'Expect anything at the Giro!': Riders react to 7 kilometre Giro Donne 'neutral zone' climb

Stage three of the Giro Donne might have had the toughest neutral opening section ever, a seven kilometre climb at an average of 7%

The 2022 Giro Donne peloton ascend out of Cala Gonone in the neutral section at the start of stage three
The 2022 Giro Donne peloton ascend out of Cala Gonone in the neutral section at the start of stage three
(Image credit: Dario Belingheri/Getty)

“We always say expect anything on the Giro,” said a breathless Amanda Spratt after the Giro Donne’s third stage. “That one of those you put in that book I guess.”

Racing at Saturday’s third Giro Donne stage only began in the small village of Dorgali, but teams formed up by the seaside in the picturesque village of Cala Gonone and faced what the road book said was an 8.5km neutral section at an average gradient of 7.2%.

Over the years the Giro Donne has become famous for underestimating the severity of some climbs. Remember the 2017 individual time trial in Sant’elpidio a Mare - where the gentle slope in the road book was in fact a tortuous, ridiculous and broiling 30%? Riders do!

At least this year’s Anita, as the road book is called, didn’t make the same mistake - everyone knew what they were getting. And it was neutral after all. 

“I think it's only time we've been told to go slower on an uphill,” continued BikeExchange-Jayco climber Spratt. “It’s nice to neutralise it rather than go full gas from the bottom, but I think they could have done a little bit of flat to start and then we could have raced up it.”

The trouble is there is no flat. There is another road in and out of Cala Gonone but that’s harder! The ride up form the beautiful seaside town could even be described as ‘Sa Calobra-lite,’ a climb you’ll know if you’ve ridden in Mallorca.

“It was good for me that it was neutral, otherwise I was dropped after one k,” said Trek-Segafredo’s birthday girl, Lucinda Brand, 33 on Saturday, and who recently won the final mountain stage at the Tour de Suisse.

Is a climb like that good as neutral section? “Not particularly, but apparently that village paid to have us there, it was a nice scenery, so we should not complain.” continued Brand. The organisation were not available to confirm her assertion.

The Strava segment for the climb from Cala Gonone

(Image credit: Strava)

It’s not just the gradient. Cala Gonone is a well know Sardinian holiday village, and facing south-east it gets the sun from early morning well into mid-afternoon, making the climb like an oven, the heat reflecting off the rocky road sides.

“I think it was 34º,” said Alessia Missiaggia who rides for the Mendelspeck team, and has the honour of holding the women’s record for one of the Strava segments. Last year the 21 year-old law student covered the 4.9km (average 7.2%) segment beginning where the teams parked up for Saturday’s stage, in 17-55.

“The best thing is that it's not too steep, the worst thing is that it's all under the sun. So if you don't start really early in the morning, like I did when I rode there, it’s really bad. And it was bad today. They wanted us to make it slow, but that was probably worse than doing it fast because we had the sun right on our head.” 

Messiaggia who found herself riding in the breakaway for part of Saturday’s stage used to visit Cala Gonone for holidays from her home in the Alpine town of Bolzano.

“It’s one of my favourite places in the world, so it was really nice for me to start there. It’s one of my favourite climbs and I really wanted to take the QOM even though I’m not a climber.”

At 23 years-old Missiaggia is a recent convert from downhill MTB to road racing. She finished Saturday’s stage 126th, 1-40 behind stage winner Marianne Vos alongside some of the day’s other breakaway riders.

“I enjoyed a break away today, it was was fun, but the next stages, especially on Monday, and Tuesday’s going to be a really tough one and stages eight and nine are in my region.” So what does she hope to achieve? “I guess to survive!” she smiled. 

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Owen Rogers

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.