The longest, most difficult and most prestigious women's race of the year gets underway today, with the Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile, otherwise known as Giro Donne, beginning in Rome.
As the sole-remaining 10-day race on the women's UCI calendar, the event has attracted all of the top competitors in the peloton: 17 teams of 8 riders each will take to the start including UCI number one Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit), World Champion Giorgia Bronzini who will head up the Colavita-Forno d'Asolo team, double Italian champion Noemi Cantele (Garmin-Cervélo) will wear bib number 150 in honour of the 150th anniversary of Italian unification. Also favoured for the overall victory is Cantele's teammate Emma Pooley, the time trial world champion, as well as defending champion Giro Donne Mara Abbott (Diadora Pasta Zara) and Judith Arndt (HTC-Highroad).
The race will not use bib number 108, the number worn by Belgian Wouter Weylandt when he suffered his fatal crash in the men's Giro d'Italia last month.
There have been some new additions to teams ahead of the event, which is the only race of the year that the women can field teams of eight.
Most notably, former cyclo-cross world champion Daphny Van Den Brand will make her Giro debut with the AA Drink-Leontien.nl squad. The multi-time Dutch champion on the dirt raced her first road championships in more than a decade to prepare for the race.
"I have raced three times on the road [this year], that's good. Normally speaking, I always win the fourth one ..." she joked.
Fabiana Luperini, a four-time winner of the Giro Donne, was a late addition to the Cipollini-Giordana team in May. The Italian retired in 2009, but decided to return to the peloton with an eye on the 2013 world championships which take place in her hometown of Florence.
One rider who was intending to be on the start but was a late withdrawal is Spaniard Anna Sanchis (Bizkaia-Durango). Sanchis told esciclismo.com that she had been pressured to skip the race because she had sued her 2009 team, Safi Pasta, over a contract dispute. She won 14,000 euros in the case, but the same company is a sponsor for the race and, according to Sanchis, threatened to withdraw its support of the Giro Donne if she were to participate.
Flat stages are in short supply for mountainous Giro
Bronzini and the other sprinters like Ina Teutenberg (HTC-Highroad) and Shelley Olds (Diadora Pasta Zara) are specifically targeting the few flat stages that exist after the short, punchy climbs of the first three days and before the race hits the hills on stage 7.
Monday's 101km stage 4 to Forli' is pan flat, the next day to Verona has a gradual climb to the line, while the sixth stage to Piacenza has just one minor hill in the middle that will be no difficulty for the sport's top sprinters.
Gilmore to leave early
Rochelle Gilmore (Lotto Honda) confirmed today to SBS that she will drop out of the Giro following stage six in order to target other races that will help garner UCI points toward qualification for the world championships and Olympic Games.
"At the moment Australia needs UCI points to lift our ranking," Gilmore said. "If those (remaining) four days (at the Giro) are not possible for me to get points but the following weekend there are races where I can get points we need to start thinking about the importance of numbers at worlds and the Olympics. We need to focus a little bit more on the races where I can achieve points for our nation."
Time trial to see national champions pitted against eachother
On the last stage, a 16km time trial will sort out whatever competition might remain for the maglia rosa. HTC-Highroad director Ronny Lauke is bringing three national champions in the discipline to the race.
"It will be exciting to see our ITT national champions [Emilia Fahlin (Sweden), Judith Arndt (Germany), American Everlyn Stevens] compete for the win. Ellen got silver for the Netherlands last week and Charlotte took the same for Germany, so we have a lot of great time trialists with us," Lauke added, "We will want to be in good shape both physically and in terms of our team's standing for that final stage."