While the Giro Donne attracts criticism in some parts the smiles following a good performance show the race still means a lot to the riders competing in Italy.
After stage eight at Passo Maniva Juliette Labous’s smile was perhaps the broadest of the winners’ in the seven stages so far.
The 23 year-old DSM rider crossed the line beaming and, despite the heavy rain which began five minutes after she raised her arms and sent those gathered along the railing running for cover in the Hotel Locanda Bonardi, her smile endured.
“I feel happy and can be really satisfied,” she stated in a matter of fact way which belied the joy obvious on her face. “It’s a lot of work and there were some hard days in the heat so I’m really happy. Finally I can put my arms in the air.”
The victory came after she joined an early 14 woman breakaway, holding on as the peloton closed and her fellow escapees fell away. “I have never been in a breakaway that goes to the final like that so it was special, I had to think about how to win.”
While she is only 23, the win has been a long time coming. In May she won the overall at the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas, and while that was special, she did not win a stage. Indeed the last time she crossed the line first was at the Tour Feminin in the Czech Republic five years ago.
It’s not that she lacks class in any way. She has European junior titles to her name, did well at junior worlds, and is a former elite French time trial champion. She is persistently in the top 10 of big race, but a real victory eluded her.
She turned professional with what was then Sunweb aged just 18 in 2017, and the following year rode her first Giro, she and team mate Liane Lippert trading the young rider’s jersey until they were finally toppled late in the race.
This edition is her fifth Giro, remarkable for someone so young.
With Sunweb and now DSM she, and plenty of other young women, have been given the opportunity to develop, and this is now bearing fruit for the team. And while Lippert is obviously a punchy climber, it has become clear this this season that Labous is better on long climbs.
She came to the Giro as the team’s GC rider, but her bid for glory was stymied by Monday’s extreme heat, when she capitulated, losing 11 minutes and any chance of the GC. But perhaps it was a blessing in disguise, without that she would never have been allowed up the road on Thursday.
“It shows that I can come back after disappointment, I'm just trying to find a positive out of it. I knew after that stage that GC was over, but I tried to directly switch my focus.
“We said today that I had to be in the break and [the team] would set me up on the first lap, but actually I went in the breakaway anyway, so the plan was perfect. Normally the breakaway is hard to go to get in and today it was kind of easy, it went directly, and then I had to motivate the other girls to to really keep on going to have a big gap.
While the escapees built a lead well over nine minutes, as the final climb approached cohesion began to wane at the same time the peloton began to put pressure on. When Labous finally made her move two riders were 30 seconds up the road, but the peloton was bearing down, only around 1-40 behind when she hit the front, around eight kilometres from the line.
“I was waiting for that moment and it was a bit tricky because the gap was coming down really fast, from five minutes to two minutes, so I thought I have to go as hard as I can and then I was solo. It was really long but I tried to work to my power because I knew what I can do for around 45 minutes.”
While she has at last broken the hoodoo with victory, she remains 10-14 off Annemiek van Vleuten’s (Movistar) overall lead, though she has moved to 12th place on GC, and promised to try again before the week is out.
However, if there were any doubt before she has shown she is among the best climbers with the Tour de France Femmes approaching in just over three weeks.
“Selection is not out yet, but if I’m on the Tour I will for sure be confident because I'm happy about my climbing and I think there is a lot of nice stages there and especially the last two which is which are in my region so I hope I can do well there.”
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