Kristen Faulkner took a breakaway win for the ages winning stage nine of the Giro Donne on Saturday.
Having been in the breakaway on Friday’s stage, the American escaped the front of the race about half way up the day’s opening climb, with about 95km to go. Riding with Italian climber Gaia Realini, the BikeExchange-Jayco rider built a lead of about 3-30, dropping the Italian and riding solo for the final 26km to take her second win so far in the 10 days race.
It really was a remarkable ride from the American, who was last to be caught on yesterday’s mountainous stage, and finished fourth. Not only that but behind her her the GC riders were swinging punches.
Elisa Longo Boghini (Trek-Segafredo) riding hard in an effort to move on to the overall podium and Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Nouvele Aquitaine Futuroscope) attacking a small group late on hoping to take the stage. In the end Cavalli finished second on the day, 59 seconds behind Faulkner.
Longo Borghini led home for third place, with overall leader Annemiek van Vleuten taking fourth place, the Movistar rider holding on to her overall lead, only losing 15 seconds to Cavalli.
It was another fantastic day’s racing, with action from the gun through Italy’s mountainous northern vineyards. Though Sunday’s final day might ride through vineyards it will be a stark contrast, riding as it does on the flatlands between Abano Terme and Padova, where a bunch kick is expected.
How it happened
If stage seven was not the queen stage, then stage nine was. The race might not have finished at the top of a climb as Thursday’s did, but with three demanding climbs on the edge of the Brenta Dolomites to deal with, it was certainly no easier.
Starting in San Michele all’Adige and arriving in San Lorenzo Dorsino 112km and 2758m of climbing later, the ascent to Fei della Paganella was the first obstacle. More than 11km at 6.7% average gradient, it was merely a warm up. Then came Passo Duron, slightly shorter and shallower.
But the main challenge for the peloton was the Passo Daone. This year’s Cima Coppi - the highest point - it climbed to 1291m above sea level, but it was not the altitude but the 10.2% average gradient for its 6.3km which would be most telling.
The race began in the car park of a college surrounded with Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards, the mountains towering high above the valley of the Adige river, Italy’s second longest. And the moment the flag dropped the attacks began, first a group three escaping, then another break of 13 chancing their arm.
They too were caught, and only as the peloton shrank on the smooth, wide roads of the first climb did two women head up the road, Italian climber, Gaia Realinni (Isolmant-Premac-Vittoria) and Kristin Faulkner (BikeExchange-Jayco) gaining a lead of 40 seconds on a peloton of only around 25 women.
Faulkner had been in the break on stage eight, eventually finishing finishing fourth, and was clearly in the mood for a fight, especially after the team team lost their leader, Amanda Spratt to COVID.
By the time their lead reached one minute, approaching the top of the first climb after 23km, the so-called peloton was a group of only 16 riders. Of the two leaders Faulkner was the highest placed on GC, in 13th overall, but Realiini is the more accomplished climber, though only proven on Italian soil, and while she was no threat to the GC, she was for the stage.
The long descent brought a change in the race dynamic, as the two riders increased their lead on what was by now a nearly full peloton to more than three minutes, four chasers attacked the favourites group in pursuit.
Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo), Anouska Koster (Jumbo-Visma), Brodie Chapman (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Erica Magnaldi (UAE Team ADQ) headed up the road, sitting about two minutes behind Faulkner and Realini who had a lead of 3-20.
As was expected the peloton split again on the second climb, though it made little difference to the time gaps between the leaders, the chasers and the favourites groups. Chapman and Koster were briefly dropped on the descent but otherwise the race entered a period of calm
On the final climb Mavi García (UAE Team ADQ), who started the day third overall came to the front and upped the pace on the already reduced favourite’s group. Though this made little difference to her rivals, when second placed Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) upped the pace the group shattered, and with 29.5km to go only the top three on GC remained in the peloton, the Italian joined by Van Vleuten and García.
As in Friday’s stage García was unable to hold the pace, and slipped backwards as they caught the four woman chasing group, including, in a tactical masterstroke, Cavalli’s team mate Chapman, who briefly worked then passed her bottle before dropping back.
Just over one kilometre from the top of the climb Faulkner attacked, riding away to win both the Cima Coppi prize and the green climbers jersey, reaching the top 25km from the finish, still with a lead of two minutes.
After Van Vleuten’s stage eight crash it was expected that Cavalli would attack the descent, but it was surprising when the Italian opened a gap instantly, though the Dutch rider was fully aware she was unlikely to lose 2-13 lead she started the day with.
After the descent the two came together just as Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) latched on the back, the trio then catching Realini. With 15km remaining Faulkner was still 1-47, but even with Longo Borghini working hard to relegate García from the podium, and all four trying to keep the pace high, they made little impact on the leader, who entered the final 10km with a lead of 1-30.
Seven kilometres later Cavalli launched her last gasp effort to win the stage, leaving Van Vleuten behind, but she was unable and Faulkner took the day.
Result Giro Donne, stage nine: San Michele all’Adige - San Lorenzo Dorsino Race (112.8km)
1. Kristen Faulkner (USA) BikeExchange-Jayco in 3-36-36
2. Marta Cavalli (Ita) FDj-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope at 59 sec
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 1-14
4. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar at same time
5. Gaia Realini (Ita) Isolmant-Premac-Vittoria
6. Niamh Fisher-Black (NZ) SDWorx at 3-35
7. Silvia Persico (Ita) Valcar Travel and Service (Ita) at same time
8. Juliette Labous (Fra) DSM at 3-38
9. Mavi García (Esp) UAE Team ADQ at 3-42
10. Erica Magnaldi (Ita) UAE Team ADQ at 4-06
General classification after stage nine
1. Annemiek van Veuten (Ned) Movistar in 24-55-08
2. Cavalli (Ita) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope at 1-52
3. Mavi García (Esp) UAE Team ADQ Marta at 6-10
4. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 6-59
5. Niamh Fisher-Black (NZ) SDWorx 11-26
6. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope at 12-28
7. Silvia Persico (Ita) Valcar Travel and Service 13-22
8. Erica Magnaldi (Ita) UAE Team ADQ at 15-27
9. Juliette Labous (Fra) DSM at 15-49
10. Neve Bradbury (Aus) Canyon-SRAM at 17-43
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