Products who wanted to take it to Rabobank as Audrey Cordon went on the attack opening up a gap on what was left of the peloton. Of course Rabobank wasn’t happy with this as Ferrand-Prevot put in a huge attack at the base of the climb that only Longo Borghini and Marianne Vos could follow.
The three bridged up to Cordon and suddenly it was a battle between Hitec and Rabobank for the final lap and a half. Behind, the peloton was split up all over the place, a group of six riders were chasing to the four leaders as Evie and I worked together chasing them. There were many different groups behind us.
We tried desperately to get back and I gave everything to help get Evie back for the final lap but I finally blew up as we hit one lap to go and Evie had to go at it alone. Up the front it sounded like it was a great battle with Cordon dropping off the pace up the final climb but the other three attacking each other all the way to the finish.
Vos comfortably took the win, sprinting out of the final corner over the harsh cobbled Italian street and became the new wearer of the pink leader’s jersey. taking it from her teammate Annemiek van Vleuten. The first chase group came in well over a minute down with many small groups gradually making their way to the finish.
It was a brutal day of racing that’s for sure and already there are significant time gaps splitting up the general classification. It is a very long race though with some big climbing stages still to come and so much more that can happen.
The organisers claim that it is a flat stage and one for the sprinters tomorrow, but who knows in Italy. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.
Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile (2.1) S. Maria a Vico → S. Maria a Vico
Previous stage reports