Despite it being the only grand tour on the women’s calendar, the Giro Rosa isn’t the easiest race to follow. Throw in the inconvenient time zones and it becomes even trickier for Aussie cycling fans. So to go to the trouble of late nights watching the Twitter race updates tick over, there needs to be a pretty big incentive to pull out the coffee pot and force those tired eyes open night after night. This year, thanks to Orica-Scott, we had one.
For Aussie cycling fans, last year’s Giro Rosa was missing something. Yes, there were Aussies racing it –and we certainly enjoyed the excitement of Chloe Hosking and Tiffany Cromwell’s stage wins — but there was no Aussie presence in the GC battle and no team that was a local favourite to talk about with mates on the morning bunch ride. At the time, Orica-Scott had other priorities and wasn’t there.
In 2017 though, it was a major target for Australia’s only Women’s WorldTour-level cycling team. With their Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt showing good form right from the start of the year, it was hard for this cycling fan from Australia not to anticipate the possibility of a strong showing at the Giro Rosa with a high degree of excitement.
For the first time in years, there was a possibility that the stranglehold that the Dutch powerhouse teams have had on the 10-day race could be broken, and that was an enticing prospect. Some unpredictability would be welcome after the pattern of the past three years where Boels-Dolmans and the now disbanded Rabo-Liv have taken all the podium positions bar one — Wiggle High5 interrupted the clean sweep by taking second place overall with Elisa Longo Borghini in 2015.
It’s not that the Giro Rosa’s not great viewing without an Aussie interest — I mean exciting racing is exciting racing — but let’s face it, there’s just that bit extra of a personal investment when your home country is involved. Yes, I know it was a Dutch rider that was the team leader for Orica-Scott, but as far as cycling fans are concerned, an honorary Aussie status is automatically granted to anyone racing for either the Orica-Scott women’s or men’s team.
When the racing started, the possibility of an Orica-Scott upset looked like far more than a pipe dream. The team got off to a great beginning with a third place in the team time trial and a win from van Vleuten on Stage 2 plus a top ten finish from Spratt. That win put van Vleuten within just 18 seconds of pink in second place, while teammate Spratt held fifth and the green jersey.
Then there was that frustrating lapse in concentration on Stage 4, and all of a sudden that tantalising close pink jersey slipped away. Van Vleuten missed the front group and slipped off the podium, into to fourth on the GC with a gap that blew out to 2 minutes and 17 seconds.
But, just when the fans Down Under might have been thinking of despondently putting that coffee pot away, the team showed they weren’t going to let the excitement evaporate from the race. Van Vleuten gave a tremendous performance in the brutally hard individual time trial. Despite 30 percent grades and a dropped chain, she took the win by an incredible 41 seconds. And so, the team continued to fight on, throwing everything they had at the race till the very last metre of the last stage.
And it showed in the results. In 2015 their best result was a second place on Stage 3 with Valentina Scandolara. This year, there were podiums aplenty.
The tally started with the team time trial third, then Annemiek van Vleuten delivered two stage wins and ended up with the third spot on the general classification. The Dutch rider also took the Queen of the Mountain and points jerseys. Plus, Amanda Spratt rounded out a huge step up for the team by snagging a fifth place in the GC and a second place finish on the final stage.
Orica-Scott may not have ended up with the pink but the fact that pink ever felt like a real possibility was a victory in itself. All I can do at this point is echo the words of the team’s sport director Gene Bates, “bring on next year!”. I’ll have the coffee pot ready and will be waiting!