Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) had secured the maglia rosa after winning stage 2 at the Giro Rosa, and had been leading the race by 1:48 over Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) and 2:03 to Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) with just two stages to go. The world champion looked almost certain to win a third consecutive victory until a crash forced her to abandon following the conclusion of stage 7.
As Van Vleuten made her way back to the Netherlands to undergo surgery to correct the fractured wrist on Friday, the racing continued on stage 8 with the overall classification shaken up at the Giro Rosa.
Niewiadoma was unexpectedly thrown into the spotlight as she inherited the overall lead, wearing the coveted maglia rosa on the stage 8 start line in Castelnuovo della Daunia.
She only wore it for the day, however, having to relinquish it to her former teammate Van der Breggen, who attacked on the steep finishing climb with Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo). Van der Breggen was targeting the general classification and Longo Borghini was focussed only on the stage win at San Marco la Catola.
“On the second stage I lost a lot of time, so we decided to go for stages," Longo Borghini said about not targeting the GC. “I tried for the win many times this week and it never worked out. Lizzie [Deignan] led me out on the last climb, and after one kilometre, Anna [van der Breggen] attacked, and I just followed her. I knew that she was going for the GC and it would be a good opportunity for a stage win.”
After leading all the way through the uphill final kilometre, Longo Borghini beat Van der Breggen to the line to finally take her first individual stage win in her ninth Giro Rosa.
“This is really special for me, especially after the tough last months and the lockdown when I was thinking about my country a lot. I really wanted to give positive emotions to people here, and it is also my first victory of the season. I am very happy," Longo Borghini beamed.
Van der Breggen now leads the overall classification by 1:10 ahead of Niewiadoma and 2:23 ahead of Longo Borghini. Saturday is the finale stage 9 that will see the peloton race 109.9km on the challenging Motta Montecorvino circuits.
With the time gained on stage 8, Longo Borghini jumped onto the overall podium in third place and just two seconds ahead of Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), who is leading the mountain classification. She is also just 28 seconds ahead of Mikayla Harvey (Équipe Paule Ka), the best under-23 rider at the race, making the contest for the overall podium a heated contest.
While the fight for the last podium spot still is a close affair, the race for the overall victory is a tougher gap to close as Van der Breggen has stretched her lead out to over a minute. Niewiadoma lost significant time on stage 8 but said she could do nothing more on the 6km climb to San Marco la Catola on Friday.
“The steep climb at the end was crazy," Niewiadoma exclaimed. “I felt like it was never-ending, and we started pretty fast, so it was hard from the beginning. Everything slowed down a bit, and then Anna van der Breggen attacked. My body just shut down, I could not follow her, so I just had to carry on at my own speed and try not to lose so much time.”
Losing the pink jersey did not dampen Niewiadoma’s spirits. She admitted that she did not hope for overall success going into the race and continued to enjoy the race, but said that she would aim higher in the future.
“I am happy because I know that I did my best, the team did their best, and that is all that matters," Niewiadoma said. "This is the first Giro that I am actually enjoying until the end. I do not feel like I am pushing myself too much, and for me, being on the podium is already like winning this race. I did not come here thinking I wanted to go for the maglia rosa, somehow I wasn’t confident in myself. Being second now makes me want to come back here and actually aim for victory in the next years."
At the conclusion of stage 8, Van der Breggen said that it was unfortunate that Van Vleuten had crashed Thursday but that the peloton still maintained a 'fighting spirit' for the maglia rosa.
"I was fighting before and now it's for the pink jersey again," Van der Breggen said. "This is not how you hope to get the pink and I hope everyone who was in the crash yesterday will be fine, but you could feel that the fighting spirit was back in the race, today, and that was a good thing."
Should Van der Breggen win the overall title on Saturday at the conclusion of stage 9, it will be her third overall victory at the Giro Rosa after also winning titles in 2015 and 2017.
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