Giro Rosa gallery: Gravel causes chaos on stage 2

by Amy Jones

After yesterday’s opening TTT which put Elisa Longo-Borghini into the maglia rosa, the first road race stage of the 2020 Giro Rosa kicked off the GC battle, and was punctuated by drama. Perennial solo artist and world champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) took the win and the GC lead at the end of a dusty day.

The course designers threw the kitchen sink at this stage, with 3,000 metres of elevation gain and two gravel sectors over the lumpy 124 km course, meaning there was no hiding on the steep climbs or from the baking Tuscan sun. To cycling fans, the words ‘Tuscany’ and ‘gravel sector’ are synonymous with Strade Bianche, and this stage was heralded as a nod to that classic.

The sinuous paved roads heading out of Pagnacio and around the Tuscan countryside rolled up and down with some not-so-gentle gradients that alone would have been enough to wear down the peloton. However, it was the final gravel climb, 16 km from the finish, that proved decisive.

Sector I of ‘strade bianche’ was short and not especially remarkable, coming just 14.5 km into the race. The peloton was “gruppo compatto” and cruised through without much incident to the end of the 1.5 km stretch. Some 92 km later, however, an entirely different story would unfold.

To reach the top of the only GPM of the stage, after 108 km of tough racing, the riders first had to traverse a five kilometre stretch of gravel accompanied by gradients of up to 16% and featuring ruts and grooves as well as loose stones.

Before the peloton arrived, spectators were zipping up and down on e-mountain bikes, which seemed much more at home on the terrain than those of the peloton would be. Before the race, there was excited talk that the second gravel sector was harder than some of those in Strade Bianche, although with hindsight it seems that by ‘harder’ they may have meant ‘more suited to a gravel bike’.

As the peloton arrived on the climb it became clear that 28 mm tyres were impotent against the state of the surface, which caused more than a few hairy moments for riders, including Van Vleuten herself who slid out at the bottom, having to then run with her bike to get back on.

The Dutchwoman wasn’t the only one practising her ‘cross skills today, though — multiple riders were seen walking the sketchier sections of white road while others lost back wheels and fought to stay upright as team cars flew past, flicking dust and loose stones at them.

Much has been made of rider safety of late after a number of hair-raising incidents in men’s races and although, thankfully, there were no major incidents for the riders today, the addition of a potentially dangerous section to the race for the purpose of entertainment seems to compound the issue further.

Van Vleuten on her way to victory.

Van Vleuten now leads the Giro Rosa by 1:18 over Anna van der Breggen with seven stages still to go. Already almost three minutes separates first and fourth on GC.

Luckily for those who prefer smooth surfaces, tomorrow’s 140 km stage stays firmly on the tarmac. It is, however, front loaded with climbs and could play into the hands of the peloton who will want to stop Van Vleuten from escaping on her favoured terrain for another solo win and extension of her overall lead.

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