Annemiek van Vleuten took a masterful win at the Giro Donne on Monday, moving into the overall lead with stage victory in Cesena.
The double GC winner had been part of a two woman group with Mavi García in the final 10km, but outwitted and out-dragged the UAE Team ADQ rider to take the win. After manoeuvring the Spanish rider onto the front as they entered the final kilometre she left her there, only coming through just ahead of the final, right hand corner, around 200m from the line her sprint enough to open a gap.
The pair had dropped the rest of the peloton on the second of three classified climbs, with only Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) able to go with them. Cavalli, sporting the triclore jersey cuffs of a former Italian champion, looked the strongest of the three, but on an unclassified climb around 12km out she popped.
Though she fought bravely the 24 year-old was unable to catch the leading pair and eventually finished third, 43 seconds down. With the next rider crossing the line nearly five minutes after Van Vleuten it seems the GC is decided with six stages remaining.
After the three previous stages Van Vleuten will take a lead of 25 seconds over García into the fifth stage. Starting in Carpi and covering 126.1km to Reggio Emilia it is the longest of the 10, though there is little to trouble the sprinters, so a bunch kick could be on the cards, though with such big gaps on GC it might be a day for the breakaway.
How it happened
For its return to the mainland, the fourth stage of the Giro Donne headed to one of Italian cycling’s heartlands. With flat lands and the edge of the Apennines, the Emilia Romanga region is one of the country’s best cycling regions.
And while Cesena, which hosted both the start and finish of the 120.9km stage, is famous for the Biblioteca Malastestiana opened in 1454 and is Europe’s oldest civic library, it is also famous for cycling. Bikes are everywhere and it’s not a stretch to imagine Marco Pantani clattering through the cobbled streets, Il Pirata having been born in the nearby costal town of Cesenatico.
On Monday a different generation rolled through the streets and north for a flat opening 35km. As it headed west and south the route became more challenging, the first of three classified climbs started with 35km done. A further uncategorised ascent of 2.8km and 7.1% average gradient topped out 10km from the and was an obvious staging post for the ambitious.
Even the breeze was hot when the rode from the shade into the searing 35º sunshine, but that didn’t stifle attacking racing, with a number of unsuccessful attacks. After 15km of aggression, finally Lara Vieceli got away, dangling off the front a while before being reabsorbed only for the process to start over.
Her Certaizit-WNT team were clearly up for a fight though, because a few kilometres later Franziska Brausse got away, taking a lead of 30 seconds through the intermediate sprint and onto the first climb, where she was caught.
After the descent the bunch split, a group of 14 women creating a small gap, but that soon came back and the race continued to fly through the roasting Italian countryside, the pace too high for anyone to stay away.
That pace began to tell on the second climb, overall leader and world champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) struggling. And as she slipped backwards a group of three women emerged at the front.
Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope), Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), and Mavi Gacía (UAE Team ADQ) powered on over the top of the climb and over the ensuing kilometre built a lead of a minute on a small chasing group.
All three began the race as overall favourites, and worked well to increase their lead over the top and on the descent, established what turned out to be a race winning gap of over a minute on a group which grew from seven to 10 women. As the race entered its final 25m that advantage had grown to more than two minutes and not only was the stage decided, and was only going one way.
Meanwhile, at the front the leaders worked well, but when Van Vleuten launched one of her trademark savage attacks only García was able to follow, Cavalli dropping back. Van Vleuten tried a number of moves, the Spanish rider responding in kind, but the part entered the final kilometre together.
Result Giro Donne, stage four: Cesena - Cesena (120.9km)
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar in 3-13-13
2. Mavi García (Esp) UAE Team ADQ at 01 sec
3. Marta Cavalli (Ita) FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope at 43
4. Silvia Persico (Ita) Valcar Travel and Service at 4-51
5. Amanda Spratt (Aus) BikeExchange-Jayco
6. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
7. Elise Chabbey (Sui) Canyon-SRAM
8. Erica Magnaldi (Ita) UAE Team ADQ
9. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope
10. Niamh Fisher-Black (NZ) SDWorx all at same time
General classification after stage 4
1. Annemiek van Veuten (Ned) Movistar in 8-46-33
2. Mavi García (Esp) UAE Team ADQ Marta at 25 sec
3. Cavalli (Ita) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope at 57 sec
4. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 5-00
5. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope at 5-13
6. Amanda Spratt (Aus) BikeExchange-Jayco at 5-14
7. Elise Chabbey (Sui) Canyon-SRAM at 5-21
8. Niamh Fisher-Black (NZ) SDWorx at 5-28
9. Silvia Persico (Ita) Valcar Travel and Service at 5-29
10. Erica Magnaldi (Ita) UAE Team ADQ at 6-10
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Owen Rogers is an experienced journalist, covering professional cycling and specialising in women's road racing. He has followed races such as the Women's Tour and Giro d'Italia Donne, live-tweeting from Women's WorldTour events as well as providing race reports, interviews, analysis and news stories. He has also worked for race teams, to provide post race reports and communications.
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