Saturday, 29 June 2013

Women's Cycling News 30.06-07.07.2013

Giro Rosa (Stages 1-8) - Tour de Feminin O cenu Ceského Švýcarska (Stages 1, 2, 3) - Barker wins Otley - Forster crashes at Elveden - Interesting Links - Photo of the Week - more to come...

Giro Rosa
The biggest news of the week can only possibly be the Giro Rosa which, as the new incarnation of the legendary Giro Donne, is the only Grand Tour in women's cycling. Race preview here.

Marianne Vos is, of course, hotly tipped for victory, just as she is in every race she enters. If she does win, it'll be her third Giro triumph in row - a feat thus far achieved only by Fabiana Luperini who won in 1995, 1996, 1997 and then for a fourth time in 1998. However, Vos' rivals are not content to sit back and let her win everything so they've all upped their game and the World Champion has some very strong competition this year with Emma Johansson and many others more than capable of giving her a run for her money, which is precisely how Vos likes it - so this may prove to be the most action-packed race of the year.

The Giro is one of the very few women's races that receives anything like the media attention it deserves and, as a result, it ought to be possible to find stage results and a brief outline of each day's events in the traditional cycling media. Nevertheless, I'll post details here when they become available and when I'm able to do so (likely to have an audit at work some time this week, so might be a bit pushed).

The Giro's official Twitter is here, the official site is here and my preview is here. Karl Lima, Bart Hazen, Anton Vos and Sarah Connolly are the people to follow on Twitter for race news. Don't forget that Sarah, who will be known to many women's cycling fans by her Twitter handle Pigeons, is running an excellent series of question and answers with the riders throughout the race over on Podium Cafe. For an insider's point of view, Tiffany Cromwell's stage reports on the Cycling Tips website are absolutely first-rate.
Cycling Direct ‏@CyclingDirectSAStill well pissed off by the crap level of @GiroRosa2013 prize money! @cooksonforuci please take note! #womenscycling

Stage 1
Marianne Vos (Rabobank) won both intermediate sprints; Julie Leth and Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen (both Hitec Products-UCK) took second and third at the first, then Rabo team mate Adrie Visser and RusVelo's Aizhan Zaparova were second and third at the second. Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini-Giordana) took the first GPM points on the Cat. 3 Terlizzi climb and thus leads the KOM competition; Martine Bras (Boels-Dolmans) and Edita Janeliunaite (Pasta Zara-Cogeas) were next to the top.

It wasn't a challenging stage and the peloton rolled along at high speed, nipping breaks in the bud. With so many riders bunched together, things began to get hairy in the final 10km when the pace picked up and teams began to rearrange themselves to position sprinters at the front; several crashes occurred. Katie Colclough (Specialized-Lululemon) and Gu Sung Eun (Orica-AIS) did not finish; Chloe Hosking (Hitec-UCK) will not start Stage 2.

Stage 1 winner Kirsten Wild
Vos, the current World Champion, is apparently going to waste no time this year and fought hard to the line but was pipped to the stage win by sprint specialist Kirsten Wild (racing for the Dutch National Team), who is making her return to racing following the fractured shoulder she suffered at the Omloop van Borsele back in April - doubtless a very reassuring victory for her. The next 124 riders, led by Marta Tagliaferro (MCipollini-Giordana), crossed in the same group and recorded the same time.

Wild won a 10" bonification for doing so; however, Vos had won 3" at each intermediate sprint and another 6" for her second place and, as a result, leads the General Classification by 2". The question is, can anyone prevent her from adding more and more to that lead over the coming stages, especially when the race reaches the mountains? One thing's for certain - Stage 2 offers plenty of scope for Vos to gain more time, but with another bunch finish on the cards there's a great deal of opportunity for Wild and the other sprinters too.

Stage 1 photos by Velofocus

Stage 1 Top Ten
1 Kirsten WILD (Dutch NT) 2h53'55"
2 Marianne VOS (Rabobank) +0"
3 Marta TAGLIAFERRO (MCipollini-Giordana) +0"
4 Edita JANELIUNAITE (Pasta Zara-Cogeas) +0"
5 Oxana KOZONCHUK (RusVelo) +0"
6 Annemiek VAN VLEUTEN (Rabobank) +0"
7 Shelley OLDS (Tibco-To The Top) +0"
8 Lauren HALL (USA NT) +0"
9 Lauren KITCHEN (Wiggle-Honda) +0"
10 Anna TREVISI (Vaiano-Fondriest) +0"
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 2
With a steep climb on each of the four laps, Stage 2 looked more fertile ground for breaks - but it wasn't until the final kilometres that riders' attempts to get away succeeded, and even then they came to little. Martine Bras (Boels-Dolmans) tried to go in the first lap but was rapidly caught by the pack, then Annemiek van Vleuten (Rabo) and Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-Honda) went on the climb in the second lap, but even working together they couldn't stay out for long.

Marianne Vos (Rabo) and Julie Leth (Hitec-UCK) were once again first and second through the intermediate sprint at the  close of the second lap, Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Rabo) was just behind for third. Aude Biannic of S.C. Michela Fanini-Rox managed to get away during the third lap and was going well enough for Vaiano-Fondriest's Valentina Bastianelli to make the effort to bridge across to her; the pair of them then mounted the day's most successful break which, for a time, saw them riding some 32" ahead of the peloton. However, with GPM points on offer soon after the start of the fourth, last lap, the pace picked up and they too were caught; Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini-Giordana) was fastest to the top again.

Stage 2 winner Giorgia Bronzini
With the climb completed for the last time, Inga Cilvinaite (Pasta Zara-Cogeas) broke away solo and gained a 15"; that Rabo and Wiggle-Honda gave chase and spared no efforts in making sure she got no further was evidence that they were going for a win today and, when Argos-Shimano moved up in order to get Kirsten Wild into position, there could be no doubt that there was going to be another bunch sprint - and what a sprint it turned out to be, despite Wild missing out when she punctured 8km from the line. Vos and Bronzini may be friends when not racing (they're both far too likable and nice not to be), but they have an old rivalry that goes back years; a Vos-Bronzini sprint duel is, therefore, a true clash of the titans. This time, it looked as though Bronzini wouldn't be able to generate the turn on speed she'd need to get out from behind the World Champion and overtake, but then fate intervened - Vos had chosen a line that led her straight into a section of rough, lumpy asphalt that caused her shoe to unclip from the pedal, which would have spelled disaster for a rider with anything less than excellent bike-handling skills. Fortunately, Vos has years and years of cyclo cross experience and remained upright, though she lost just enough speed for Bronzini to get what she needed - seizing her chance, she beat Vos by mere centimetres.

Vos, who led the General Classification after Stage 1, had picked up a 3" bonus at the sprint and then took another 6" for second place; Bronzini took 10" for the win. However, the Italian started the day uncharacteristically in last place with a deficit of 6'34"; she is now in 119th place (28 from bottom) and would need to find 6'33" to lead. Meanwhile, Vos increased her lead and is now 17" ahead of General Classification second place Marta Tagliaferro (MCipollini-Giordana). Tomorrow, the terrain becomes hilly (and there's an insanely steep 18% section with cobbles to the finish), then after a sprinter-friendly Stage 4 there are two days in the mountains - and Vos climbs as well as she sprints.

Stage 2 Top Ten
1 Giorgia BRONZINI (Wiggle-Honda) 2h34'03"
2 Marianne VOS (Rabo) ST
3 Barbara GUARISCHI (Vaiano-Fondriest) ST
4 Lauren HALL (USA NT) ST
5 Emily COLLINS (Wiggle-Honda) ST
6 Pauline FERRAND PREVOT (Rabo) ST
7 Oxana KOZONCHUK (RusVelo) ST
8 Cecilie Gotaas JOHNSEN (Hitec-UCK) ST
9 Alena AMIALIUSIK (BePink) ST
10 Marta TAGLIAFERRO (MCipollini-Giordana) ST
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 3
The peloton was split early on when Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini-Giordana) attacked hard on the Cat. 3 climb at Castel San Vincenzo in the first 10km in an effort to retain the KOM jersey she's held since the first stage before the race heads into the big mountains and the likes of Evelyn Stevens and, perhaps even more of a threat, Ashleigh Moolman start to fight for it. Five riders - Barbara Guarischi (Vaiano-Fondriest), Lauren Hall (USA NT), Lucinda Brand (the Rabo star was celebrating her birthday today), Tiffany Cromwell (Orica-AIS) and Marianne Vos - got away with her; Vos won the intermediate sprint once again with Hall and Scandolara second and third and the rest of the group right behind them. By the time they arrived at Isernia some 41km into the parcours they'd managed to put a full minute between themselves and the pack.

For four of the escapees, the largely downhill 25km section to Pozzilli proved to be hard work: the peloton, using the terrain to sail along at a high rate of knots, constantly whittled down the gap while at the front Vos and Cromwell were simply getting faster. "It wasn’t so aggressive," Cromwell explained later. "There were no attacks. People started to drop off the group one by one as we started climbing. Somewhere around 40km to go it was just Vos and myself – we had dropped everyone else." With Cromwell pulling on the climbs, Vos leading on the descents and the pair of them working together on the flats, they reached escape velocity and headed off up the road together.

The stage featured a second Cat. 3 GPM climb (omitted from the altimetry profile) at 91km, where Cromwell led for the five points before the duo headed into the last section. The final 8km featured a difficult descent to Cerro al Volturno and it was this that proved to be Cromwell's downfall: the Australian, without making any obvious mistake ("I guess I pushed a little too far, but to hold Vos’ wheel for as long as I did is an achievement in itself. Vos is the best bike handler in the bunch," she said), suffered a crash on a descending hairpin 8km from the finish when her tyres simply gave up their grip. Although she was uninjured save for some painful grazes and wasted no time in getting back on her feet and setting off, her chances of going into a two-up sprint with the World Champion were gone (even the camera operator on the motorbike following them seems to have difficulty in locating Vos once the camera's turned away from Cromwell, she's already so far ahead) and she was swept up by a ten-strong chase group.

You'll have white knuckles watching the descents, but Vos takes it all in her stride

So when she finds herself alone near the finish with an insurmountable advantage, does Vos take it easy and cruise over the line at comfortable pace, banking energy for tomorrow? Not a chance of it. Finding herself without a challenger, she raced the clock instead and took the extremely difficult 18% cobbled last descent as fast as she possibly could. It took a lot out of her - she was unable to climb off the bike when she came to a halt, but the 45" between her and the next rider means a great deal more than the advantages she'd been picking up through the intermediate sprints and second places in Stages 1 and 2. Having also won the intermediate sprint earlier, she'd picked up an extra 6"; with bonification seconds awarded for the stage win she leads new second place Claudia Hausler by 1'13". That will change in the mountains when the climbing specialists go to work, but Vos is no slouch on the ascents either - and with another flat stage likely to end in a bunch sprint tomorrow, she might well have added even more time by then.

Finally, a special mention must go to Fabiana Luperini who, 48" behind Vos, took fourth place: Luperini, who turned 39 years old in January this year, holds the Giro Donne (the name by which the Giro Rosa was previously known) record having won an incredible five times. Perhaps even more incredible is the time span over which she achieved her victories - the first came in 1995; she then won again in 1996, 1997 and 1998 then again in 2008, thirteen years (longer than many professional cycling careers) after her first victory.

Stage 3 Top Ten
1 Marianne VOS (Rabo) 2h49'44"
2 Claudia HÄUSLER (Tibco-To The Top) +45"
3 Tatiana GUDERZO (MCipollini-Giordana) ST
4 Fabiana LUPERINI (Faren-Let's Go Finland) +48"
5 Rossella RATTO (Hitec Products-UCK) +50"
6 Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) +55"
7 Evelyn STEVENS (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
8 Anna VAN DER BREGGEN (Netherlands NT) +58"
10 Shara GILLOW (Orica-AIS) +01'02"
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 4
Before the Giro began it seemed certain that Stage 4, the last before the mountains, would be ruled by a breakaway. However, with Marianne Vos (Rabo) 1'13", a group of 13 riders headed by Claudia Hausler next and a 132-strong group including a selection of big name riders ranging from 3'01" to more than hour behind the leader at the start of the stage, it seemed that every team wanted to get as many riders into the break as possible; hence the entire peloton moved at high speed and remained together.

Tiffany Cromwell (Orica-AIS) was at the head of the race for the Cat. 2 climb at Fabriano-Colle Giglioni and took the lion's share of the points at the top, then Vos moved into the lead as the race approached the intermediate sprint a few kilometres later and picked up even more bonification points; Cromwell followed her for second place and Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini-Giordana), who had presumably intended to be first up the climb, was third.

Valentina Bastianelli managed a short
solo breakaway
It looked, briefly, like Valentina Bastianelli (Vaiano-Fondriest) had achieved what nobody else could do when she managed to break away in the last 25km of the race, using the non-GPM Jesi climb to her advantage; she'll have pleased the fans and sponsors with her short time out in front but, with the pack still moving along at a high rate of knots she was soon caught.

Specialized-Lululemon made it patently clear that they were after a stage win today, moving up to the front of the peloton as the finish approached so as to be in the right spot to mark every move made by Rabobank. Their top GC contender Evelyn Stevens, who some say could steal victory from under Marianne Vos' nose later on in the race, demonstrated exactly why some say that  but was ultimately unable to match the incredible Dutch woman who reached the line alone, 3" ahead of the bunch. With the extra points from the intermediate sprint, her performance today was sufficient to increase her overall advantage to 1'31".

Tomorrow, everything changes - Stage 5 ends with a 1,000m climb to the finish line, favouring a whole new selection of riders. With a 560km transfer overnight to get to the start line, it'll be a challenge in more ways than one.

Stage 4 Top Ten
1 Marianne VOS (Rabo)
2 Evelyn STEVENS (Specialized-Lululemon) +03"
3 Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) ST
4 Tatiana GUDERZO (MCipollini-Giordana) ST
5 Claudia HAUSLER (Tibco-To The Top) +07"
6 Anna VAN DER BREGGEN (Netherlands NT) +09"
7 Fabiana LUPERINI (Faren-Let's Go Finland) +09"
8 Francesca CAUZ (Top Girls-Fassa Bortolo) +18"
9 Tiffany CROMWELL (Orica-AIS) +20"
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 5
Mara Abbott in 2011, before anorexia forced her to
withdraw from racing
Not much more than a year ago, Mara Abbott - a rider who, in 2010, became the first American winner in the history of the Giro Donne - announced that she would be taking an indefinite break from racing as she was suffering from anorexia (for an excellent interview, which explains how Mara's condition, as is frequently the case with anorexia sufferers, stemmed not from a desire to lose weight but from a feeling that she was not in control of her life, see this ESPN-W article).

During Stage 5 of the 2013 Giro Rosa, she turned what many believed to be Marianne Vos' insurmountable advantage of 1'31" into a 3'20" disadvantage, and in doing so placed herself in the top position with a lead of 1'27" over second place Tatiana Guderzo.

Vos had been looking good in the first kilometres, remaining near the front of the pack as it stayed tight over the day's first categorised climb to Sassello, some 17.2km from the start, though it was once again Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini-Giordana) who took the biggest allocation of points at the summit with Tiffany Cromwell (Orica-AIS) just behind her and ahead of the World Champion. On the descent, Scandolara and eleven others, including a number of strong climbers, joined forces and escaped, which immediately caused the peloton some concern although they didn't immediately react, permitting the group to get 55" up the road - which left Valentina Carretta (MCipollini-Giordana), Megan Guarnier and Roxane Knetemann (both Rabo) to take first, second and third at the intermediate sprint 43.4km in. With the finish now less than 30km, the teams without climbers in the break decided they really needed to take matters in hand and upped the tempo, reducing the gap to 30". Lauren Hall (USA NT) and Valentina Bastianelli (Vaiano-Fondriest) managed to bridge at that point, but even with the new strength they brought the break was spent and, by the time the race arrived at the foot of Mount Beigua, all the riders were together again.

That's when Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-Lululemon) made the move that everybody had been expecting ever since the route was announced, joining forces with Abbott (that both of them are American and it's the 4th of July, it seems, counted for a lot more than the fact that they ride for opposing teams) to put Vos under pressure. It was obvious immediately that the Dutchwoman, remarkably, was not in any fit state to follow them - she tried, but for once her legs simply didn't have the strength; so she fell back. However, very shortly afterwards, so did Stevens; an incredible state of affairs as it left the two popular favourites for General Classification victory apparently out of the game.

Abbott, though, pressed on, and nobody could keep her from slowly but surely adding more and more time to the gap between herself and the rest. Then, in a scene that must surely have deserved to be splashed across the world's television sets far more than the unremarkable bunch sprint at the Tour de France, she crossed the finish line alone and 1'44" ahead of second place Francesca Cauz (Top Girls-Fassa Bortolo).

"I'm going to try to protect this lead with the help of my teammates," Abbott told the press after the stage. "They have been great so far. They've done everything that's been asked of them. I have confidence that they will continue to give everything until the end."

Vos confesses that, when Giorgia Bronzini beat her at the World Championships in 2011, she was not in the most pleasant of moods; this time, perhaps realising that while she had been crushingly defeated, Abbott had scored a victory far greater than a stage - one against a terrible disease that, in her autobiography Op De Troon, Vos reveals she too has experienced. "Today was a serious test and I just was not good enough. I can come up with all kinds of excuses, but the others were simply too strong," she said, explaining that she believes she now has no chance to win this year. "I tried to go, but blew myself up. The pace was just too high; then I slowly saw the light go out. One by one they came past me. After a while Megan Guarnier came to me. She got me in tow to try to minimise the our losses a little, but there was nothing left to save."

Stage 5 Top Ten
1 Mara ABBOTT (USA NT) 2h25'25"
2 Francesca CAUZ (Top Girls-Fassa Bortolo) +01'44"
3 Fabiana LUPERINI (Faren-Let's Go Finland) +01'49"
4 Tatiana GUDERZO (MCipollini-Giordana) +01'51"
5 Shara GILLOW (Orica-AIS) +02'38"
6 Claudia HÄUSLER (Tibco-To The Top) +02'49"
7 Eivgenia VYSOTSKA (S.C. Michela Fanini-ROX) +03'02"
8 Alena AMIALIUSIK (BePink) +03'45"
9 Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) +03'51"
10 Evelyn STEVENS (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 6
A victory such as that enjoyed by Mara Abbott (USA NT) yesterday cannot happen by chance, only through hard work, natural talent and developed ability. To prove this, the 27-year-old American took on the best riders in women's cycling once again; she beat them for a second day in a row.

Valentina Scandolara
Marianne Vos (Rabo) knows she'd need to pull off a trick probably beyond ever her abilities to win this race now, but you don't earn the right to be called "the world's most successful cyclist" without a hefty dose of fighting spirit - accompanied by team mate Lucinda Brand, Shelley Olds (Tibco-To The Top) and Valentina Scandolara (who seems determined to spend as much of the race as possible somewhere near the front; MCipollini-Giordana), the World Champion fled the peloton on the long descent during the initial 20km to Crevoladossola. By the time the road flattened out, the trio had half a minute; it would not be enough, however, to prevent the accelerating peloton sweeping them up over the course of the next 20km.

Soon afterwards, 50km into the stage, a new break of nine riders got away and achieved a 1'12"advantage by the time Sari Saarelainen (MCipollini-Giordana) led Alessandra D'Ettore (Vaiano-Fondriest) and Lauren Kitchen (Wiggle-Honda) through the intermediate sprint at Ornavasso, then increased it by another minute by Villadossola. This stage featured no fewer than three intermediate sprints, an effort by the race organisers to keep things interesting on the flat section leading up to the big climb at the end; Malgorzata Jasinska (MCipollini-Giordana) was first through the second with Saarelainen and Kitchen right behind her, then Saarelainen took the best of the points at the third followed by D'Ettore and Adrie Visser (Boels-Dolmans). By now, the peloton had dramatically slashed their deficit down to a more manageable 1'10".

The road began gaining altitude 20km from the finish line, allowing the pack to finally close the gap on the escapees. A few kilometres later, when the gradient really kicked in, a large group of eighteen climbers that had been assembling at the front made its move, settling into the smooth rhythm that marks out the sort of true grimpeurs that were in with a chance of making it to the 1,400m summit with a decent time. However, in a repeat of yesterday's events, not one single rider - not Vos, Stevens (Specialized-Lululemon) or even Moolman (Lotto-Belisol), who looks as though she was born for no purpose other than to ride bikes quickly up mountains - was able to stay with Abbott when she increased her pace; the American simply left them behind and sailed away solo to another spectacular stage victory.

Following the stage, it was announced that Fabiana Luperini, the most successful Giro Donne winner of all time, was being disqualified as she had competed on a bike weighing less than the minimum set out under UCI rules.

Stage 6 Top Ten
1 Mara ABBOTT (USA NT) 3h16'01"
2 Claudia HÄUSLER (Tibco-To The Top) +24"
3 Francesca CAUZ (Top Girls-Fassa Bortolo) +34"
4 Fabiana LUPERINI (Faren-Let's Go Finland) +41" (disqualified)
5 Tatiana GUDERZO (MCipollini-Giordana) +01'03"
6 Evelyn STEVENS (Specialized-Lululemon) +01'32"
7 Marianne VOS (Rabobank) +01'39"
8 Shara GILLOW (Orica-AIS)+01'46"
9 Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) +01'52"
10 Eivgenia VYSOTSKA (S.C. Michela Fanini-ROX) +01'53"
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 7
Marianne Vos (pictured at the 2013
La Flèche Wallonne)
With no more mountains in this edition, Stage 7 consisted of eight laps of a flat circuit that was always going to favour the sprinters. The first few laps saw a number of riders try to break and, for a very brief time, it looked as though Lauren Kitchen (Wiggle-Honda), Anastasya Chulkova (RusVelo) and Inga Cilvinaite (Pasta Zara-Cogeas) looked as though they might even manage to do it - but, with the lack of technical sections permitting the peloton to drive forward at enormous speed, it was soon clear that the only way anybody was going to get any distance from the pack was by dropping off the back.

The intermediate sprint at 103.3km went to Tatiana Guderzo (MCipollini-Giordana), bringing the second-placed overall rider some bonus seconds that, though welcome, are unlikely to make much difference to the eventual outcome. Claudia Hausler (Tibco-To The Top) and Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini-Giordana) were second and third.

Marianne Vos' defeat on the climbs of Stages 5 and 6 came as a big surprise, one that effectively took her out of contention for General Classification victory; her power in the sprint to the finish line, meanwhile, was no surprise at all and nobody from among the 25 riders that went with her, including old rival Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-Honda), was able to get past her. She picked up bonus sections as a result, but even so ended the stage 4'50" down in the GC. Race leader Mara Abbott (USA NT) finished in the third group, well down in 52nd place at +9" - but with an overall advantage standing at 2'28" after the stage, it'd probably take more of an effort to lose that lead than retain it in tomorrow's individual time trial.

Stage 7 Top Ten
1 Marianne VOS (Rabobank) 2h52'07"
2 Giorgia BRONZINI (Wiggle-Honda) ST
3 Shelley OLDS (Tibco-To The Top) ST
4 Kirsten WILD (Netherlands NT) ST
5 Barbara GUARISCHI (Vaiano-Fondriest) ST
6 Marta TAGLIAFERRO (MCipollini-Giordana) ST
7 Oxana KOZONCHUK (RusVelo) ST
8 Alena AMIALIUSIK (BePink) ST
9 Giada BORGATO (Pasta Zara-Cogeas) ST
10 Melissa HOSKINS (Orica-AIS) ST
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 8 (ITT)
Dutch national time trial champion Ellen van Dijk (Specialized-Lululemon) was always the favourite to win the race against the clock in the final stage of this year's Giro Rosa, but going into the stage with a deficit of 21'16" to race leader Mara Abbott (USA NT) there was no chance she'd be able to steal overall victory. However, with several other good time trial riders - including Italian TT champion Tatiana Guderzo (MCipollini-Giordana) in second place at 2'28" - Abbott's eventual win was far from carved in stone.

Lululemon team mate Tayler Wiles was the thirtieth rider to go from the 128 left in the race and set the first benchmark time at 22'22", which made her the rider to beat for more than an hour and was sufficient to give her sixth place for the stage. French TT champion Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Rabo) was first to beat her time, taking 12" from it, but when van Dijk went shortly afterwards and completed almost a minute faster it was clear that the remaining riders were going to be fighting for second and third place.

Abbott started the day with an advantage of 2'28" and, going up against the time trial specialists, had no choice but to see a big chunk taken away from her overall time today - she finished 38th fastest, 2'13" slower than van Dijk. Her stunning performances in the mountains earlier in the race, though, were enough; by the end of the day she still led by 1'33". The last time she won this race was three years and an eating disorder away - nobody can say that her victory is not an inspiration.

Marianne Vos (Rabo), who many expected to win a third consecutive General Classification victory, took the Points competition for her three stage wins. Abbott's two mountain stages, which she won solo, netted her the Mountains jersey alongside the General Classification while Francesca Cauz (Top Girls-Fassa Bortolo), one of this year's revelations with her incredibly climbing skills, is the best rider in the Youth category.

Stage 8 Top Ten
1 Eleonora VAN DIJK (Specialized-Lululemon) 21'12"
2 Evelyn STEVENS (Specialized-Lululemon) +35"
3 Shara GILLOW (Orica-AIS) +52"
4 Pauline FERRAND PREVOT (Rabobank) +57"
5 Linda Melanie VILLUMSEN (Wiggle-Honda) +01'02"
6 Tayler WILES (Specialized-Lululemon) +01'10"
7 Loes GUNNEWIJK (Orica-AIS) +01'11"
8 Anna VAN DER BREGGEN (Netherlands NT) +01'13"
9 Alexandra BURCHENKOVA (RusVelo) +01'15"
10 Carmen SMALL (Specialized-Lululemon) +01'17"
Full stage result

General Classification Top Ten
1 Mara ABBOTT (USA NT) 20h30'15"
2 Tatiana GUDERZO (MCipollini-Giordana) +01'33"
3 Claudia HÄUSLER (Tibco-To The Top) +02'18"
4 Shara GILLOW (Orica-AIS) +03'29"
5 Evelyn STEVENS (Specialized-Lululemon) +03'39"
6 Marianne VOS (Rabo) +04'08"
7 Francesca CAUZ (Top Girls-Fassa Bortolo) +04'25"
8 Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) +05'23"
9 Eivgenia VYSOTSKA (S.C. Michela Fanini-ROX) +06'48"
10 Alena AMIALIUSIK (BePink) +07'25"
Full General Classification

Tour de Feminin - O cenu Ceského Švýcarska (Tour Krasna Lipa)
Race preview here
Amy Cure leads by 1'21" after four stages; Emma Pooley second and Esther Fennel third at +2'28". With several tough climbs in the final Stage 5, British star Pooley may yet take first place.

Stage 1 Top Ten
1 Paulina BRZEZNA  3h04'36"
2 Katarzyna NIEWIADOMA  +09"
4 Mascha PIJNENBORG  +16"
7 Andrea GRAUS  ST
8 Rebecca WISIAK ST
9 Svetlana STOLBOVA ST
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 2
1 Amy CURE  2h48'22"
3 Janine VAN DER MEER  ST 
4 Pavlina SULCOVA  ST
5 Desiree EHRLER  ST
7 Svetlana STOLBOVA  ST
8 Katarzyna NIEWIADOM  ST
9 Daniela GASS  ST
10 Jermaine POST  ST 
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 3 (ITT)
1 Emma POOLEY 26'47"
2 Martina RITTER +02"
3 Esther FENNEL +04"
4 Amy CURE +21"
7 Rebecca WISIAK +30"
8 Lucy COLDWELL +40"
9 Reta TROTMAN +42"
10 Natalia BOYARSKAYA +47"
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 4
1 Amy CURE 2h35'54"
3 Karolina GARCZYNSKA +02'13"
4 Daniela GASS ST
5 Riejanne MARKUS ST
6 Natalia MIELNIK ST
9 Ausrine TREBAITE +02'15"
10 Jacqueline HAHN ST
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 5
1 Emma POOLEY 2h15'29"
2 Lisanne SOEMANTA +12"
4 Lelizaveta OSHURKOVA ST
6 Paulina BRZEZNA ST
7 Svetlana STOLBOVA ST
9 Martina RITTER ST
Full stage result

Final General Classification
1 Amy CURE 11h11'29"
2 Emma POOLEY +01'00"
3 Martina RITTER +02'47"
4 Esther FENNEL +02'57"
5 Paulina BRZEZNA +03'10"
6 Taryn HEATHER +03'14"
7 Katarzyna NIEWIADOMA +03'18"
8 Svetlana STOLBOVA +03'25"
9 Rebecca WISIAK ST
10 Natalia BOYARSKAYA +03'44"
Full General Classification

Points: 1. Amy Cure 86pts; 2. Emma Pooley 47pts; 3. Lisanne Soemanta 42pts. Mountains: 1. Pauline Brzezna 34pts; 2. Lisanne Soemanta 30pts; 3. Emma Pooley 24pts. Youth: 1. Amy Cure 11h11'29"; 2. Katarzyna Niewiadoma +03'18"; 3. Lelizaveta Oshurkova +04'18".

Elinor Barker wins Otley
More information when available; in the meantime you can send your messages of congratulations to the Wiggle-Honda rider via her Twitter account. Photos by VeloUK.

Forster crashes at Elveden
Michelle Forster
Michelle Forster (London Phoenix CC) was fortunate to escape serious injury in a crash at Elveden. Since she's such an articulate Tweeter - and very much worth following - here's her own description:
Michelle Forster ‏@forstertweet 
I added entertainment with a spectacular crash near the finish.hands shaking, couldn't get chain back on in time to stop 1 rider catching up
Michelle Forster ‏@forstertweet
But did get back on and finished 7th. Pleased with how we raced today :)
Michelle Forster ‏@forstertweet
@LyD_ers on way to hospital now to get head checked. Helmet totalled. Head hit the ground on the 3rd bounce. Fingers crossed!
Michelle Forster ‏@forstertweet
Just out of hospital now. Nothing broken, a little concussion, overnight observation, I look like a steak. thanks for the well wishes all!
Michelle Forster ‏@forstertweet
@LyD_ers yes :-) . when I woke up in hospital this morning my thoughts were on how much I enjoyed the race yesterday, so I can't be too bad
Interesting Links
United Kingdom
Why does cycling have podium girls? (BBC)
Women’s National Road Series wide open ahead of Curlew Cup (British Cycling)
Otley Preview (British Cycling)
Liz Dimmock trains like a pro to break world cycling record (and she wants women to join her) (BikeRadar)
Rapha, dhb and Altura: Womens' cycling kit reviewed (The Guardian)
Douglas County's first ladies-only cycling event coming (OurLoneTreeNews, Colorado)
Brianna Walle, Portland neo-pro cyclist, to race Giro Rosa in Italy (Oregon Live)
Canberra's Chloe Hosking is concerned about the state of cycling (Canberra Times)
Rachel Neylen: remember the name (BackPageLead)

Photo of the Week
Isla Rush riding for WindyMilla at Curborough
(photo by North Norfolk 100)

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Women's Cycling News 23-30.06.2013

Rider assaulted by coach? -  Longo Borghini injured - Want to put a question to Orica's Giro Rosa squad? - Interesting Links - more to come...

Rider assaulted by coach?
Erika Varela was attacked by her coach, says
Erika Varela, winner of the Junior Road Race at the 2012 PanAmerican Championships, was allegedly subjected to a physical assault at the hands of her team coach Arturo Meneses - who is also the president of the Asociación de Ciclismo del Estado de México.

Gustavo Garcia, an eye-witness who took photos of the alleged attack at the Mexican National Championships, claims to have gone to see what was going on after hearing shouting and saw the rider and coach arguing over results. He says he then saw them struggling with one another next to a car, after which the rider was pushed to the ground. In one of the photos, Meneses has taken hold of Varela's arm; it is unclear whether he is trying to pull her back to her feet or twisting it. It would be possible to argue that the photos actually show Varela fainting with Meneses trying to catch her, then helping her back to his feet; however, in what is apparently the last photo, he has taken hold of her under the arms and is lifting her back up while she has taken firm hold of the car's door handle and is pulling herself up - which suggests she is fully aware of the situation rather than being dazed as would be expected had she just fainted.

Best wishes for a speedy recovery, Elisa!
Elisa Longo Borghini injured
It's been a superb season for Elisa Longo Borghini, who has brought her Hitec Products-UCK team numerous podium places and a couple of very impressive victories - including at the Trofeo Binda, where she beat Emma Johansson, Ellen van Dijk, Amanda Spratt, Chantal Blaak and Marianne Vos - but her luck ran out at the Italian National Championships.

The 21-year-old, considered one of the sport's most promising rising stars, crashed around 3km from the finish line in wet conditions and received a nasty cut to the abdomen; the official race medics sent her to hospital to be properly examined and it was there that X-rays revealed the rider had also suffered a fracture in her iliac crest, the large bone that forms the "shoulder" of the pelvis.

It's too early for doctors to be able to estimate Longo Borghini's recovery time, but with other riders who have suffered similar injuries taking several months to fully heal it looks as though her 2013 season is at an end. She will, of course, miss the Giro Rosa, which she had listed as her greatest goal this year.

Ever wanted to ask the Giro Rosa riders anything?
I know I have, and chances are you have too - or if not, you'll probably be able to think of something (what's the name of that men's race that takes place in France at the same time the Rosa's on in Italy, for example). Last year, Amber Pierce ran a series of post-stage video conferences in which she answered questions from fans and delighted us all with her willingness to spend time chatting about the world in general (thanks Amber!), but she won't be at the race this year.

Fortunately, the fantastic Sarah Connolly - who is largely responsible for convincing me that I like women's cycling more than men's, and as such partially inspired this website - has managed to persuade several Orica-AIS riders who will be there to answer questions with the answers then being published on Podium Cafe.

"You can ask questions for the team in general, or for individual riders - anything you've wanted to know about racing a Tour! Anything you like, from technical questions, what riders pack in their "survival kit" to worst moments from previous Giros, what's it really like riding up a mountain in the scorching heat, who are they all hoping they don't have to share rooms with - anything!" Sarah says. Read more about it here.

Interesting Links
Joanna Rowsell wins British National Time Trial Championship (SkySports)
Lizzie Armitstead joins Sky Sports editorial team as a cycling blogger (SkySports)
New British TT Champ Jo Rowsell speaks to Road.CC (Road.CC)
Olympic star Laura Trott races at Otley (Telegraph&Argus)
Jess Varnish urges more women to cycle (GiveMeSport)

Athletes, organizers, USA Cycling consider challenges, benefits for big-time women’s racing (VeloNews)

Ferrand Prevot repeats as French time trial champion (Cycling News)
Maria Parker expected to finish RAAM today (Robesonian)
Tayler Wiles leaps from casual rider to international racer (Salt Lake Tribune)
Fort Collins cyclist Amanda Miller ready to put injuries behind her (Coloradoan)
Numainville wins Canadian ITT Champs (
Dirt Skirt revolution: Local cycling series aims to encourage women to race (Winnipeg Free Press)
Theresa Cliff-Ryan wins East Troy Classic (VeloNews)
Cyclist Dies After Crash at SD Velodrome (NBC San Diego)
Rebecca Rusch repeats as Dirty Kanza women’s champ (Idaho Mountain Express)
Tour of Elk Grove women’s race will be televised nationally (Daily Herald, US)
Wheels are turning for Victoria Gates (Worcester Telegram, Massachusetts)
Nursyazwana Mohd Jamil is new Malaysian Road Race Champ (New Straits Times)

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Tour de Bretagne 2013

11-14.07.2013 Official Site
France, 4-stage Road Race, 377.9km
UCI 2.2

2013 photos by Gwena

2012 victor Anna van der Breggen
Cycling enjoys enormous popularity in the Basque Country, the Netherlands and Belgium but for most people, largely due to the The Tour, the sport is primarily associated with France. There's a good reason for that - the French have loved the bicycle since the early days, have adored racing them ever since the first time two cyclists found themselves on the same road and many people throughout the country consider it to be their national sport, but if you want to meet some truly obsessed fans then you need to head for Brittany.

Brittany is to France what Wales is to England - once an independent nation, it has its own language (Breizh, a Brythonic language that predates French and has similarities to Welsh but more to Cornish, the language of their ancestors who emigrated to Brittany from Cornwall between the third and ninth centuries CE; just as Welsh and Cornish - or Cymraeg and Kernowek - are also Brythonic and predate English. The Bretons and the Welsh have long been aware of this and consider themselves more closely related to one another than they do to the French and the English - "You are Welsh? I'm Breton - we are cousins!" as one Breton, who I'd assumed to be French, told me when she heard I'm Welsh). Brittany also has a Celtic heritage of which its inhabitants have become increasingly proud (but doesn't yet suffer from huge numbers of gift shops specialising in fudge, plush dragons - or ermines, the ermine being the equivalent Breton symbol - and fridge magnets that have a message in the local language and "Made in China" in English on the back, as Wales does). Around half of all Bretons consider themselves to be Breton as well as French and early a quarter consider themselves Breton and then French while a small minority argue that they're not French at all; in some areas, therefore, it feels distinctly different to France, as though the visitor is in a different country altogether - and, although it's difficult to define exactly what makes them so, Breton races feel somehow different to French races. So, since Brittany is so easy to reach from Britain, why not go and support your favourite riders? There are details on how to get there on this page.

This one has existed since 1987, making it among the oldest women's races still taking place; from 1987 to 2000 it was open only to amateurs, but in 2001 it became a professional race for a single year. It then didn;t go ahead in 2002, reverted to amateurs in 2003 and has been for professionals from 2004 to the present. In 1987 it was won by Cecile Odin, who earlier that season had won the Tour Cycliste Féminin de la Drôme which also started in 1987, was run periodically up until 2006 and has now vanished (it also vanished between 1990 and 2002, though, so fingers crossed). Catherine Marsal won in 1988 and 1989 when she was a still a junior; in 1989 she also won the Junior World Pursuit title on the track, then went on to enjoy a glittering career that brought victory at Giro Donne, the Tour de l'Aude, numerous National Championships and, in 1990, the World Road Race Championship. The race didn't go ahead in 1990 but returned in 1991 when Lithuanian Daïva Chapelienne became the first non-French winner - Chapelienne won few other races and has been largely forgotten. 1992 went to an eighteen-year-old German few people had ever heard of named Hanka Kupfernagel - later that year, Hanka became Junior World Champion, then in 1995 she won 17 races including the Gracia Orlova and the National Road Race and Time Trial Championships; she would win the Tour again in 1997 and 1998, making her the joint most successful rider in the history of the race and, with numerous other wins to her name (including a record three - won consecutively - at the Emakumeen Bira), is now one of the most famous female cyclists in the world.

Jeannie Longo won in 1993 and 1995, 1994 having gone to the first Russian winner Svetlana Bubnenkova; 1996 went to Marion Clignet, the rider who was born in the USA and raced with an American licence until she was prevented from renewing her US Cycling Federation membership following her diagnosis with epilepsy - at which point, she joined the French federation instead and, in her first year racing for France, won the National Pursuit and Road Race Championships and the World Team Time Trial Championship, then delivered her new country another five World Championship medals over the course of the rest of her career. Germany came to the end of a three-year run of  victories started by Kupfernagel when Judith Arndt added her name to the list in 1999 and Anita Valen de Vries became the first and, to date, the only Norwegian winner in 2000, after which Arndt won again in 2001, when the Tour was open to professionals for the first time. The race skipped a year in 2002, then Edwige Pitel (who is still racing, with S.C. Michela Fanini-ROX) won in 2003 - the last ever amateur edition and the first of five consecutive French wins.

Another forgotten rider, Magali Finot-Laivier won in 2004, then Marina Jaunatre bettered Kupfernagels' three victories with three consecutive victories from 2005-2007. In 2008 Emma Pooley became the first and last British winner, also taking two stage wins, and - remarkably, considering their passion for the sport - the Belgians got their first win a year later thanks to Liesbet de Vocht. The race didn't take place again in 2010, when it returned in 2011 Alexandra Burchenkova took Russia's second win, followed by the first Dutch winner Anna van der Breggen who dominated the race with three stage wins in 2012.

Stage 1 (Pledran-Yffiniac, 97.9km+30.1km, 11.07.2013)
The Tour begins this year just a few kilometres south of Saint-Brieuc at Pledran, the birthplace of Maurice Le Guilloux who enjoyed a successful career in cycling during the 1970s and 80s and rode as a domestique to Brittany's most famous son Bernard Hinault on the La Vie Claire team (Le Guilloux is now Crédit Lyonnais' public relations officer on the Tour de France). Hinault was born in Yffiniac, where the stage ends, on the 14th of November in 1954; he, of course, won five Tours de France and is often considered the second most successful (male) cyclist of all time after Eddy Merckx - this stage takes in a few of the hills where, as a teenager, The Badger would go to slipstream behind trucks traveling at 50kph. Less famous is Zephirin Jegard, born there on the 28th of August in 1935 - in 2004, when he was 69 years old, Jegard set a new record for cycling from Brest on the French Atlantic coast to Vladivostok on the Russian Pacific coast, taking 66 days to complete the 13,850km - 209km on average each day.

There are no high mountains in Brittany, but all four stages in the race are hilly. This one reaches the highest altitude anywhere on the parcours and some of the climbs are steep - it's a day for a climber or a rouleur who can keep up with them on all but the toughest ascents. As with Stages 3 and 4, the parcours consists of two sections: the main route (blue on the map) is 97.9km in length, the circuit is 6.2km and will be completed four times before a part-lap of 5.7km. The total distance today is, therefore, 128km.

View Tour de Bretagne 2013 St1 in a larger map Stage 2

Stage 2 (Mohon-Mohon, 12.3km ITT, 12.07.2013)
Beginning at the small and very picturesque town of Mohon (that's the one in Brittany rather than the one in the Ardennes, RusVelo!), Stage 2 is an individual time trial taking place on a tricky 12.3km circuit with several sharp corners. With rural Fren... sorry, Breton roads being what they are, expect slippery conditions and numerous crashes if it rains.

View Tour de Bretagne 2013 St2 in a larger map

Stage 3 (Pipriac-La Chapelle Bouexic, 89.4km+34.5km, 13.07.2013)
Pipriac hosts today's start line - the town, home to around 3,500 people, was the birthplace in 1415 of one Jean Brito who, for many years from the 18th Century, it was claimed had invented movable type printing before Johannes Gutenberg, a claim that is now considered false.

The climbs are smaller than on Stage 1 though no less steep - but there are plenty of them and their combined effect will be very tiring. The main route is 89.4km, the 6.6km circuit will be completed five times in addition to a short transition of 1.5km; today's total distance is 123.9km.

View Tour de Bretagne 2013 St3 in a larger map

Stage 4 (Crozon-Poullan Sur Mer, 83.6km+27.2km, 14.07.2013)
Joseph Velly, winner of the 1969 GP de France, was born in Crozon in 1938. His distinctly Celtic name befits his origins because Crozon and its surroundings are peppered with dolmens and standing stones (Lostmarc'h, Ty-Ar-This-Hure) that give it an "feel" every bit as Celtic as Men-an-Tol (Cornwall), Pentre Ifan (Wales) or Newgrange (Ireland) - other megalithic sites that are associated in the popular mind with the Celts, despite the fact that every one of them was already ancient by the time the Celts found their way to Western Europe. The rocky Atlantic coastline, which this stage follows closely, also contributes to the ambiance - it's wild and rugged and doesn't really seem to be a part of France at all. It should be noted that there is another Crozon in Brittany, some 32km west of Rennes - the start line is at the other, larger Crozon much further West in the middle of the peninsula that shares its name; if I was going to visit the race this year (which I can't), this would be the stage I'd make sure I could see and, into addition to small hotels at Crozon and Poullan Sur Mer, there are many campsites along the coast ranging from well-appointed with electrical hook-ups for campervans to fields with space for a few tents, enabling the visitor to make the most of the race and the scenery.

Taking coastal roads makes this another stage characterised by its many short, steep ascents. The main section is 83.6km while the circuit, which is 5.5km, will be completed four times. There will also be a part-lap of 5.2km; the total distance of the stage is, therefore, 113.7km.

View Tour de Bretagne 2014 St4 in a larger map

A start list has not yet been made available. However, Women Cycling Fever is the best point of call for regular updates; their list can be found here.

How to follow the race
For expert race analysis and up-to-the-second news, follow Matrix Racing Academy and Hitec Products-UCK managers Stef Wyman and Karl Lima - and if you're a women's cycling fan, you really ought to be following both of them already. Finally, there is Gwena - the authority on women's cycling in France, Gwena will be at the race and will have some of the best reports going on her website Cyclisme Feminin.

Getting There, Staying There
Getting to Brittany is as simple a process as getting to Calais, but much prettier when you get off the ferry. Brittany Ferries (the same one that persuaded the Tour de France to make its first visit to Britain back in 1974, as an advertisement for its new line) sails from Plymouth to Roscoff (approximately 90km from Crozon) twice most days. A return ticket for an adult with a bicycle is around £80.

Pen Bellec, just south of Telgruc-Sur-Mer, has everything that even an inexperienced camper might need and costs little enough to appeal even to us tight-fisted cyclists - estimate around €5 per night per adult, €5 per night per car and €6.50 per night per campervan, or go by bike: this is Brittany, the won't charge you for taking it onto the site and you'll be loved wherever you go (especially if you've got a vintage La Vie Claire jersey). Pen Bellec's location right on the beach makes it possibly the most beautiful campsite in Brittany. There are several other campsites nearby; Tourisme Bretagne has details.

Please note: although great care has been taken when producing these stage maps, they should be considered to be for illustrative purposes only. If in any doubt it should be assumed that official maps and directions provided by the race organisers are correct.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Giro Rosa 2013

30.06-07.07.2013 Official Site
Italy, 8-stage Road Race, 803km
UCI 2.1

Stage reports and results here

The legendary Giro Donne - the last Grand Tour in women's cycling - faced an uncertain future and, for a while, looked about to vanish forever last year when organiser Epinike revealed that it wouldn't be seeking a renewal of its contract to run the race. Fortunately, Renato di Rocco kept true to his promise that he'd make saving it a priority if he was successful in his bid to be re-elected as president of the Italian national federation; once he was he wasted no time in appointing a new race director, Giuseppe Rivolta, and a new company named Erre 4 was created to take on responsibility for making sure that the Giro went ahead under its new name the Giro Rosa.

Since its inception right back in 1988, the Donne has attracted the most talented and famous athletes in the sport. Maria Canins won that year, followed by Roberta Bonanomi in 1989 and then the Frenchwoman Catherine Marsal in 1990. The race wasn't held in 1991 or 1992, but Slovakian Lenka Ilavska became the first rider from the former Eastern Bloc to win with her victory when it restarted in 1993 and the race has been held every year since. Michela Fanini began a new era of Italian domination with her 1994 victory; just a few months later, at the age of 21, she was tragically killed but her memory lives on in the name of the team named after her - S.C. Michela Fanini-ROX, taking part in the race this year. Fabiana Luperini, who still races today and is competing with the Faren-Let's Go Finland team this year, won for the first time in 1995 and then did so again in 1996, 1997 and 1998 and Joane Somarriba became the first Spanish winner in 1999 and won for a second time in 2000. Nicole Brandli was the first Swiss winner in 2001, Svetlana Bubenkova the first Russian in 2002, Brandli won again in 2003 and then the Welsh wonder Nicole Cooke took Britain's first win in 2004, after which Brandli won for a third time in 2005. Lithuanian Edita Pucinskaite won in 2006 and 2007 and then, an incredible 13 years after her first victory, Luperini won for a record fifth time in 2008. Two more firsts came in subsequent years with Claudia Hausler (back with Tibco-To The Top in 2013) the first German winner in 2009 and Mara Abbott (riding with the USA team this year) the first American in 2010, bringing the race neatly up to the reign of Marianne Vos who was the first Dutch winner when she beat Britain's Emma Pooley by more than three minutes (and third place Judith Arndt by more than eight) in 2011, then did the same in 2012. Vos will be a popular favourite for this year, but she'll have a tougher time of it than in the past - the other teams and riders have a better understanding of precisely what they're dealing with when Vos races and are thus better able to react when she makes a move. There are those who believe that, with her return to mountain biking this year, Vos is spreading herself too thinly; however, many believe that she could probably add a few more disciplines and still win more races than any rider in the history of cycling.


Stage 1 (30.06.2013) Giovinazzo-Margherita di Savoia, 124.3km
The Giro's general classification, as tends to be the case in any Grand Tour, usually goes to a rider who can climb; for that reason, the first few stages are normally much flatter and riders who don't have much chance of winning overall are permitted a few days in the limelight while the big guns size one another up.

Not so this one. The last 94km are flat, which means that the sprinters will have ample opportunity to get to the front and battle for the stage win, but look at the climb in the first 23km - it's only rated Category 3, isn't very high and, coming so early in the stage, is unlikely to set up any stage-winning breaks, but it's long enough to provide the riders with a good indication of whether or not their rivals are going to cope well with the real knee-breakers to come later on.

Stage 2 (01.07.2013) Pontecagnano Faiano-Pontecagnano Faiano, 99.6km

Stage 2's climb, from the SP28a to the Piazza Garibaldi at Pontecagnano Faiano, ascends only 80m - but it does it in only 1.2km, making the average gradient 6.6%. 6.6%% isn't horrific by professional cyclists' standards, but with the hill being climbed on each of the four laps around the parcours it'll certainly have an effect. What's more, there are GPM points on offer at the top on the final lap; climbers therefore have a choice between going for them or saving energy in order to be able to challenge the sprinters - thus improving General Classification times ready for tomorrow, when the parcours begins to get far lumpier - over the last 21km to the finish. 

Don't forget that many climbers don't like steep descents, where the heavier sprinters are better able to control their machines: so it might be the downhill section after the Piazza that proves decisive rather than the climb to it.

Stage 3 (02.07.2013) Cerro Al Volturno-Cerro Al Volturno, 111.6km
There are no high peaks on Stage 4, but the terrain is far hillier than those that came earlier and gives a taste of the mountain action to come. The first 9km starts flat, then begins to climb gently before becoming steeper on the way to Via Mainarde where today's only GPM points (Cat. 3) will be awarded - which seems a little bit of a strange move by the organisers as the climbers may decide to take the remaining 102km at an easy pace to save energy for subsequent stages while the climbs in the second half of the stage are liable to be too big for the sprinters, potentially making for a boring day once the GPM points have been won.

On the other hand, if the big names do sit back and enjoy the scenery, they might allow domestiques a chance to fight among themselves for a stage win. That usually leads to some excellent and unpredictable racing - and sometimes reveals the young riders who are going to win races like this one in years to come; any that can hold their own on the 18% gradient cobbled climb to the finish line will have proven they've got what it takes.

Stage 4 (03.07.2013) Monte San Vito-Castelfidardo, 137.2km
The longest stage this year by almost 13km, Stage 4 is also the last chance for the sprinters to get a good result that'll see them through the next two stages, when the finish lines are located at the top of serious climbs. 

However, it's a long way to the finish line and, without mountains, this is a parcours that lends itself to breakaways. It might take some time for a successful break to form on the 45km ride to the Cat. 3 climb rough a third of the way into the route, but one made up of a selection of good rouleurs could work together, get their heads down like they're riding a long time trial and stick a big gap between themselves and the following pack - and if that happens, anybody who wants to prevent them taking the stage win will have to make sure they get their chasers on the group before it's too late. Whatever happens, look out for a rider who can climb when the race nears its end: it's not a steep ascent over the last 8km, but after 129km even a gentle gradient could prove decisive.

Stage 5 (04.07.2013) Varazze-Monte Beigua, 73.3km
Stage 5 is 64km shorter than Stage 4, but there's no way it could ever be described as easier - while yesterday's parcours was mostly flat with only a couple of little climbs along the way, today's finish line is located at the top of a Cat.1 climb 1,274m above sea level. To put that into context for British readers, it's 189m (620 feet) higher than the summit of Snowdon.

The finish line is only 74m below the summit of Monte
Beigua, within sight of RAI's TV masts
The parcours starts climbing right from the finish line, gaining 210m at an average gradient of 3.3% over the first 6.3km; no real problem for the grimpeurs, but not at all a welcome prospect for the sprinters or any rider who isn't feeling their best. It's flatter - but not flat - for the next 7.5km to Santa Giustina, then climbs 174m in 2.7km (average gradient 6.3%) on the Cat. 3 ascent to Ponte Giovo, making this the perfect spot for a small group of climbers to leave the pack behind - especially as the coming descent isn't steep enough to give even the most birdlike of climbers too many problems, permitting them to maintain any lead they gain. They'll probably seek to increase it even further on the 17.3km, gently uphill section Pontinvrea, but the descent in the next 4.5km might easily whittle down their numbers: -3% average is not a steep gradient, but the climber who fears descending the least has an obvious advantage here. The next downhill section from 55.3 to 58.5km, with its average -4.3%, will have the same effect.

From 58.5km to the end, everything changes: a rider could arrive at this point alone and with an advantage of an hour, but it won't matter in the slightest if she hasn't got the strength left in her legs to tackle Monte Beigua - over the remaining 14.8km, there are 1,152m at an average gradient of 7.8% to be climbed.

Stage 6 (05.07.2013) Terme Di Premia-San Domenico, 121km
Stage 6 begins with a long descent over the first 20km to Crevoladossola, which puts the climbers at a disadvantage but favours breaks - an escape group made up of domestiques freed to go ahead by their team leaders is a distinct possibility, but they'll probably be swept up in no time at all once the peloton arrives on the flat 81km section that makes up most of today's parcours. Roughly halfway to the finish, at 69km, the race passes through Ornavasso, a pretty town in a stunning location. It's the hometown of Elisa Longo Borghini, riding with the Hitec Products-UCK team, and the stage is dedicated to her.

Like yesterday, the outcome of the stage depends on what happens on the mountain at the end. This one, lying right on the border of Switzerland, rises to 1,410m - 136m higher than yesterday. The climb is longer at 19.5km, which combined with a gain of 1,118m, gives a gentler average gradient than Monte Beigua of 5.7%; however, there is a section at 7% between 109.8 and 115.9km and a real grind of 9% from 117.2km to the finish. 

Being almost 50km longer than Stage 5 and with another very tough climb up to the finish line, Stage 6 is very likely to be the stage that decides the eventual overall winner.

Stage 7 (06.07.2013) Corbetta-Corbetta, 120km
Stage 7 couldn't really be any different to Stages 5 and 6 (unless it was an individual time trial, of course - there's one of those tomorrow) - it consists of eight laps of a 15km circuit with only 16m of vertical gain in total on each and has been designed to suit the sprinters who will have half-killed themselves getting this far into the race. What it all comes down to is which one of them made the best recovery overnight and, as a result, can generate the most power in the bunch sprint that is almost certainly inevitable once the finish line comes within sight?

Stage 8 (07.07.2013) Cremona ITT, 16km
Bah - it's the final stage already! An individual time trial is always an exciting way to end a long stage race, however - there have been many excellent climbers who could also ride well against the clock throughout the history of cycling, but few of them were ever able to rival the true time trial specialists and as a result it's not unknown for a General Classification leader who earned a decent lead up in the mountains to see it suddenly turn into a deficit on the final day. There are some excellent climbers in this race, a few of them definitely among the greatest of all time (Stevebs and Moolman spring to mind, but there are others too); but there are also some very, very good time trial riders - the climbers will need to perform well if they want to keep their overall placings.

Classification Jerseys
General Classification

Points Classification
Mountains Classification

Italian Classification
Youth Classification

Start List provided by the organisers. Women Cycling Fever maintains a regularly-updated list here; the official race website has a list here. One rider who isn't taking part, due to a knee injury, is Amber Pierce: last year, Amber hosted a series of interactive post-stage video conferences in which she chatted with fans and answered their questions, a prime example of a rider doing her bit to promote the sport.