Just as I predicted last night the general classification riders have already come out to play at this year's Giro Rosa. Today's first road stage, a 95km circuit race around Santa Maria a Vico, was definitely not the flat, sprint stage that many have come to expect from the opening stages of major tours, like what the men tackled in the Tour de France today.
No, instead the Giro Rosa organisers threw in an 1800 metre climb that averaged 10 per cent and hit sections as steep as 13 per cent.
While that might not sound so bad, the climb was part of a 8.7km lap, which we tackled 12 times; 11 of which we were actually racing and one that was 'neutralised'...although a number of my teammates said it definitely didn't feel like 'neutralised' pace when we rode it.
Why did we have a neutralised lap I hear you ask? Well, the easy answer is because the course was crazy. With an extremely narrow approach to the climb, combined with a technical descent that was followed by an even more technical and narrow flat section there were more than a few occasions during the neutralised lap that I found my self holding my breath and hoping for the best, and maybe muttering a few other things.
While I wasn't stoked to have such a ridiculous course for the first stage of our largest tour I was definitely pleased that the organisation made the sensible decision to allow the peloton to see what was ahead of them before firing the starting gun.
And it's good thing they did because despite the 'recon', I saw – or heard – girls crashing on the technical descent almost every lap. It was traumatic, watching rider after rider slide into prepared hay bails and mattresses.
On the third lap I came zooming around a sharper-than-expected left hand corner with my teammate Audrey Cordon to see Anna van der Breggen of Rabobank sliding into a brick wall.
Fortunately Anna had managed to shave off enough speed that she didn't do any serious damage and was back in the peloton just in time to see a small breakaway group escape up the road that included my team Ashleigh Moolman, Lucinda Brand from Rabobank Liv, and about four other riders.
With still more than 70km to race I had managed to survive over the tough climb with the front 20 or so riders and even cover some small attacks. But the real hill climbers hit the front on the fourth lap and, like a pinyata when the toddlers finally manage to hit it, the peloton exploded leaving a select group of about 20 at the front which included three of my teammates, Audrey, Ashleigh and Elisa Longo Borghini.
Specailized Lululemon and Boels Dolmans had both managed to placed four riders in the lead group while Rabobank had seven, Wiggle Honda had three, and a few other single riders from teams like Orica-AIS and Giant Shimano.
It was a fantastic situation for my Hitec Products team and our three up front went on to capitalise on the opportunity.
Ashleigh, who had already been busy attacking escaped again with Annemiek van Vlueten and gained a maximum advantage of about one minute and fifty seconds before Rabobank started to worry that Annemiek might not have the same kind of climbing legs as Ash and worked hard to shut down the duo.
When Ash was pulled back it was Audrey's turn to show that the Hitec Products team weren't happy to let Rabobank have it all their own way and she launched a well timed attack that her saw her tackle the second last climb of the day off the front alone.
Meanwhile, behind her Vos, Pauline Ferrand Pervot and Elisa launched themselves out of the small group and caught Audrey just as she crested the climb; all of a sudden there were two Rabobank and two Hitec Products off the front leaving the other general classification riders like Evie Stevens and Mara Abbott chasing behind.
It was game on.
The four worked hard to build on their lead but in the end Audrey couldn't match the speed on the final climb of the day and lost contact with Vos, Ferrand Pervot and Elisa.
Vos went on to win ahead of Elisa and Ferrand Pervot but importantly the general classification was blown to pieces.
While all this was going on I was sitting comfortably in the group behind conserving my energy and saving my legs for tomorrow's – apparently flat – 120km second stage in Frattamaggiore.
Vos now leads the Giro by 15 seconds over her teammate Ferrand Pervot and Elisa is 23 second behind Vos in third, what's more is she has more than 40 seconds advantage on other serious general classification threats and it's only stage two.
It was a fantastic day for Hitec Products, we placed three riders in the top ten on general classification, claimed the best Italian jersey with Elisa and Ashleigh is wearing the mountains jersey. When I rolled across the line and was informed by my family (who i had heard cheering every lap) of the situation I was gobsmacked. Very rarely do things go to plan in bike races, but today they did.
Eight day's left. We're coming for you Rabo.
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