And that's a wrap. Today my seven Hitec Products teammates and I finished the 25th edition of the Giro Rosa. Lauren Kitchen, who at 23 has already ridden the Giro five times, said it was the first time she has finished with a full team. High fives all round.
But we have more to high five about than just finishing. Despite the tour being dominated by one team, Rabobank – they ended up finishing first, second and third on the general classification – we (or more precisely Elisa) finished fifth overall and won the best Italian rider jersey. We also had five top ten finishes.
But what is most satisfying was how we raced together as a team. Even the super team, Rabobank, commented to our director how well we were racing. So with nine days of racing behind us we were determined to keep the trend going in the ninth and final stage from Trezzo sull'Adda to Madonna del Ghisallo.
With half the peloton's heads already on the plane home I told the girls in the the team meeting to stay focussed, "this is the last stage, it's easy to check out and say 'okay I'm done' but it's only 80km, just give 100 per cent one more time."
With Elisa placed fifth on GC but less than 30seconds off the podium we still had everything to fight for and, unlike the final stage of the Tour de France which is merely a procession, the 80km stage offered the parcours to claw back those 30seconds.
The first 70km of the race was undulating, racing along lake Como before turning uphill for the last 10km. The finishing climb was actually a climb made famous by the Giro di Lombardia; the Madonna del Ghisallo. It's is known for the church that sits at the top which is more a shrine to cycling than anything else.
From the beginning the pace was on. Two riders from Astana-Be Pink escaped from the long, strung out peloton but behind we were racing like there was no-one away.
One attack after another. One rider would fire off to the left of the peloton before another would counter on the right. My Hitec Products teammates did a fantastic job of making sure if anything was escaping we were going to be in it.
You wouldn't have thought we had been racing for nine days already because the pace was just crazy; we covered the first 45kms in under an hour. While I tired to have a go through a technical section of the course and did manage to gain a small advantage with a group of riders the high pace meant it all came back together.
From then on, it was a race to the bottom of the climb.
Our director had warned us of some tunnels that we had to ride through just after 50km and it appeared that most teams were more than a little stressed about them as full lead out trains started appearing. I think memories from Giros past where the peloton were forced to ride downhill through barely lit tunnels probably inspired this sudden organisation of lead out trains.
Finding Elisa I started surfing the trains keeping us in the top ten of the peloton. United HealthCare were controlling the pace so I moved us up onto their train. Then Giant Shimano appeared so I jumped right. Then Orica-AIS, left again.
As we came out of the tunnels we hit the lake and it was game on. Still more than 10kms from the bottom of the climb I hadn't expected teams to be pushing the pace so hard so early but since Elisa and I were there I decided to keep surfing trains. By this time Rabobank had appeared and there were now three teams fighting for control of the peloton. It was fast!
With 2km to the base of the climb I dropped Elisa off onto Emma Johansson's wheel and watched the front of the peloton race away. I was shocked to look behind me and see a splintered peloton. Only 15 or so girls remained at the front and behind was carnage.
As I dropped backwards like a stone through water I saw Mara Abbott pulling a group behind that included riders like Evie Stevens and Emma Pooley. They had obviously been caught out by the surge of pace.
Riding 'piano' up the final climb of the 2014 Giro Rosa I was proud of my – and my teams – last stage despite not knowing the results. We had stayed focussed and raced 'full gas' to the end.
Crossing the line I heard that Emma Pooley had taken her third stage win. Rolling up to the camper I was met by a smiling Elisa, "I finished fifth and kept fifth in the general."
She was happy. I was happy. We finished the Giro; 10 days of racing, 953kilometres, 3 mountain top finishes, 20 hours of transfers, seven different hotels.
No days left.
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