Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) finished eighth on the queen stage 5 of the Giro Rosa, which finished with a climb up Passo Fraele and at the Lago di Cancano. It was all she could do against the likes of defending champion and stage winner Annemiek van Vleuten, whose performance Longo Borghini referred to as 'alien'.
"I witnessed it … I saw when Annemiek went, and everybody was like 'OK, the alien is gone and now the race for human beings begins,'" Longo Borghini said in a post-race video posted on Trek-Segafredo's Twitter.
The fifth stage of the Giro Rosa was meant to finish on the Passo Gavia, at 2652m of elevation. Van Vleuten, who won the Giro Rosa in 2018, had spent several blocks of training at altitude in Tenerife and on the Passo Gavia to prepare for the altitude and for her overall title defense.
Race organisers cancelled the Passo Gavia climb, however, because of landslides in the area that forced authorities to shut down the roads. Organisers announced that once the race reached Bormio, the peloton would instead turn west and climb Passo Fraele to the Lago di Cancano in Valdidentro. The final to Valdidentro was used for stage 8 of the 2011 Giro Rosa won by Emma Pooley.
That meant the route was reduced from 100km to 88km, but Longo Borghini said that despite the seemingly easier climb and the shortened stage, it was still very hard.
"It felt like riding uphill for 88km, to be fair, because there was never a moment where you could say, 'OK, I’m going to take a breath now.’ Maybe during the downhill in Aprica, but then you had to be focussed going downhill."
A breakaway of three riders hit the final climb ahead of the main field that included Leah Kirchmann (Sunweb), Nikola Noskova (Bigla) and Pauliena Rooijakkers (CCC-Liv).
With 9km to go, Van Vleuten made her attack from the field and immediately distanced herself from the other GC contenders, caught and passed the breakaway, and won the race by a massive 2:57 ahead of runner-up Lucinda Brand (Sunweb) and overnight leader Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM). Longo Borghini hung on for eighth place.
"During the last climb, I tried to hang up with the best ones but eventually I didn't," she said. "When there was the attack in the last 3km [by Erica Magnaldi (WNT-Rotor)] I just took my own pace. I was sure that I could come back, but I didn’t.
"I was able to be number eight. I know that is not the best but I tried to give back to my teammates, for all the work that they did."