Mavi Garcia (UAE Team ADQ) relentlessly stuck to Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), occasionally pushing the Dutchwoman to her limit but never backing down as the pair raced into Cesena on stage 4 at the Giro d'Italia Donne.
The two powerful riders were equally matched on the day's hilly terrain, trading off blow-after-blow on the slopes of each punishing ascent in the closing 50km, even distancing their breakaway companion Marta Cavalli (FDJ) in the process.
"It would have been nice to win today, but I'm very happy with my performance. I felt very confident today because I felt very good. On the climbs, when I attacked with Annemiek van Vleuten and Marta Cavalli, I almost always stayed in front because the road was very hard, and I felt good, and then I also thought about the green jersey," Garcia said.
Garcia, Van Vleuten and Cavalli attacked over the second-category Colle del Barbotto with just over 50km to go. They built a nearly five-minute lead on the nearest chasers. Cavalli was distanced on the last ascent due to the relentless attacks from Garcia and Van Vleuten inside 12km from the line.
Garcia and Van Vleuten's face-off was reminiscent of their earlier battles at Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa and Strade Bianche in 2020, where Garcia has shown time and time again her strengths as a world-class competitor.
"Annemiek van Vleuten tried a few times to attack me in the finale, but she couldn't breakaway today. Then I tried to get ahead of her in the last kilometre, but I couldn't make the difference," she said.
Garcia started her sprint early on a slight rise toward the finish line, but Van Vleuten caught and passed her through the final bend and sprinted ahead for the win.
Van Vleuten now leads the GC by 25 seconds on runner-up Garcia, 57 seconds on third-placed Cavalli, and then 5 minutes ahead of the next group led by fourth-placed Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo).
Garcia is also leading the mountains classification.
The three decisive mountainous days are coming later in the race on stage 7: Prevalle to Passo Maniva, stage 8: Rovereto to Aldeno, and stage 9: San Michele All'Adige to San Lorenzo Dorsino.
"This podium is very nice and allows me to still be in the game for the overall victory. Now, I want to stay at the front, and we'll see what happens over the next few days. It's a positive day for me, for the whole team, and I know I can aim for the final podium in this Giro."
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Kirsten Frattini is the Deputy Editor of Cyclingnews, overseeing the global racing content plan.
Kirsten has a background in Kinesiology and Health Science. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's biggest races, reporting on the WorldTour, Spring Classics, Tours de France, World Championships and Olympic Games.
She began her sports journalism career with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. In 2018, Kirsten became Women's Editor – overseeing the content strategy, race coverage and growth of women's professional cycling – before becoming Deputy Editor in 2023.