Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) says that she's going into the forthcoming Giro Rosa with a clear mind and no pressure on her shoulders. Longo Borghini took a career best result when she finished second to Anna van der Breggen at last year's race but says she's not thinking about the general classification, at least not yet.
The Italian had her spring campaign thwarted by illness for the second year running when a bout of flu was followed by bronchitis and further allergy problems. She had to spend a week away from her bike in a crucial part of the season, but following a victory in the mountains classification at the Ovo Energy Women's Tour and gold in the road race at the Mediterranean Games, she feels like things are moving in the right direction.
"I think I'm OK. Maybe I'm not super, but I'm fine. I'm going to the Giro with my mind pretty free and I don't expect anything super to be fair," was Longo Borghini's frank assessment of her chances. "It has been a very hard season until now. Now I am getting into better shape and I feel myself growing every day, so I go and whatever comes is good.
"I have everything under control, I feel healthy and I'm ready to race. I showed in the Women's Tour that I was pretty strong. I was stronger at the Italian championships and [at the Mediterranean Games], even though the field was maybe not super strong, I did a good race and my values were alright so I'm confident. I'm just going to the Giro with my mind free. I don't care about the GC, I will just see what my level is and what I can do."
Longo Borghini is keen to see how this year's parcours will play out, with much more climbing than in previous seasons, including a trip up the mythical Monte Zoncolan. It is, of course, Longo Borghini's home race but the route will take her very close to home with the team time trial starting just down the road from her hometown, in Verbania. Stage 4 in Omenga is also a stone's throw away from her hometown of Ornavasso.
"I think the Giro is harder than last year. It suits climbers, which I am not. I think that it's going to be very interesting. I think that it will be one of the hardest Giros that has ever been organised," she said. "I'm not underestimating myself, I'm just rational. I'm not 40 kilos. I'm not a Mara Abbott surely, but I can climb very well and I'm not out of the game at all.
"Every day is an opportunity and you don't want to waste any opportunities. I'm looking forward to racing my home stages, because I'm at home and people are coming especially for me and I know all the routes and the streets there and it's always nice to race at home. It's thrilling. "
Fellow 2017 podium finisher Annemiek van Vleuten will be on the start line on Friday, but the defending champion Anna van der Breggen won't. The Dutchwoman has decided to miss the race this year, after claiming her second title last season, and ride the Val di Sole mountain bike World Cup. Longo Borghini says that she would do the same if she desired and that the peloton at the Giro Rosa will be plenty strong enough.
"I think that everybody needs to do what they like and what they feel like doing. If Anna is feeling like mountain biking then she needs to do it," said Longo Borghini. "If I feel like doing mountain biking then I will do it as well. You need to do your sport with motivation. Without motivation you don't go anywhere, especially if you are facing a 10-day stage race. You need to have motivation and hunger. You need to have joy. If you don't feel like doing it then you need to do something else.
"We still have everyone else, there is Van Vleuten, Moolman, there is Kasia Niewiadoma, Megan Guarnier, we are talking about top-class athletes, not peanuts. It's more than enough, the field is going to strong, even without Anna."
No need to copy the men
Like a lot of the contenders at the Giro Rosa, Longo Borghini also has one eye on the World Championships later this season. The course is well suited to the climbers, thus making those that do well at the Giro potential favourites for the world title.
It is one of the most challenging routes in recent history, though some have questioned why the women's peloton have not been allowed to tackle the so-called Hell Climb, which hits gradients of more than 25 per cent. Longo Borghini, however, thinks that the course is good just as it is and says that organisers of the men's race often go too far in search of the spectacle.
"I like it, I really like it. It's going to be interesting from the beginning because after 70k, we have a three-kilometre climb, which is about 12-15 per cent, then we have local laps with a long climb. It's going to be a tough race and I'm looking forward to racing it," she told Cyclingnews.
"I'm not super social but there has been a bit of gossiping about [the Hell Climb]. I think that women's [races] should be women's and we don't have to take the bad side of the men's. The organisers of the men's are always looking for extreme things and I think that, in my opinion, it isn't giving something good to cycling but they are always going further and further. Maybe the next time, they will have a pure climbing Worlds and maybe they can hike up it."