Italy, 8-stage Road Race, 803km
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.
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.
|The finish line is only 74m below the summit of Monte
Beigua, within sight of RAI's TV masts
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 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?
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.
...as 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.