Giro Rosa 2018 preview: Chasing pink on the Zoncolan at the biggest women’s tour

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It’s nearly time again for the most prestigious tour on the women’s road calendar and this year’s Giro Rosa is shaping up as a big one. It features one of the toughest routes we’ve seen, with the second last stage finishing atop the brutal climb of the Monte Zoncolan. Plus there’s teams lining up with multiple riders that are capable of taking a shot at securing that prized pink leader’s jersey.

Dutch team Boels-Dolmans are bound to have a fight on their hands if they want to stand on the top step of the podium for a third-straight year. The team won’t have their defending champion on board, as Anna van der Breggen is off to race mountain bikes instead. That means they are losing one valuable arrow from their quiver, but this is Boels-Dolmans we’re talking about — they have more arrows.

And they’ll need them. Not only are there are a number of strong individual contenders fronting up, but a couple of other teams also have clear strength in numbers. Divide and conquer could well be the name of the game rather than the all-for-one approach we most often see in the men’s Grand Tours.

Read on to find out more about the route, the contenders, and how to follow the 29th edition of the Giro Rosa, which runs from Friday July 6 through to Sunday July 15.

Crucial stages: Fighting foes on the Zoncolan, climbs against the clock

The 979 kilometre, 10 stage Giro Rosa will be sticking to the north of Italy this year. With plenty of climbing along the way, it’s sure to make for one challenging race for the 24 teams on the startlist.

The Italian race will again be starting off with a team time trial. The flat 15km stage, which starts and finishes in Verbania, is unlikely to make or break anyone’s chances so early, but none of the key contenders will want to give too much away either. Then it’s on to a hilly 120km stage 2 before stage 3 which features eight laps of a pancake-flat circuit starting and finishing in Corbetta.

It is back to the hills for stage 4 and stage 5, then onto the first uphill finish on stage 6. The 114 kilometre route will be finishing on top of the second-category Gerola Alta and that’s likely to be just the start of the fireworks. Stage 7, despite being only 15km long, looks set to be a crucial one.

This individual time trial will climb around 1,000 metres in its 15km, up the category 1 Alpe Gera Di Campo Moro. With a climb like this there’s every chance the top contenders could stretch out some substantial gaps. The sprinters, on the other hand, will just be trying to nurse their legs up the climb so they can make the most of a flatter, but certainly not completely flat, stage 8.

Stage 9 is the big one. The brutal climb of the Zoncolan looms at the end of the 105 kilometre day. Anything could happen on this stage — there’s plenty of time and reason for the legs to crack on the 10km ascent which has a maximum gradient of 22% and rises 1,200 metres. This stage is bound to be one where women’s cycling fans around the world are giving their thumbs a workout, furiously refreshing Twitter so they can follow the drama as it unfolds.

Come Sunday the peloton may be breathing a sigh of relief that the arduous climb of the Zoncolan is over, but stage 10 is no ceremonial finish for the overall contenders (like you see in the men’s Grand Tours). There’s still 120 kilometres of racing and a category 1 climb only 10km from the finish line, ensuring that the battle for the 2018 Giro Rosa is likely to be hard-fought right till the very end.

The contenders

There are a number of names that leap off the page when scrolling through the Giro Rosa start list, such as three-time winner Marianne Vos (WaowDeals) who is returning to the tour for the first time since she won in 2014. Then there is last year’s second-placed Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (Cervelo-Bigla) who took fourth in 2015. However, there are some teams that really stand out as the ones to watch in the chase for pink.

First, of course, is perennial favourite Boels-Dolmans, which has Megan Guarnier as its top contender. The American has a very impressive record in the race, coming fourth last year, winning in 2016 and coming third in 2015.

It’s a record that makes her hard to go past, but there is no doubt other teams have been working hard to find the chinks in what sometimes seems like impenetrable armour of the star-studded team. Plus with teammate Van der Breggen’s absence, the other teams may just have some real hope of taking the top step.

Megan Guarnier is no stranger to the Maglia Rosa.

Mitchelton-Scott is one squad that looks to be throwing everything at chasing that top step of the podium, drawing confidence from last year’s first attempt at the overall which landed them third and fifth. This year they are going into the 10-day tour with clear ambitions for dual leaders Annemiek van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt. Both have shown plenty of form and focus recently, with the pair taking the top two steps at the five day Women’s WorldTour race Emakumeen Bira.

The uphill individual time trial has van Vleuten’s name written all over it. The reigning world time trial champion won the grindingly steep race against the clock at last year’s Giro Rosa and then went on to take out the two-stage La Course.

Annemiek van Vleuten won the 2017 La Course courtesy of a solo victory on the Col d’Izoard.

The third team is Canyon-SRAM, however their strength may not be quite on the same level as when multi-discipline powerhouse Pauline Ferrand-Prevot was also expected to be on the start line. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of strong riders to support two-time Giro Rosa youth classification winner Kasia Niewiadoma. She’ll have experienced hand Tiffany Cromwell, a Giro Rosa stage winner, and the local knowledge of Elena Cecchini at hand as she attempts to step up and challenge for the overall podium. The Pole has had a string of impressive results this season and last, plus she’s shown her climbing legs are in order, riding to third overall in the Tour of California as a result of her podium place on the gruelling second stage.

Kasia Niewiadoma is a rider to watch at this year’s Giro Rosa.

You can find the full start list of teams and riders on the Giro Rosa website here.

How to follow

Of course, we would all like to see live TV coverage of the Giro Rosa. We haven’t got that dream scenario but there are some options to get footage of the racing.

In addition to the UCI YouTube channel, which delivers highlights packages from all the Women’s WorldTour races, there will be highlights coverage available on television and some, mostly delayed, streaming. You can find streaming on the PMG Sport YouTube channel and Facebook page and you can link through to their coverage calendar here.

An as live, delayed broadcast, of the last 50 minutes of the race will be available on Rai, Bike Channel and Eurosport 2 (Italy) at 3pm after each stage. Eurosport coverage will also go out internationally, so check your local guide to find times – it will be broadcast on Foxtel in Australia.

If we come across any other great coverage sources, we will update this section. Similarly, if you know of any please share them with us in the comments section below.

As usual, Twitter is the most reliable way to find out what’s happening with the racing as it happens. The best hashtags are #UCIWWT, #GiroRosa18 and #GiroRosa.

If you are looking for more background, stage information and results you can head to the Giro Rosa website here.

Finally, we’ll be covering the Giro Rosa across CyclingTips. We will have updates from each stage in the Daily News Digest and an update on what’s happened at the Giro Rosa included in the daily Tour edition podcasts. Then head back to Ella CyclingTips for our feature articles on the race.

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