Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) rode solo to the crest of Monte Zoncolan on the queen stage of the Giro Rosa to fastightenten her grasp on the maglia rosa.
It was the first time the race has visited the climb since 1997, and that year it approached from the easier side of Sutrio; as opposed to the 10km at 11.5 per cent the rider’s faced this year.
An early break away trio consisting of Silvia Valsecchi (BePink), Sara Penton (Team Virtu Cycling Women) and Olena Pavlukhina (BTC City Ljubljana) built up a lead approaching three minutes early on, but the escapees were caught before the rider’s arrived at the pivotal mountain.
With just over 5 kilometres left, Van Vleuten responded to an attack from Moolman-Pasio – and the duo sped away from the reduced bunch, before Van Vleuten dug deep to distance her companion with 2km left.
The battle for third was left to Amanda Spratt – the maglia rosa’s team mate who won solo on stage six – and Eider Merino (Movistar), with Spratt proving herself the more capable of the two on the day.
How it happened
The 104 kilometre stage from Tricesimo to Monte Zoncolan opened with 86 fairly flat km’s, excluding a shorter climb in Bordano at 61km, before the riders approached the mountain.
One notable absence from the peloton was Marianne Vos (WaowDeals) who, after winning stage eight, was forced to abandon the race after falling ill overnight, commenting “it would be irresponsible to start today, in such a brutal stage to the Monte Zoncolan.”
A pile up just 10km into the race left some riders chasing on, but most had regained contact with 80km remaining. In the mean time a group of five – containing Eri Yonamine (Wiggle High5) and Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans) attacked to create some distance, but they were caught soon after.
That led the way for an attack cooked up between Valsecchi, Penton and Pavlukhina. Come the 48m to go mark, they’d managed to build up a lead of 2 minutes 55 seconds.
Of the three, Pavlukhina was the best placed on GC – in 61st place and over thirty minutes down, meaning the bunch could well allow them to slip away without danger of affecting the battle for overall.
The three stayed away on the first climb at Bordano, Valsecchi was first, followed by Pavlukhina and Penton – though their lead was sinking, down to 2-20. In the peloton, Dani King (WaowDeals) finished the climb first ahead of best Italian rider Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5).
Come the intermediate sprint at Tolmezzo, they were still away. The finish order – Valsecchi, Pavlukhina and Penton – was identical to that of the climb, but the gap was much smaller – at 1-48.
Approaching the early slopes of the climb, the catch was close, and it was made with 14km to go – by which time the entire peloton was enjoying the cooling effect of a mountain downpour.
The average gradient of 11.5 per cent over 10km caused splits in the peloton. The lead bunch was whittled down to 40 riders – with more dropping off as the metres ticked by.
The front group contained key players such as Van Vleuten, Moolman-Pasio, Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans), Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervelo-Bigla), and Spratt.
It was Moolman-Pasio who attacked first, Van Vleuten chasing after her – with 5km to go the pair had a gap of 38s over Guarnier and her companions – including Spratt, Merino, Ane Santesteban (Ale Cippolini), Victoria Garcia (Movistar) and Lucinda Brand (Sunweb).
Spratt and Merino soon left the others behind, before Spratt began to drop off the pace, leaving Merino to chase the duo out front on her own.
With 4km remaining, Moolman-Pasio and Van Vleuten had a 56s lead over Merino, Spratt was 1-06 down and Brand was 1-30 back.
As Merino began to slow, Spratt was able to rejoin her – and up ahead, her team mate attacked with 2km left.
Under the flamme rouge, Van Vleuten was on her own and 25s ahead of Moolman-Pasio – eventually crossing the line solo with the Cervelo-Bigla rider second, 40s behind, and Spratt battling Merino to take third – at 2-54.
Time differences on the stage mean that Moolman-Pasio overtakes Brand to move into second, with the Sunweb rider falling out of the podium positions behind Spratt.
Giro Rosa stage nine, Tricesimo to Monte Zoncolan (104km)
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton-Scott
2. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) Cervelo-Bigla, at 40s
3. Amanda Spratt (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, at 2-54
4. Eider Merino (Spa) Movistar, at 2-59
5. Megan Guarnier (USA) Boels-Dolmans, at 4-00
6 Lucinda Brand (Ned) Sunweb, at 4-06
7. Ane Santesteban (Spa) Ale Cippolini, at 4-39
8. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) Cervelo-Bigla, at 4-52
9. Margarita Victoria Garcia (Spa) Movistar, at 5-16
10. Katrine Aalerud (Nor) Team Virtu Cycling, at 5-28
General Classification after stage nine
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton-Scott
2. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) Cervelo-Bigla, at 3-35
3. Amanda Spratt (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, at 5-33
4. Lucinda Brand (Ned) Sunweb, at 7-05
5. Megan Guarnier (USA) Boels-Dolmans at 8-43
6. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) Cervelo-Bigla, at 10-01
7. Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM, at 10-13
8. Eider Merino (Spa) Movistar, at 11-12
9. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Wiggle-High5, at 12-14
10. Ane Santesteban (Spa) Ale-Cippolini, at 12-35