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.
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