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It was one of the toughest editions of the Giro Rosa we’ve seen. From those early days in pink for Team Sunweb, to the emergence of a new general classification powerhouse in Mitchelton-Scott, the most important women’s tour kept the excitement high throughout its 10 days. In this article we look back at some of the key moments in the 2018 Giro Rosa.
Swapping pink: Team Sunweb’s TTT setup
The first stage was a mere 15km of pancake flat riding and Team Sunweb won by just one second ahead of the tour’s on-form team, Mitchelton-Scott. Still, that one second set Sunweb up for far more than a stage victory. It put the team into pink and allowed it to share the jersey around for an impressive five days.
It went from Dutch rider Ellen van Dijk to compatriot Lucinda Brand, on to Canadian Leah Kirchmann and then on stage 5 landed on the shoulders of American rider Ruth Winder. That brought Winder full circle, after being given a pink jersey for her tireless efforts in support of Mara Abbott’s 2013 win.
“It’s a really special jersey to me and now I have one of my own that I won,” Winder said in her diary entry for the CyclingTips daily Tour de France podcast.
Crashes and loss
There were, unfortunately, no shortage of crashes in the early stages of the Giro Rosa. Some sucked time away from the GC contenders and others took riders out of the race completely.
Stage 3 was particularly harsh. It was meant to be a flat, straightforward stage for the sprinters and one in which GC contenders could sit back and relax. But nothing’s ever predictable in a long tour. All was going well until a crash with 10km to go saw Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) and Sabrina Stultiens (WaowDeals) caught up, with both losing nearly a minute.
There was also a harsh blow for Mitchelton-Scott as Lucy Kennedy broke her collarbone, leaving the team down another key climber after New Zealander Georgia Williams took a tumble in training pre-tour. Fortunately for the team’s GC aspirations, Annemiek van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt were so strong that ultimately those loses didn’t jeopardise the team’s chances overall. That said, it was a heartbreaking crash for Kennedy.
In her first year as a professional, the Aussie climber had only just come back from a horrible crash at Amstel Gold. She’d worked hard to get through her injuries so she could be ready for her big season goal: helping the team at one of the toughest, most climbing-heavy editions of the Giro Rosa we’ve seen.
Before the race Kennedy told Ella CyclingTips: “Climbing is really my thing so I’ve always said I really want to do a race that has a proper hard climb in it and I’ve got one so I’m really excited about it.”
Sadly, Kennedy spent her 30th birthday in hospital, instead of climbing mountains with her team.
One of the nicest things to see, though, was that Mitchelton-Scott GC rival Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervelo Bigla) was one of the first to leap in to offer Kennedy a supportive word as she looked ahead to yet another period of recovery.
Spratt gives pink a trial run
Very little of the Giro Rosa was flat but the real key for the overall contenders was always going to be the second half, starting with the first big uphill finish on stage 6. Mitchelton-Scott didn’t waste any time asserting their GC claims, with Amanda Spratt riding away in a solo break to take the stage victory, and also the coveted pink jersey.
To top it off teammate van Vleuten came in second, which shifted her up to third on the GC.
Spratt’s win prompted discussions about whether the 30-year-old could be the first Australian to ever win the Giro Rosa. It didn’t happen this year, but there’s still time.
Can’t disappoint Grandma
For Elisa Longo Borghini, stage 6 wasn’t such a great day. The Italian grappled with mechanicals and finished nearly three minutes back and slipped down the GC on a day which really suited her. That made it hard to face up to the brutal 15km uphill time trial on stage 7. Good thing she had a bit of extra motivation to get through.
There were also a few riders from a rival team chipping in with some encouragement of the non-slipper-throwing variety.
A pivotal time trial
That stage 7 uphill time trial was 15km long with a thousand metres of climbing. It suited the combined time-trialing and climbing prowess of ITT world champion van Vleuten to a tee. The Dutchwoman powered up the climb on her time trial bike at a phenomenal pace, carving out a gap of nearly two and half minutes on her closest rival and shifting comfortably to the top of the GC standings.
Once that stage was over, it became hard to imagine that any other rider would be able to take pink, failing a massive explosion on Monte Zoncolan two days later.
Vos climbs back to the top step
Marianne Vos knows all too well what it feels like to stand on the top step of the Giro Rosa podium. One of the most phenomenal cyclists alive, Vos came into the 2018 Giro Rosa with no fewer than 19 stage wins and three overall titles at the race, but has had a bit of a dry spell of late.
The Dutchwoman has recently delivered podiums aplenty, but hasn’t managed to win a race in her past 10 months on the road. That all changed on a hilly stage 8 of the Giro Rosa.
The 12-time world champion spurred a break of four to charge downhill to the finish line in Breganze and then outsprinted her rivals — including a slipper motivated Longo Borghini — to finally clinch a win. You could see in her victory celebration just how much that win meant.
“An amazing feeling,” said Vos in a statement. “Not only me, but the entire team has been remunerated for all the hard work. We have been racing strong lately, all the pieces are fitting together now. We get to celebrate this success together.”
Oh the mighty Zoncolan
Stage 9 was the one everyone had been waiting for — 105 kilometres with the brutal Monte Zoncolan at the end. A maximum gradient of 22% and 1,200 metres of climbing in 10km meant it was always going to be a crucial day.
It wasn’t just the force of the mountain at play either — rain and storms provided a fittingly dramatic run-in to the almighty climb. As soon as the road tilted up the field splintered, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio attacked, and Annemiek van Vleuten followed.
The gap quickly grew and Eider Merino (MoviStar) launched the chase, with Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) going with her. But as the riders spread out across the mountain, battling other contenders and themselves, it was clear the duo out front were far too strong to be pulled back.
Moolman-Pasio set a hard tempo, wanting to consolidate her place on the overall, while van Vleuten sat and waited for just the right moment.
“I didn’t recon the climb beforehand, but I knew it was steep and I actually had something left to attack Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio because I really wanted to win,” said van Vleuten. “The last few hundred metres there were so many people clapping and cheering, it was so special, and I had a little bit of time to enjoy the moment.”
Moolman-Pasio took second, while Spratt came in third. The stage podium of that day was also replicated in the new GC positions.
As the top three cooled down, the rest of the field continued to wind their way up to the finish line, their faces telling the story of just how hard the stage was.
The grandest of tours for Mitchelton-Scott
Going into the final day it was hard to imagine any other scenario than Mitchelton-Scott in pink, as van Vleuten had a lead of over three and a half minutes to Moolman-Pasio, plus teammate Spratt was sitting in third. They would have been forgiven for riding defensively and letting a break ride away to victory. But that’s not what happened.
After nearly 1,000 kilometres of racing the squad did not let up for a second, turning a final technical descent into one last show of strength. A demon on the descents, van Vleuten broke away on her own and added yet another win to the team tally.
That left Mitchelton-Scott with six stage victories (two from the team’s Belgian sprinter Jolien D’hoore, one from Spratt and three from van Vleuten) plus three jerseys (pink and the points classification through van Vleuten and the climber’s prize with Spratt). Spratt also joined van Vleuten on the final overall podium, taking third.
Mitchelton-Scott’s men’s and women’s teams have both transformed themselves into general classification contenders in recent years and men’s team came tantalising close earlier this year at the men’s Giro d’Italia. But it was with the Giro Rosa that the Australian setup would get to celebrate its first big tour victory.
You can read more about the 2018 Giro Rosa in our final stage report.