Monday’s stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile was a quiet affair for the overall favourites. With one eye already on the mountains to come starting from Tuesday’s stage 5, they were happy to let a breakaway of three Italians go up the road and fight for the stage win.
There was a frantic first hour of racing before the break, which included eventual stage winner Letizia Borghesi (Aromitalia-Basso Bikes-Vaiano), went away and things settled down in the peloton. But that is business as usual at the Giro Rosa, according to Katarzyna Niewiadoma, who defended her general classification lead.
"There are so many teams that want to show themselves and get a result, it is always like this," the Canyon-SRAM leader said. "You have to be switched on and ready for the battle from the start. When the break went away, it was a perfect situation for us because we knew that with a breakaway in the front, we could avoid a hectic final. It was definitely less stressful this way.”
Even so, the gap to the breakaway eventually grew so large that Nadia Quagliotto (Alé Cipollini) had become the virtual race leader. Niewiadoma’s Canyon-SRAM team went to work in the latter part of the stage to keep their leader in the maglia rosa.
"I was surprised when I saw they had almost five minutes," Niewiadoma said. "All my teammates immediately lined up at the front of the peloton and started to chase hard. It is good to keep the jersey for another day. I’m enjoying this moment for now, tomorrow the real Giro starts."
Stage 5 had been announced as the undisputed queen stage of this year’s Giro Rosa, with a summit finish atop the Passo Gavia at 2,652 metres of altitude. But landslides on the pass road southeast of Bormio meant that the Gavia finish had to be cancelled on Thursday, the eve of the race, being replaced with a less challenging finish at the Lago di Cancano in Valdidentro, to the west of Bormio.
The stage will be shorter than planned, and the finish is significantly lower at an altitude of 1,936 metres. But the climb to the Torri di Fraele, cresting about two kilometres from the finish followed by a tunnel and a mostly flat run-in, is still a significant challenge with an average gradient of 8.3 percent over 7.3 kilometres. Despite this, information from the race organisation indicates that the climb will not be classified.
"It’s going to be a very challenging stage, one of the hardest in the Giro," said Niewiadoma. "I expect a lot of GC damage, there will be huge differences for sure. I believe that Annemiek [van Vleuten] might just throw her bomb at the bottom and try to shred the peloton, although I also think that there are a lot of good riders who can try to keep up with her or maybe even attack. It is still hard to tell who is the strongest because we haven’t done any big climbs yet."