Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) retained her overall lead after the longest stage ever to feature in the Women's WorldTour race on stage 4 of the Giro Rosa, coming in at 170km. The Dutchwoman threw her arms in the air at the top of the steep, cobbled climb into the town of Tivoli, despite Lizzy Banks (Equipe Paule Ka) having won the stage a minute earlier.
Van Vleuten might well have been pleased with the result, however, having gained more crucial time-bonus seconds on her rivals after finishing third on the stage.
Van Vleuten now holds a 1:56 lead over second-placed Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), who pushed Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) down to third place at 2:03.
Despite the long stage, Van Vleuten's focus for the day was how to approach the run into the finish. "It was a really long day, really hard, so my focus was just to be really well positioned coming into 2.7km to go where it got more narrow where we turned to the left," she said. "I thought, 'if I'm in a good position then I'll go for it otherwise I go safe to the finish'."
The world champion was determined not to make the same mistakes as the day before, where she lost a few vital seconds when she finished fifth in Assisi. "I didn't want something like yesterday."
Once Banks and Bujak crested the climb to Tivoli, Van Vleuten and the rest of the favourites were left to battle it out for the bonus seconds, "I was a bit nervous about losing time maybe because it was a really long stretch.
"I went really early and I was a bit exploding and Elisa Longo Borghini took over from me so I thought 'oh, she's also very strong' - but then I can see that the longer the climbs are, the better they suited me and this today was longer than yesterday, and then my legs are really strong a little bit longer.
"I'm super happy that I had good legs in the final and it's a good sign of my shape," she added. "My team did a great job today to defend the jersey so I had a great day."
Asked how she planned to go about defending her maglia rosa for the remainder of the race, Van Vleuten said, "In the Netherlands, we have a saying: 'the best way to defend is to attack.'"
Attack as she might, there likely won't be much of an opportunity for Van Vleuten to take bonus seconds on the line in Tuesday's run into Terracina, unless she manages to pull off one of her signature solo breakaways, as the finish looks to be suited to a bunch kick to the line. However, with more climbing to come in later stages of the Giro Rosa, it isn't a question of if Van Vleuten will attack, it's when.
Visit Cyclingnews' dedicated women's page for full reports, results, news, features and galleries from the 2020 Giro Rosa.
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