When we think of the Giro Rosa, and its long and illustrious 30-year history, we immediately recollect the iconic champions: Fabiana Luperini, Nicole Brandlë, Mara Abbott and Marianne Vos, and more recently look to the Dutch duo Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten. Yet when the celebratory pink confetti settled after each of those accomplishments, year-after-year during the last decade, there has been one person who has been the staple of Italy's most iconic women's stage race – Tatiana Guderzo.
It's easy to overlook Guderzo, who races for BePink, as a potential contender for the overall title at this year's Giro Rosa. The upcoming parcours is touted as the toughest in the event's history with the inclusion of a summit finish on the daunting Passo Gavia as the focal point.
The mountainous route that spans northern Italy is well-suited to the world's best climbers, and although she is a strong climber in her own right, she is not usually part of that small and exclusive club. The obvious front-runners for this year's race are defending champion Van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), and her compatriot and rival Van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans), along with Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv), Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott), Katie Hall (Boels Dolmans), Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM).
Even among the Italians, Guderzo is often eclipsed by her compatriots Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), and maybe even Erica Magnaldi (WNT-Rotor) and the rising talent Sofia Bertizzolo (Virtu).
But Guderzo is a consistent performer at the Giro Rosa and her results speak for themselves. A closer analysis of her performances show that Guderzo has competed in the Giro Rosa on 13 occasions. Of those, she has placed in the top-10 overall nine times, and of those, she has stood on the overall podium twice. She has also earned the event's best young rider award and was three times the event's top Italian rider.
A bid for the overall victory might be a stretch for Guderzo, but she is a solid contender for stage wins and has a stated goal of wearing the coveted maglia rosa. To count Guderzo out, even as a dark-horse contender, would be a mistake.
"My main goal this year is to be good at the Giro Rosa," Guderzo told Cyclingnews while racing at the Tour of California. "The race is in Italy, and I'm an Italian rider, and so I will do my best. I hope to win a stage and also win the maglia rosa.
"I know that I don't have a really big, strong team for the climbs, but I want to try. I think I can compete for a top-10 in the general classification, for sure, and, for me, that would still be a nice result."
Guderzo, 34, is familiar with some of this year's route. The race organisers announced last year the there would be a summit finish on the Passo Gavia (stage 5), an uphill time trial (stage 6) and a second summit finish on Malga Montasio (stage 9), but, overall, the route is considered more challenging than any other edition. Guderzo believes that the route's difficulty will lend itself well to both pure climbers and opportunistic climbers.
"This year's Giro Rosa is really, really hard," Guderzo said. "The Passo Gavia is a very hard mountain. In 10 days there are so many climbs, and every day it's possible to take the jersey and gain a gap on other riders.
"I think that after the Gavia, the general classification will be decided. The Gavia stage is too hard, and the day after is also a hard uphill time trial. After that, the general classification is almost done.
Guderzo comes from Marostica, nestled between Venice and Verona, in the heart of the Veneto region. This year's race will venture through the Veneto on stage 7 and stage 8, where her family will come out to watch her compete, as they have done on so many other occasions.
"My family will be there watching for the last three or four days, where some stages are close to my home. They'll come to see me there."
Guderzo will lead the BePink team at the Giro Rosa. She is not only an outright on-road leader of the BePink team, but she is also a mentor to the younger riders. During her career, she has also been selected as the on-road captain at international events for both her trade teams and the Italian national team because of her vast experience and nearly two decades of racing.
"On many occasions, I have been the captain based on my experience, so I help the younger riders on the road," Guderzo confirmed.
"I say things like, 'Don't worry you can do it,' or I'm chosen to stay close to the leader on the team to help her stay quiet, limit her stress, keep her in a good position and following the best wheels.
"If there's a possibility to catch a result for me – why not? That's what's nice about cycling; it isn't the best rider who always wins, but sometimes the one who believes the most."
Retirement after Tokyo Olympic Games
Guderzo started racing at seven years old and turned professional in 2005 with Top Girls Fassa Bortolo, then went to team AA Drink in 2007. She spent two seasons with Gauss RDZ Ormu, four seasons with MCipollini (now Ale Cipollini), and three seasons with Hitec Products. She joined BePink last season.
As a junior rider, Guderzo was a fast-rising talent and turned heads after a silver medal in the junior women's time trial at the World Championships in 2002. Two years later, she secured the silver medal in the elite women's road race behind Judith Arndt at the Worlds in Verona.
Her most significant career achievement came when she won the rainbow jersey at the Mendrisio World Championships in 2009. It was a solo victory ahead of a three-woman chase group that included silver medallist Marianne Vos (Netherlands), bronze medallist Noemi Cantele (Italy), and Kristin Armstrong (USA) in fourth.
Guderzo is also a five-time time trial national champion and has been a staple of the Italian national team at the last four Olympic Games – Athens, Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro. At the Beijing Olympics, Guderzo secured the bronze medal behind Nicole Cooke (Great Britain) and Emma Johansson (Sweden).
Guderzo said those performances feel like they happened a lifetime ago.
"I'm only 34, but I've been racing for so long. The riders are completely different now. The bunch works in a completely different way. Sometimes I tell myself, 'Tatiana, maybe you're old.'"
Guderzo is often in a mentorship role for her BePink teammates, many of whom are between 18 and 23 years old. She believes the difference in mentality between her generation and the newest generation among the peloton is noticeable.
"I won the bronze medal at the Olympics when I was 24 and the world title when I was 25," Guderzo said. "Every year, I have to try hard to understand and learn what this new generation is doing and thinking. They can be so dangerous and have little experience or respect for the other riders around them.
"When I was young, and I graduated to the elite races, I was scared of the big stars of the sport. For me, it was just an incredible feeling to be part of it all, and I had so much respect for the peloton. Now, it's a little bit different. That's OK – the world changes, or maybe I've changed. Maybe I need to decide on a new career."
Guderzo told Cyclingnews that, following the Giro Rosa, she will look forward to races like La Course and the Grand Prix de Plouay, and could potentially close out her season at the World Championships in Yorkshire.
She proved that she is still a valuable addition to the Italian national team at the mountainous Innsbruck World Championships last September where she earned the bronze medal behind new world champion Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) and silver medallist Amanda Spratt (Australia).
"It was my goal to do well at the Worlds last year," Guderzo said. "But at the start of the year, I had an injury, and my condition was not so good until the end of August, and so my mood was a little down. I continued to try to train and to earn smaller results to give myself some motivation. At the World Championships, it was a good goal for me – a nice route for me and a really hard race. It was really nice to earn bronze.
"The race was so hard, and the Dutch team was so strong with great riders. The tactics of the other national teams were to follow the Dutch, and that was a little strange. This year, the World Championships are open for more riders because it's a Classics-style race. The opportunity to win is not only for the Dutch but for everyone."
The Italian team will likely support former world champion Marta Bastianelli in Yorkshire, and Guderzo said she's up for the task if head coach Edoardo Savoldi selects her for the team.
Bastianelli has had an outstanding season that includes victories at the Tour of Flanders, the Ronde van Drenthe, the Omloop het Hageland, along with two stages and the general classification at the Gracia-Orlova and a stage win at the Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour, where she didn't finish the final stage. She won the world title in 2007 in Stuttgart, but she won't be racing the Giro Rosa this year because she is recovering from a knee injury.
"I will connect with the national team in August to decide the team for the World Championships, but I think that race is well-suited for a rider like Bastianelli," Guderzo said. "For sure, I can work for our top riders, no problem, because I have more experience and have held the captain's role to help my teammates many times. If my national team wants me to help the team in Yorkshire, then I will be there for that."
Guderzo said she would relish the opportunity to win a second world title too.
"All of the riders want to try to win the world title," she said. "When you're on the start line at the Worlds, every athlete wants to try to win. That's is the dream, and if you don't have that dream, why would you even start?"
Thinking to the future
Guderzo has been toying with the idea of retirement and said the end of the 2020 season would likely be her last year in the professional peloton before hanging up her wheels for good. Before she goes, however, she wants one more crack at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next August. If she is selected for the national team, it will mark her fifth time representing Italy at the Olympics.
"It's another dream for me to be at the Olympics Games in Tokyo – to be at my fifth Olympics Games," she said. "I hope that my condition will improve ahead of the Games, but right now I have to live day-by-day and every day is different. I want to get to the end of this year and then decide what I want to do.
"I've been cycling for a long time. It's possible I'll stop this year, but for sure next year after the Tokyo Olympics will be the end of my career. I will retire, for sure, at the end of 2020.
"I will miss cycling. This sport has given me so much: friends, pain, and big emotions. But I want time to breathe away from cycling because it's all I have ever done. I don't even know what real life is like without cycling. I want to try normal experiences without my bike."