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Only two women have won the Giro Rosa in the last five years – Marianne Vos (Rabo Liv) and Mara Abbott (Wiggle Honda). With Vos sidelined because of an injury, Abbott starts the Giro Rosa on Friday as a pre-race favourite and one of two returning champions.
Abbott’s excelled in Italy since her Giro Rosa debut. She raced her first Giro Rosa (then known as the Giro Donne) in 2009 and finished second overall to Claudia Lichtenberg (then Claudia Haüsler), who lines up with Liv-Plantur in Slovenia.
The following year, Abbott won the Giro Rosa (then known as the Giro Donne). Racing for Team USA, she became the first American to win the prestigious Italian Grand Tour. She repeated the feat three years later –again riding for her national team.
Abbott’s love of the 10-day race is pure and palatable. It’s where her passion for the sport comes alive. And that passion is reflected in nearly every response she gave to the questions below.
Ella CyclingTips: What five words would you choose to describe the Giro Rosa.
Mara Abbott: I only need two: absolutely incomprehensible.
Ella: To someone that doesn’t follow women’s cycling (or racing) closely, how would you explain the importance/prestige of this race?
Mara: I don’t even know – I mean technically for us it is our “Tour de France” they like to say, but somehow it has a magic that comes from a place I don’t understand. It’s like living in a surreal world. I truly cannot explain it.
Ella: What about these ten days is unique to the Giro Rosa?
Mara: The excitement of the Italians, the mountains, the TRANSFERS (but not this year!!), the emotion, and the PINK EVERYWHERE!
Ella: How will you define personal and/or team success at the Giro Rosa?
Mara: There are two answers to this question.
One is that once you have won a race, personally or as a team, it is tough to be satisfied with anything else.
The other is that the Giro is a tough enough race, both emotionally and physically, that if you bring your best to your own performance and that in relation to your teammates, every day for ten days, it’s tough to ask fro me.
Ella: Looking at the race route –what do you see as the biggest challenge at this Giro Rosa? Where do you see your best chance to shine?
Mara: I don’t like to make predictions on this race -to myself or others. Partly because of little pieces of trickery that don’t show up on the maps and partly because of tactics. The hardest days on paper are rarely the ones that show up in the end.
Last year, I think the first stage might have been one of them all, and I don’t think that would have been anyone’s guess! I like to take each day as a single opportunity and worry about the next one once I get through the one that comes before.
Ella: From a non-racing perspective -what is the biggest challenge during the Giro? What do you most look forward to about the Giro?
Mara: I think the biggest challenge is truly off the bike. It’s maintaining your center when you are surrounded by people (some of them competitors!) all of the time and in a foreign place where you have absolutely no control over your surroundings. It’s remaining focused and clear and happy through that is the real tough part.
I look forward to the mountains. We don’t get a lot of them these days outside of Giro.
Ella: What are your best Giro memories?
Mara: 2009 – When I was so cracked by the last stage that after Judith Arndt (my teammate at the time) fell and broke her collarbone on the second to last day, I found myself that night crying “I miss JUDITH!!!” (let’s not tell her that though).
2010 – Finishing in Livigno and finding out that I had won the jersey
2013 – Calling my dad in tears following my win. Taking pictures with the policemen after the last stage. Team USA dance party in the van on the way to the hotel after the last day of racing.
2014 – My big brother seeing the last two stages in 2014 and giving me big hugs
Ella: Where do your pink jerseys and Giro trophies live?
Mara: I only have a few trophies – from 2010 and the Livigno stage and a silver coin from the finish in 2013. They live on my dresser. My pink jerseys live in my shed, with one exception. My coach Dean Golich was gifted (upon request) the pink skinsuit.
Ella: How have you prepared for this race differently than you prepare for other races on the calendar?
Mara: It’s a much larger project than a one-day, and for me there is obviously more pressure. So the stakes are higher, but the preparation is the same. I think that means I have good habits.
Ella: What have your Giro wins meant both personally and professionally?
Mara: As a cyclist, my Giro wins have opened the door for me. That’s really what I am known for and what gives me value.
Personally, they have meant accomplishing something (both times) I never thought possible. When you do an “impossible”, all of a sudden you have to question all the other “impossibles” that you have defined in your life.
It isn’t about any prize or notoriety, the greatest value is in the awe at yourself and those you have worked with for ten days. It’s like they say about babies -a miracle every time.
The Giro Rosa begins on Friday, July 2, in Ljubljana, Slovenia, with a two-kilometre evening prologue and ends 10 days later on Sunday, July 14, with a mountaintop finish to the San Domenico di Varzo ski resort.
Expect in-depth, varied coverage of each and every Giro Rosa stage on Ella CyclingTips. We will have daily race reports within an hour of each stage finish, full results, daily diaries from Australians Tiffany Cromwell (Velocio-SRAM) and Lizzie Williams (Orica-AIS) and (Aussie) morning round-up of our favourite links, videos, photos and social media posts from each day’s race.