Lizzie Deignan may have started out the Giro d’Italia Donne in a support role but thanks to a powerful show of climbing form, which was again on display during the ascent of Monte Matajur on stage 9, she is now easily set to be Trek-Segafredo’s top finisher as she heads into the final stage sitting fourth overall.
That not only sets up Deignan for an impressive general classification result at the longest tour on the women's calendar but also could act as a warning shot over the bow of her rivals as she heads into the Tokyo Olympic Games to represent Britain in the climb-heavy road race.
Deignan – who had initially been aiming to support last year’s third-placed rider, Elisa Longo Borghini, at the ten-day race – built on a winning team trial in the opening stage with 11th on the first mountain finish the next day. The 32 year old then delivered a powerful mountain time trial on stage 4 to come eighth on the stage and start consolidating her fourth position overall. That slot looked even more secure after she was fifth to the top of the first category climb that marked the end of the penultimate stage of the race.
"After the good TT, today's result is again a nice surprise for me,” said Deignan in a post on Twitter. “I had just one goal, doing my best effort. It was not a technical stage, not much to think about, only pushing hard."
The battle for the stage victory on the queen stage of the Giro d’Italia Donne began when Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (SD Worx) attacked with Deignan’s Trek Segafredo teammate Elisa Longo Borghini on the Stregna climb, cresting 41 kilometres from the finish. The pair began the final climb, the imposing Monte Matajur, with a two-minute lead on the peloton but Moolman-Pasio dropped Longo Borghini with 8 kilometres to go and continued alone to win the stage.
In the meantime the group behind was torn to pieces, with overall leader Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) firmly in control among the favourites before she and teammate Demi Vollering rode all others off their wheel. The master and apprentice rode over the line together, with Vollering in second while Van der Breggen took third and then it was Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) in fourth ahead of Deignan.
"I placed fifth and I protected my position in GC,” said the former world champion and 2012 Olympic Games silver medallist. “I think this type of result comes when you don’t have too much pressure and expectation for a result, when you really race day by day, as well as having enough good form to be with the best.
"The girls gave me a lot of confidence and Elisa’s attempt was strong too,” said Deignan of her Italian teammate, who ultimately finished in 13th place. “It was definitely a good day."
It’s been a year where little has turned out as expected at the Giro d’Italia Donne, except perhaps the fact that last year’s victor and her team SD Worx has dominated. The challenge for at least the lower podium places that was expected to come from the likes of Longo Borghini, Amanda Spratt (Team BikeExchange) and Cecilie Uttrup-Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) never materialised.
The Dutch team looked to have the podium sewn up from stage 2 with the defending champion then putting herself on the top step, with Moolman Pasio in second and Demi Vollering in third. It’s unlikely that anyone can challenge that SD Worx podium stranglehold on the final stage with Deignan, as the best of the rest, sitting 3:43 away from Vollering and 6:48 back from the maglia rosa.
Deignan certainly isn’t the rider that would have been expected to be so close to the podium, let alone the top challenger to SD Worx, as its more than a decade since she has even finished in the top 20 at the race. Her best result previously was 15th back in 2009. Plus she was not only lining up to support a teammate from last year’s podium, Longo Borghini, but also in a squad that had a strong plan B in Lucinda Brand. The world cyclo-cross champion, who has a fourth place among her three top-ten finishes at the Giro d'Italia Donne, leads the mountain classification this year.
Deignan’s fourth-place is unlikely to come under threat in the rolling 113 kilometre final stage from Capriva del Friuli to Cormons, with Mavi Garcia (Alè BTC Ljubljana) 1:18 back. That’s likely to mean not only will Deignan be lining up at the Olympics having shown she’s a rider to watch, but is also likely to be hard to ignore when looking at the list of contenders for both the Giro d’Italia Donne next year and perhaps even the first running of the Tour de France Femmes.
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