At some point in the race the Giro Donne is about survival for every rider, and having survived the opening three stages the race starts on Monday for Clara Koppenburg.
It’s not as if the opening three stages suited the German rider’s skills. A short, fast opening time trial and two flat sprinter’s days were always ones where one of the world’s best pure climbers needed to survive rather than make an impact.
Though rarely thought of as a GC favourite, Koppenburg’s form is on the way up and a top five finish in Italy is a distinct possibility,
Monday’s stage might start flat, but three three classified climbs and a late, uncategorised ascent of 2.8km at 7.1% average gradient, should give her the chance of redemption after losing time against the clock and when sent off course in the closing kilometres of Saturday’s third stage.
However, the Cofidis rider will need to conquer the nerves which have developed since a huge, career threatening crash during the penultimate stage of last year’s race.
Kopppenburg was left with a broken pelvis, ribs and hip, among other injuries. But it also dented her confidence. So not only only are Monday’s hills an opportunity, they also provide a relief from the tension she experiences in bustle of the peloton.
“I still struggle a lot with my head,” Koppenburg told CW while sheltering from the Italian sun in the shade of the Cofidis team bus. “I'm just really scared in the bunch or on the corners and on the descents, so I’m still trying to get more confidence back.
“I think some people can deal with it better, but for me it was the first big crash and the whole experience of not being able to move at all and spending two months in bed, all those things changed my mind a little bit. If I think back it's still like super emotional for me, but I just wanted to have this experience again, but I'm a little bit more like careful on the bike.”
Post recovery, 2022 has been good for the 26 year-old. After an expected slow start she has shown great form since the start of June, bagging six top 10 placings before heading to the Giro. Those include seventh in the general classification of the Tour de Suisse, where the time trial was her only weak link.
However, it was second place at Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge which gave Koppenburg most satisfaction.
“I really wanted to do well there because I went to Mont Ventoux in October with my family for holidays,” she explains. “I was still walking on crutches, and I said, ‘Okay, I want to just ride up this climb.’ Then racing up and finishing second was like a personal victory, even if it was just second, but behind Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) I think it's no shame.
“Of course they were also races which suited,” she says of her series of good results. “It’s maybe not the biggest bunch or WorldTour level, but it's still good for the confidence because they don't come because of good luck. It was really pure performance.”
While Monday is the first chance or regaining the 1-41 deficit she has on race leader Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo), there are many chances in the ensuing six stages.
“It gets more interesting, but I think a lot of girls are looking more to the stage where we finish on top of the climb, [stage 6 to Passo del Maniva], but there are a few stages which have really steep and long climbs in the middle. So I think something can happen and we have to take every opportunity we can get.”
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