After a couple of days characterised by sprints, the Giro d’Italia Donne returns to the mountains for the penultimate stage on Saturday, providing a last opportunity for riders to improve their GC positions. Stage 9 features more than 2,200 metres of vertical ascent and three classified climbs, with the 'queen' stage of the longest tour on the women's calendar finishing on the Monte Matajur at an altitude of 1,267 metres.
The Monte Matajur is a mountain in the Julian Alps on the border between Italy and Slovenia, with the summit 1,645 metres above sea level. However, the asphalted road ends at the Rifugio Pelizzo at 1,294 metres where stage 9 finishes after a 13.9-kilometre climb. The average gradient is 7.7 percent, but the climb is highly irregular.
The first two kilometres are not particularly steep, but they are followed by a kilometre with an average nine per cent. The sixth kilometre of the climb is even steeper than that at 10.2 per cent before the gradient eases to between six and nine per cent. The last four kilometres are the hardest, almost continually above nine percent and often above ten per cent. The final kilometre rises at 11 per cent.
Maglia rosa Anna van der Breggen (Team SD Worx) is firmly out of reach, and the same is probably true for the other podium places, currently occupied by Van der Breggen’s teammates Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio at 2:55 minutes back and Demi Vollering at 3:07 minutes.
But while there is a gap of almost three minutes between Vollering and fourth-placed Trek-Segafredo rider Lizzie Deignan, at 5:56 minutes, less than two minutes separate Deignan from 11th-placed Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), who sits 7:52 minutes behind the race lead.
This means that the top-ten and even the top-five are still very much in play. The home country’s riders will also compete for the prestigious blue jersey for the best Italian rider. Erica Magnaldi (Ceratizit-WNT), sixth overall at 6:39 minutes, Alé BTC Ljubljana’s Tatiana Guderzo is ninth in GC at 7:28 minutes, Cavalli and 20-year-old Gaia Realini (Isolmant-Premac-Vittoria), who is riding her first Giro Donne and sitting 12th in GC at 8:27 minutes, will all try to shake off their fellow countrywomen on the challenging climb.
Monte Matajur stage glory
Notwithstanding any GC ambitions, a stage victory on such a hard climb carries prestige in itself, and with a massive cushion in GC, Van der Breggen does not need to gain even more time.
The double world champion is well-known for helping her teammates to pay them back for their support, for example, she was crucial to Chantal van den Broek-Blaak’s victory in the 2020 Tour of Flanders and Demi Vollering’s victory in this year’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Moolman-Pasio is an excellent climber who does, however, not get many opportunities to win in the women’s race calendar. The 35-year-old South African has yet to win a Women’s WorldTour race, and it is conceivable that the team hatches a plan to send her up the road to win the stage, still leaving Van der Breggen with ample support in the form of Vollering and Niamh Fisher-Black, who is tenth overall at 7:50 minutes.
SD Worx could even try to send Fisher-Black, the best young rider of the race, into a breakaway on the second-category climb to Stregna, cresting 41 kilometres from the finish, either as a springboard for Moolman-Pasio or to let the young New Zealander compete for the stage win herself.
One of the few riders who could thwart the plans of Team SD Worx is Italian champion Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo). She has recovered well from a bad day on stage 2, going on a breakaway with Moolman-Pasio on stage 6 then finishing second on stage 7, and will be eager to be the first Italian stage winner of the 2021 edition.
There are also a handful of other capable climbers who will not want to walk away from the Giro d'Italia Donne empty-handed; Amanda Spratt (Team BikeExchange), Clara Koppenburg (Rally Cycling) and Mikayla Harvey (Canyon-SRAM) are just a few riders who have the potential to climb away with the stage victory.
There is also the green jersey for the best climber still up for grabs. Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo) currently leads the mountain classification with 32 points after having picked up points in breakaways on stages 3 and 7. Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM) is second with 20 points, followed by Liane Lippert (Team DSM) with 18 points.
Brand is 24 minutes down in GC, and an attack may well be the best form of defence for her – going into a breakaway before the Stregna climb would allow her to pick up seven more mountain points and not have to worry about the first-category finishing climb which carries 13 points for the stage winner.
Chabbey could try the same, of course, with the added twist that she is also in fifth place overall at 6:27 minutes, only 31 seconds behind Brand’s teammate Deignan.
No matter how the stage plays out, it is certain that the penultimate stage of the Giro Donne will be another exciting mountaintop finish on Monte Matajur.
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