- Chloe Hosking
July 14, 2014, 0:36 BST,
July 14, 2014, 0:37 BST
We raced as a great team
And that's a wrap. Today my seven Hitec Products teammates and I finished the 25th edition of the Giro Rosa. Lauren Kitchen, who at 23 has already ridden the Giro five times, said it was the first time she has finished with a full team. High fives all round.
But we have more to high five about than just finishing. Despite the tour being dominated by one team, Rabobank – they ended up finishing first, second and third on the general classification – we (or more precisely Elisa) finished fifth overall and won the best Italian rider jersey. We also had five top ten finishes.
But what is most satisfying was how we raced together as a team. Even the super team, Rabobank, commented to our director how well we were racing. So with nine days of racing behind us we were determined to keep the trend going in the ninth and final stage from Trezzo sull'Adda to Madonna del Ghisallo.
With half the peloton's heads already on the plane home I told the girls in the the team meeting to stay focussed, "this is the last stage, it's easy to check out and say 'okay I'm done' but it's only 80km, just give 100 per cent one more time."
With Elisa placed fifth on GC but less than 30seconds off the podium we still had everything to fight for and, unlike the final stage of the Tour de France which is merely a procession, the 80km stage offered the parcours to claw back those 30seconds.
The first 70km of the race was undulating, racing along lake Como before turning uphill for the last 10km. The finishing climb was actually a climb made famous by the Giro di Lombardia; the Madonna del Ghisallo. It's is known for the church that sits at the top which is more a shrine to cycling than anything else.
From the beginning the pace was on. Two riders from Astana-Be Pink escaped from the long, strung out peloton but behind we were racing like there was no-one away.
One attack after another. One rider would fire off to the left of the peloton before another would counter on the right. My Hitec Products teammates did a fantastic job of making sure if anything was escaping we were going to be in it.
You wouldn't have thought we had been racing for nine days already because the pace was just crazy; we covered the first 45kms in under an hour. While I tired to have a go through a technical section of the course and did manage to gain a small advantage with a group of riders the high pace meant it all came back together.
From then on, it was a race to the bottom of the climb.
Our director had warned us of some tunnels that we had to ride through just after 50km and it appeared that most teams were more than a little stressed about them as full lead out trains started appearing. I think memories from Giros past where the peloton were forced to ride downhill through barely lit tunnels probably inspired this sudden organisation of lead out trains.
Finding Elisa I started surfing the trains keeping us in the top ten of the peloton. United HealthCare were controlling the pace so I moved us up onto their train. Then Giant Shimano appeared so I jumped right. Then Orica-AIS, left again.
As we came out of the tunnels we hit the lake and it was game on. Still more than 10kms from the bottom of the climb I hadn't expected teams to be pushing the pace so hard so early but since Elisa and I were there I decided to keep surfing trains. By this time Rabobank had appeared and there were now three teams fighting for control of the peloton. It was fast!
With 2km to the base of the climb I dropped Elisa off onto Emma Johansson's wheel and watched the front of the peloton race away. I was shocked to look behind me and see a splintered peloton. Only 15 or so girls remained at the front and behind was carnage.
As I dropped backwards like a stone through water I saw Mara Abbott pulling a group behind that included riders like Evie Stevens and Emma Pooley. They had obviously been caught out by the surge of pace.
Riding 'piano' up the final climb of the 2014 Giro Rosa I was proud of my – and my teams – last stage despite not knowing the results. We had stayed focussed and raced 'full gas' to the end.
Crossing the line I heard that Emma Pooley had taken her third stage win. Rolling up to the camper I was met by a smiling Elisa, "I finished fifth and kept fifth in the general."
She was happy. I was happy. We finished the Giro; 10 days of racing, 953kilometres, 3 mountain top finishes, 20 hours of transfers, seven different hotels.
No days left.
- Chloe Hosking
July 13, 2014, 13:50 BST,
July 13, 2014, 13:52 BST
The final two days
At this year's Giro Rosa they waited until the eighth stage and ninth day of the tour before the 'Queen Stage'. So, what that really means is they waited until everyone was mentally and physically exhausted before we got to race the hardest stage of the tour.
The stage itself was actually the 'brain child' of my teammate Elisa Longo Borghini; 91km from Verbania to San Domenico di Varzo, the stage had one 7km climb after 10km and then finished up a 15km climb.
It started in the small town of Trezzano and raced along Lago Maggiore for 10km before turning left onto the Panoramica, an extremely picturesque road that rolls along the foot hills above Intra. This was the first challenge of the stage, a gradual 7km climb that went up in stages and even featured some Italian cobbles.
From the beginning, despite having eight days of racing in their legs already, the peloton was clearly ready to race. Teams like Alé Cippolini and Giant Shimano had lead out trains organised like they were sprinting for the finish line, in reality they were racing for the left hand corner onto the Panoramica.
While my Hitec Products team had planned to do the same the speed was just too high so we instead chose to use the other teams. Ash, Audrey, Elisa and I rounded the corner in the top 15 which was ideal; we were out of trouble and in good position if any riders tried to breakaway.
While the pace was kept high by Giant Shimano it wasn't until the short decent around 20kms that the attacks began. But when they began they were relentless, like me when I'm determined to find chocolate.
Orica-AIS started launching riders as did Specialized Lululemon and Alé Cipollini. Our director had made it clear that nothing was to go without us so with Ash, Audrey and Elisa conserving for the second part of the race I started covering, one, two, five attacks.
While my legs still had that horrible, heavy feeling from yesterday I had extra motivation today. We were in Elisa's home area, an area I've been training a lot in lately, and we would never go more than a kilometre or so before we heard the next 'forza Elisa!' or 'dia Elisa!'
I even heard a few 'dia Clue', which is how my name is pronounced in most European countries because my parents forgot the accent.
Struggling over a climb at about 25kms I worked my way back to the front to thankfully see Audrey and Julie there with me, covering attacks. Still nothing was gaining more than a few metres.
There was a sprint in front of the local watering hole in Ornavasso – one that I had frequented on my recent visits to Elisa's house – and we had decided in the team meeting that we wanted to try and win it; not for the seconds on offer but because it was in Ornavasso, Elisa's home town.
While Audrey and Julie did a great job in the lead out, when push came to shove I finished third.
As Elisa rode past me I muttered, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry" which basically sums up my day after that. I got bottles for the girls, put in one more futile effort at an attack and then it was 'arrivedercci'.
Knowing there was a a big group behind me I decided not to try and match the pace of the heros in the laughing bunch who still thought they could win the bike race. Instead, I chose to ride my own tempo and enjoy the climb and the crowds.
Pink ribbons everywhere and messages of support for Elisa I wondered what was happening up the road. I found out when I finished that Emma Pooley had taken her second stage win, with Mara Abbott second and Aana van der Breggen third.
The highlight of my day came 1km from the finish. I had been promised weeks in advance by the Zampine (the Ornavasso sporting cheer squad and friends of Elisa) a beer and a push in the final kilometres of the stage. And, as promised as I rounded one of the final corners of the 15km climb I spotted the Zampine.
"Ciao Zampine," I yelled, waving my hand in their signature paw wave.
Like a crowd at a football match when their team scores the group of ten or so erupted into cheers, "Ciao Chloe! Ciao Zampini!"
Andrea, one of the ring leaders of the group, ran down towards me with a cold beer in his hand and turned to run alongside me as he reached me. He handed me the beer and as I passed the crazy, cheering squad of Zampine I raised the beer to my lips and and poured it down my throat like it was water on a 45degree day. Amazingly, as I did so, the cheers got louder.
With a huge smile on my face I handed the beer back to Andrea and he fulfilled the second part of his promise, giving me one final push before I passed the group.
Sometimes, on days like today, you need people like the Zampine and things like the beer to help you get through.
1 day left.
- Chloe Hosking
July 11, 2014, 18:26 BST,
July 11, 2014, 18:30 BST
Shut up legs!
You know those days where you jump on your bike and your legs feel like lead? Heavy, sore and unresponsive. Today's seventh stage of the Giro Rosa was one of those days for me. And unfortunately, the parcours was unforgiving for anyone caught on an off day.
The 91km stage from Aprica to Chiavenna literally started directly uphill. Unless you count the 13km neutralised descent we had to endure before the race jury lowered their checkered flag.
The first and only mountain sprint (GPM) of the day came a mere 7.3km into the race. The climb, which started less than 1km into the race climbed 600 altitude metres over 7kms. As soon as the peloton hit the climb my legs started screaming at me.
Orica-AIS and Rabobank had riders setting the pace on the front and while I tried to hang onto the group for as long as I could, 3kms from the top I lost contact and found a small group behind me. I tired to find a rhythm and limit my losses; we were still tangled up in the convoy and I could see a group of about 20 riders in front of me.
As my small group crested the climb our dare devil descent began to try and rejoin the group in front of us.
The 13km descent wasn't technical, but the roads were terrible. Dodging pot-holes we started to pass dropped riders and by the bottom we had almost closed in on the group in front of us, there was a mere 100metres between us.
The issue was all of a sudden we were climbing again, up an uncategoried climb that rivalled the gradient of the Murr de Huy (or at least it felt like it). The same screaming noise that had come from my legs on the first 7km reared it's ugly head again but I tried to channel my inner Jens, 'shut up legs'.
There were two big groups agonisingly close to me; I felt like what I imagine my dog feels like when I tease him with treats. Holding them just out of his reach, he would pop back on his hind legs to try and snatch it but I would raise the treat a little higher just before he got the chance.
The catch with this metaphor is that after I had my fun I would always give him the treat. Today, I didn't get my treat. Today, I didn't get to that group in front of me.
Crossing the finish line after having ridden the last 70km of the bike race in the 'laughing bunch' –where I can promise you there was no laughing and very little conversation – I was met with the devastating news that the group that had been so agonisingly close on the Italian Murr de Huy had re-joined the lead group and rode to the finish with them.
A group of 70 ended up contesting the stage win. Marianne Vos won (again) ahead of Giorgia Bronzini and Emma Johansson.
It's a really crap feeling when you know you should have performed better and you didn't. My team needed me there today to help lead out Ashleigh in the final which was a tricky uphill drag to the finish. But I was M.I.A.
Now in the car for our two hour (pending traffic conditions around Milano) transfer to Verbania for tomorrow's stage eight – which races through my teammate Elisa's home town and was actually planned by Elisa herself – I'm hoping tomorrow my legs do just shut up and I can be of some more help to our hill climbers; Elisa, Ash and Audrey.
2 days left.
- Chloe Hosking
July 10, 2014, 21:50 BST,
July 10, 2014, 21:56 BST
Into the mountains
Like when you're waiting for your final marks at school to be released I woke up with this feeling of dread this morning. Stage six of the Giro Rosa was the first real foray into the mountains and my Hitec Products team still had three riders placed in the top ten on GC, meaning we still had everything to fight for.
The 112km from Gaiarine to San Fior had three notable climbs; the first coming at 32kms is affectionately known as the Ca del Poggio, 'the small Poggio'. For those who are unfamiliar with the Poggio, it's the climb made famous by Milan San Remo, short and steep it's often where the race winning move is made in the men's classic.
So, given the nick name you've probably deducted the first climb of the day was short and steep. If so, you would be right. Hitting pitches of 20 per cent and just over 1km in length it is one of the climbs that just makes your legs scream.
The second climb of the day came 60km into the race and was a gradual climb for 6km while the third was the first real 'mountain' of the tour; starting at 74km the climb covered 1000 altitude metres in 12kms. Just to add insult to injury it was predominantly on what can best be described as goat paths rather than actual roads, it had more pot-holes than Jennifer Lopez has ex-husbands.
Even before the team meeting I could feel my legs hurting. With such a mountainous day ahead of us I knew my job would be early on in the race meaning I would still have drag myself to finish line, most likely more than 30minutes after the winner had crossed the line.
And I wasn't wrong. In the team meeting our director pointed to Lauren, Emilie, Cecilie and I and said our job was to make sure nothing escaped in the first 30kms of the race and then to do a full on lead out into the 'small Poggio'. Julie was to get over the climb with the front group to make sure Elisa, Ash and Audrey had an extra rider up the front to help them before the climb at 74km.
The speed was so high in the beginning kilometres and teams like Giant Shimano, Alé Cipollini and Wiggle Honda seemed determined to try and get a break away which didn't make my job any easier. But we did what were told and with 2kms to go before the base of the 'small Poggio' the group was all together and teams were starting to organise full on lead out trains.
Emilie and I found Elisa and we brought her into position, turning left onto the climb I was in about fifth position with Elisa on my wheel. Job done. But I still needed to get over the climb and I wanted to get back to Elisa to help her for as much of the remaining 90kms as possible.
Legs screaming and heart rate almost maxed out I made it over the climb in a group just behind the main peloton. Julie, Audrey, Ash and Elisa had made it over the climb comfortably which was good news.
After a short chase I rejoined the front group to find out a group of about seven had escaped up the road which included riders like Emma Pooley, Trixi Worrack and Giorgia Bronzini. Elisa didn't seemed too concerned and was happy to let Rabobank control the gap.
We cruised up the second climb of the day. By the top the break's advantage had grown to over two minutes and Elisa decided maybe it was time to contribute to the chase and put Julie and I up the front with Rabobank.
By the base of the climb we had brought the gap down to less than two minutes and as the hill climbers surged past me I switched the lights off, thinking of the next three stages and the other mountains still left for me to suffer over.
Audrey told me that Rabobank just went full gas from the very bottom of the climb and from then girls were just dropping like flies. By the top of the climb only seven riders were left which included Vos, Elisa, and Mara Abbott, and all but one of the break away group had been reeled in, Emma Pooley.
Pooley went on to win the stage solo. Vos finished second and Elisa third.
It was, in my opinion a great day for the team. We like to say that we're the biggest small team in the world of women's cycling. Today we rode like one of the 'big' teams.
4 days left.
- Chloe Hosking
July 09, 2014, 19:03 BST,
July 09, 2014, 19:08 BST
One for the sprinters
Today's fifth stage of the Giro Rosa from Jesi to Cesenatico was most likely the last chance for the sprinters to come out to play this year. With the peloton moving into the mountains tomorrow I was determined not to miss another opportunity as I had a few days earlier in Frattamaggiore.
Hitting the half-way point of the tour the tiredness and hunger hit me hard last night but as we rolled out of the beautiful – and busy – starting town of Jesi I could tell it was one of those where you get on your bike and your legs just want to party.
The 118km stage made it's way back towards the Adriatica coast which we rode along yesterday before following the coastline north for the remaining 100kms or so.
As we turned left onto the coast we were meet with the crosswinds that didn't show up yesterday and I immediately went into high alert mode.
I love crosswinds, I get a strange kick out of the fact that while the mountain climbers can drop me in an instant on the climbs I can roll in the echelon and drop them on dead flat roads. I find it somewhat ironic.
But, we're at the Giro not Qatar so rather than racing to the front and trying to get an echelon happening – as I would have done in races like the Ladies Tour of Qatar – I immediately started searching for Elisa. Finding her quickly I told her to stay on my wheel.
We saw it in the Tour de France in 2009 when Quickstep and Columbia-HTC totally shattered the peloton in the crosswinds catching out GC riders like Contador. I was paranoid that teams like Giant Shimano, Orica-AIS or Boels Dolmans would try the same thing and didn't want to risk Elisa finding herself out of position at the wrong moment.
I was confident that if any teams were going to try and split it I would:
a) be in a good position to jump straight into the echelon or
b) be able to sprint up the outside and jump in the echelon in time.
While Elisa is actually fantastic in a peloton, having her on my wheel just gave me some piece of mind. I knew if I started to see the classic warning signs of a team about to 'throw it in the gutter' I didn't need to look any further than behind me before I raced to get in the echelon.
Despite my high alert status we reached the halfway point of the race all together. While individual riders like my teammates had been active trying to get a breakaway going nothing was going away. What was really lacking to break up the peloton was a group effort where six or more riders caught the rest of the peloton by surprise and immediately started riding echelon; opening the pace line maybe wide enough for six or eight riders to get protection from the wind but leaving the rest of the race hanging in the gutter, single file.
I started talking to the team leaders of Specialized Lululemon and Boels Dolmans, Trixi Worrack and Ellen van Dijk.
Finding Trixi in the bunch I leaned over and asked her; "Would you guys be interested in trying to break it up? You, us and Dolmans?"
Trixi: "Do you think it's windy enough?"
Me: "I think it is if you actually ride echelon rather than just put everyone in the gutter."
Trixi: "Okay, yes."
Ellen also agreed. I made the decision that we would try directly after the first and only mountain sprint (GPM) of the day at 75km.
As we started to move towards the GPM my team and I started getting ready. I could see the orange train of Boels moving up the outside of the peloton as well and behind them the black and white of Specialized Lululemon.
The climb was short but steep and Anna van der Breggen (Rabobank) launched herself up and over the climb but there were still a few Boels, Specialized and Hitec at the front and just as planned, as we started the descent Ellen jumped to the front with her teammate Megan Gaurnier on her wheel. I jumped on them with Elisa and Ashleigh on my wheel and we started rolling through. Tiff Cromwell from Specialized Lululemon was rolling through with us and we had it in the gutter.
But in the end out attempt to split the peloton was futile; probably a combination of not the perfect moment, too much shelter from buildings on the side of the road and not actually enough wind. Still, it felt cool to try, and to open my legs up a bit.
With still more than 30kms to race my high alert status remained switched on; if I could have had a siren like they have when a tornado approaches small towns in the States I would have. Or at least a flashing light like the ambulances.
On a few occasions the peloton stretched into a long line in the wind as individual riders continued to try to breakaway but nothing was escaping. The race had an average speed of 42km/hr so that gives you some idea of why a breakaway group found it hard to stay away.
Leading into the last 15kms my teammates were gathering around me and we started moving up to the front of the peloton. With about 3km to go I found Bronzini's wheel and started following her further up the peloton.
With about 1km to go Orica-AIS were on the front driving the pace and as we followed the road up a small off ramp before the road swept left and under itself I seized the opportunity to move up. Seeing Emma Johansson backing off the wheel of her teammate slightly I used the speed of the off ramp to slot perfectly in between her and her final lead-out girl.
I couldn't believe how smoothly this was going. With 800ms to go I was siting third wheel. Perfect.
Oh, we're still going left. Shit. A sharp left hand corner which hadn't been shown in the road book was all of a sudden in front of us and caught more than just me off guard. Locking up my back wheel I fish tailed through the corner and almost went straight instead of left.
Correcting the fish tail I made it through the corner but not without loosing five positions. Shifting frantically out of my 53x12 I tried to accelerate as quickly as possible back to the leading riders, luckily I found Vos' wheel.
Now sitting about sixth wheel I followed Vos' line around the final left hand corner which came at 400ms to go. When the sprint finally opened I found myself stuck between Bronzini and Johnasson. With no where to go I was forced to pretty much back pedal. I finished 5th.
While it's not the podium, or the win, I was looking for I was still happy with the result.
After we cross the line Vos said to me, "nice save". Guess she also wasn't expecting the corner.
Tomorrow is finally where the GC riders get their mountains. If they ate lollies I would say they'd be like kids in a candy store, climbing to 1200ms at one point the overall classification will surely be shaken up.
5 days left.
- Chloe Hosking
July 08, 2014, 18:32 BST,
July 08, 2014, 18:41 BST
Almost like a rest day... almost
Stage four of the Giro Rosa was as close as we get to rest days in women's cycling; after three hard road stages I think everyone sub-consciously wanted one too.
118km from Alba Adriatica to Jesi, the race had the potential to reek havoc. Following the Adriatica coast for the first 76km before turning inland to the finish in Jesi, most people were expecting – and some were hoping for – some gutter action. In the end the however, the predicted crosswinds we're a no show like Wiggo at the Tour this year.
So instead, the majority of peloton enjoyed an extended recovery ride for the large part of the race. While one escape artist put up quite a fight and extend her lead to over three minutes at some points she was dragged back in by the peloton when we all finally woke up after forcing down some caffeinated gels.
A short, third category climb that came with less than 15kilometres was the catalyst for the gels.
Orica-AIS, who took over the mountains jersey yesterday from my teammate Ashleigh, kept the pace high on the short, gradual climb and stretched the peloton but were unable to splinter it.
I was well positioned as we crested the climb with Ashleigh, Elisa and Audrey close by so we immediately switched our focus to the bunch sprint scenario we had discussed in the team meeting before the race.
The climb was followed by a twisting descent which quickly gave way to a technical approach to the last 1km which swept uphill before the final right hand corner with 150ms to go.
On paper it looked like a great sprint for me, but in reality the little pinches leading up to the finish were too much for my sprinter legs and I fell off the pace with 800ms to go leaving Elisa and Ashleigh to fight for the stage honours.
Had we known the finish would be so tough we might have changed the team plan to go for our French super woman Audrey Cordon who has an impressive turn of pace in tough bunch kicks which she showed when she finished third in the tough Belgian classic Omloop van het Hageland earlier this year. Or even Ashleigh who won Holland Hills Classic in 2013 from a bunch kick.
Hindsight is a beautiful thing.
Despite this, the girls did fantastic job of setting up the leadout train which, if anything, will be good practice for the last sprinters stage tomorrow before we head into the mountains in stages seven, eight and nine.
Despite me falling off the pace Elisa was able to finish the race off in impressive style with a top ten. More importantly, she stayed out of trouble while other GC riders got caught behind crashes and punctures in the closing kilometres.
Vos showed how impressive she is again by winning her second stage of this years Giro while Shelly Olds finished second and Lucinda Brand was third. My heart goes out to poor Lucinda who probably had the stage locked up before she prematurely saluted and a fast finishing Olds almost stole the race victory. Luckily for Rabobank Vos was there to keep the victory in the team.
5 days left.
- Chloe Hosking's Giro Rosa blog