At the press conference after the final stage and podium ceremony of the Giro d'Italia Femminile, race winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) touched upon a number of topics within women's cycling.
Van Vleuten put her dominant win down to a strong team and a good preparation. "I do not think I was ever in trouble. It was also thanks to my team, it was a really strong and experienced team at this Giro, so I was never in trouble. Uphill, I had to do it by myself, but also had Amanda Spratt with me who was really strong. I think I was never in trouble on the climbs. Last year I was good, but this year I was a little bit better uphill than I was last year."
With three stage wins and a huge gap on the other general classification contenders, van Vleuten has already been nicknamed 'the Cannibal' in an homage to Eddy Merckx. The Dutchwoman herself thought this moniker should apply not only to herself.
"I think it could suit our whole team! We won six stages. I myself won three of them and won overall with a big time difference, so yeah, maybe it applies to me."
Asked about how the Giro Rosa could improve further, van Vleuten pointed to the lack of TV coverage. While the amount of daily highlights was an improvement over previous years, she opined that cycling fans hungered for more.
"I know that a lot of people would really like to watch it live, especially during some boring Tour de France stages. It would be really cool if we could have live coverage of this race. A lot of people are asking for it. But I also think it was really good that we had TV coverage this year, that is an important step."
Including iconic climbs such as the Monte Zoncolan, which was ascended on stage 9, is also a way to increase the visibility and prestige of the race, van Vleuten said. "It is really nice that they organised a finish on the Zoncolan this year, that is very important for women's cycling. When I say I won the Giro d'Italia, and we also raced up the Zoncolan, then some people will say 'oh, you went up the easy side', and I can say 'no, we do it from the side that the men also did'.
"Then we gain a lot of respect for women's cycling, and people get more interested. People also get into the times on Strava and see that we are actually professional athletes at a high level. So thank you for organising it on the famous climb of the Zoncolan, it was an epic finish.
"Everyone suffered there, but nobody will forget it, so I look forward to the climbs we will do next year. But an important step I think is more TV coverage, also live would be really nice. I can see the organisation stepping up and developing more, I think that is good, to improve every year would be a good step also to improve women's cycling."
Several of the strongest women's teams are offshoots of men's WorldTour teams, including van Vleuten's own outfit Mitchelton-Scott. Van Vleuten was encouraged by the fact that more and more men's teams have started setting up women's squads as well.
"Personally, I like that men's WorldTour teams also have a women's team. Sometimes people say that we have to make it obligatory, force teams to have a women's team, but now we see a development where the teams themselves want to also have a women's team. That is what I want to see, that women's cycling is developing well and also interesting for sponsors and bike brands, and women's cycling in general is growing. So I think it is a really good, important step that Trek also wants to have a women's team, and it makes me very proud."
Speaking about her solo victory on stage 10, the 35-year-old described that she had been fine with the break contesting the stage, but went for it herself when the break was caught on the climb.
"I was happy that the break might stay away, because then it would be easier for me. My main goal was just get to the finish safely. I did a reconnaissance of this stage two weeks ago, so I knew it was a technical descent. Then they went hard on the climb and chased the group down, and sometimes attack is the best defence. That is why I attacked, then I could go safely down to the finish and enjoy my Giro win."
Van Vleuten also promised to return to Italy in 2019 to defend her maglia rosa. "I love Italy, and I love the Giro d'Italia, so for sure I will be back."
Innsbruck World Championships
The talk then turned to the 2018 UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria, where the women's road race will differ from the men's route by not including the Höll climb with its gradients of up to 28 per cent in the final. Van Vleuten was critical of this and urged the UCI to rectify this imbalance in future years.
"In women's cycling, and especially at the UCI, they also have to develop further. They make different courses for us; it is a really hard course, but we do not do the final climb. So the course for us is a bit different than for the men - unfortunately for me, because then I would be really confident, it is a very steep climb. Still, I think it is a hard route with a lot of climbing, so I really look forward to it."
After securing the Giro Rosa win, the Innsbruck world championships will be van Vleuten's second big goal of the 2018 season. Seeing the hard work for the Giro Rosa pay off gives her confidence as she now builds towards a possible world title and rainbow jersey.
"I had two goals this year, to win the Giro, or to prepare optimally for the Giro d'Italia, and after this, my goal is to be optimally prepared for Innsbruck. I prepared very hard for this, I went to altitude, training by myself for two weeks on Tenerife, I did reconnaissances of the stages, we prepared very hard as a team. It is very nice to know that this is paying off. Actually I also enjoyed the work, it was not an onerous task to prepare for this, it is a beautiful goal, and to finish it off makes it even more beautiful."
The race organisation ended the press conference by explaining that every winner on the Zoncolan gets their own poster at the finish of the hill, and invited van Vleuten to the unveiling of her poster at the Innsbruck Worlds. Van Vleuten was happy to agree and even said that she would bring her bike along. "I have been thinking about climbing again the Zoncolan when I am there for the Worlds, so yes, that is a deal."