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We’re starting to get down to the business end of the 2014 Giro Rosa with the race heading into the hills of northern Italy for the first time yesterday. Here’s Tiff Cromwell (Specialized-Lululemon) with her latest diary entry, providing insight from within stage 6 of the race.
The race had made its way to Northern Italy and it was time for the climbers to come out to play on a tough stage 6. The menu for today was an 113km hilly stage from Giarine to San Fior. The parcours included a short but steep category 2 climb at kilometre 32, followed by a category 4 climb at kilometre 59. The final and major challenge of the day was a category 1 climb – 11km in length at an average of around 8% gradient, cresting at kilometre 84 before descending to the finish.
Our best option for today was to set it up for Evie Stevens, given she’s the strongest climber on the team. The aim was to get one of our riders into an early break that could stay away as long as possible and add extra support for the later climbs when the front of the race most likely eventually caught them.
The rest of the team was to help as much as possible, offering support to Evie and keeping her in position into the climbs and try and stay with her as long as possible until we couldn’t hold the pace any longer.
There were big crowds out again at the start of the stage in Giarine; we started at a factory of some kind. It was great, they had a sausage sizzle cooking away – I was offered a burger as I was trying to find the toilet but politely declined. I don’t think that would’ve been the best thing to be sitting in my stomach before the start of a hard climbing day.
After an overnight storm and light drizzle in the morning, conditions were cooler but thankfully dry to get the racing underway. It was another very fast start to the race; the opening 30 kilometres were full gas as we approached the start of the first GPM. Continual attacks were made by many different teams trying to establish an early break, but it was ‘grupo compacto’ as we turned on to the opening climb.
The first climb was rude to say the least, luckily we had some inside Italian knowledge to know what to expect and equip our bikes with a 28-tooth chain ring on the rear cassette. The climb was only a kilometre in length but had many sections up to 20% in gradient as the road weaved its way to the top. It certainly stretched out and split the peloton into many groups as Pooley attacked off the front over the top.
After the GPM it was a fast but winding short descent with the peloton in one very long line as groups came back together snaking through the vineyards. By the time we reached the bottom back into the valley the peloton was more or less all together with just Pooley up the road.
In between the climbs a group of six riders that the GC teams were happy with managed to get established off the front, building up a steady lead and joined Pooley at the front. The situation was great for our team as we had Trixi Worrack up there in the move.
The likes of Rabobank, Giant-Shimano and Hitec Products took control at the front of the peloton controlling the gap for their GC riders. As we reached the base of the second climb of the day the gap was hovering at around two minutes.
The peloton continued to ride at a controlled pace without any attacks firing off the front up the category 4 climb. The climb dragged on a little bit longer than I expected, although it was a fast and narrow climb at around 4-5% average gradient so it didn’t do too much damage to the peloton.
The breakaway continued to build up their lead at the front while back in the peloton we braced ourselves for the final climb that was quickly approaching. The speed increased as the fight for position intensified with the major GC contenders (with the help of their teams) trying to place themselves towards the front of the peloton before we hit the base of the climb.
Into the climb the pace was high but not ridiculous and for the first few kilometres I would say it was climbed at a steady but decent tempo. I had positioned myself towards the front with Evie right by my side – it was a tough climb from the start; not super steep but a rough road at a gradient that was a little bit uncomfortable to find the right gear on and get into a good rhythm.
Up front, still with a gap of 2:30, Pooley had left her breakaway companions and was dancing her way up the climb, something she loves to do. As the kilometres ticked down, little by little the lead group began to shrink as the pace at the front slowly increased and riders dropped out the back.
I lasted around four kilometres with the front before saying goodbye and finding my own rhythm and group to ride with. Evie was left to fight it out on her own up the climb, although we still had Trixi up the road to offer some support when she was reached by the front runners.
It was certainly a slog up that climb — I was riding at 60-70 rpm cadence on a 28-tooth chain ring and it still hurt with my little group. At points we would ask the fans cheering us on – ‘how far to go?’ and at times you wish you didn’t understand Italian. When I heard ‘cinque kilometre’ (5km) I wasn’t too excited as it felt like we should’ve been closer to the top.
Up front the battle was continuing, Pooley was still holding on to her advantage whilst the chasing group was becoming smaller and smaller. Rabobank still had their numbers, Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec Products) was right in the mix with Mara Abbott (UnitedHealthcare) and Claudia Lichtenberg (nee Häusler; Giant-Shimano) also there. Evie had dropped off the pace in the final kilometres of the climb along with some other strong climbers.
Over the top of the climb Pooley still had a two minute advantage and was no threat to GC after losing time earlier in the tour — it was all about the stage win. Rabobank were all hands on deck with the three riders they had in the lead group, chasing hard down the fast and winding descent towards the finish.
The gap was dropping rapidly as the kilometres were ticking down but in the end it wasn’t enough to capture Pooley. Pooley used her time trialling power to hold off the chasers and take a strong and very rewarding stage victory. She was followed in by the chase group just 15 seconds behind, led by Rabo-Liv trio Anna van der Breggen, Marianne Vos and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot.
Marianne Vos continues to hold on to her pink leader’s jersey for another day as the racing continues in Northern Italy. With only one climb early on tomorrow’s stage, could it be a day for the breakaway?
Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile (2.1) Gaiarine → S. Fior