Diadora-Pasta Zara’s Mara Abbott was crowned the first American to win the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile/Giro Donne last year and she will return to try and defend her title at this year’s event set to begin on July 1 in Rome. The Colorado native’s form is unknown however, and she has decided to take the race day-by-day after suffering from a concussion that rendered her unable to race during the month of June.
"This has been a very different year," Abbott said to Cyclingnews. "There hasn't been much racing on the calendar in general, and particularly for me, I sort of took myself out at the start of my big block. So it’s hard to match my perception of fitness this year against others simply because the entire situation is so distinct."
"Cycling is a sport in which your performance is defined only in relation to your competitors," she explained. "So it’s hard, especially with a race the length of the Giro, to start making judgments before the race even starts. Perhaps it is a bit superstitious, but I always have to take these sorts of things day by day, moment by moment."
Top contenders in the race include her teammate Claudia Hausler, world time trial champion Emma Pooley (Garmin-Cervelo), Tatiana Guderzo, Judith Arndt (HTC-Highroad), among others. The course is once again well suited to the climbers in the peloton.
Last year, Abbott moved into the pink jersey leader’s jersey on stage eight’s lengthy climb up to Livigno and lengthened her lead on the peaks of Stelvio in stage nine. This year the climbs will include the mythical Mortirolo and will be followed by a difficult day to Valdidentro and stage nine into Ceresole Reale.
"This year's Giro is very diverse," Abbott said. "I think that there will be an opportunity for a lot of different riders to shine, and that actually makes this edition very special and exciting. I personally have a few stages I am looking forward to, but I hardly think my preferences are a secret anymore!"
Last year, Abbott spent the season racing for the US-based UCI team Peanut Butter & Co Twenty12 and she won the Giro Donne while racing under the US National Team. This year, she will be competing for her Italian sponsors Diadora and Pasta Zara, which could add to the pressure of defending her overall title.
"I do [feel more pressure]," Abbott said. "Hopefully that is the same sort of pressure that you have when you are relying on teammates. Because you know that what you do matters to others, you strive to achieve a little more and can sometimes go beyond what you realized was possible. It is a huge honor that the Giro does matter so much to the Italians, and I think that makes the race very distinct and was part of the reason it was such a pleasure to win last year."
The question mark over her form
Having suffered a concussion while crashing on a training ride in early June, the big question mark is how good Abbott’s condition is going into the Giro. She was forced to skip scheduled events at the Liberty Classic, Nature Valley Grand Prix, and more importantly she could not defend her title at the US Women’s Elite National Road Championships.
"I took a little time off the bike," Abbott said. "It was more that I took it easy and couldn't do any real efforts without getting dizzy at first. Gradually that dissipated and I could begin to step my training up again in response."
"In some ways, it was hard [to miss nationals], because wearing your nation's champion jersey is such an honor and I am so proud to be from the US," she added. "At the same time, looking at the risk of further injury and the amount of life I have ahead of me, the risk entailed by racing wasn't worth it, not even a bit. So while I was sad that circumstances dictated it the way that they did, given those circumstances, the decision itself was really quite simple.