Van der Breggen keeps one eye on Rio as she defends Giro Rosa title

Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv) returns to the Giro Rosa this year with the number one of defending champion on her back. Van der Breggen took an emphatic victory in what was a superb season for the young Dutch rider.

Her preparation has not been ideal with a crash at the Women’s Tour that forced her to abandon. Fortunately, there were no long-lasting injuries for her, and she is looking forward to seeing how she fares.

“It’s nice. Every year is a new year so each time you are wondering again if you’re good enough and how hard it’s going to be,” she told Cyclingnews prior to her abandon at the Women’s Tour. “I like the Giro very much so I’m looking forward to it. I’m sure that the shape will come. I really like the circuit and the parcours in the Giro.”

This year’s Giro Rosa has a testing course that includes an ascent of the Mortirolo on stage 5, plus a 21km time trial two days later. Van der Breggen will face some tough competition in the defence of her title from the likes of Mara Abbott (Wiggle-High5) and Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans). Like both Guarnier and Abbott, the Dutch rider will have half an eye on the Olympic Games in Rio. The lure of a medal at the Games will change both van der Breggen approach and how the general classification fight plays out.

With almost a month between the end of the Giro Rosa and the road race in Rio, timing will be key for those targeting both. “Rio is coming up, it’s a climbing circuit so I think that the Giro will show some climbers that you don’t expect,” she explained.

“I don’t want to be in shape too early, so I’m not in shape now so that is good. I hope that the shape will come in time for the Giro or otherwise it is going to be a hard Giro. After the Giro I will have a good rest and try to keep the shape until Rio, that’s the plan. You never know, because it is difficult. You can plan something, but it works out differently. Last year I was still ok in that moment, so I think it is possible.”

Both for the women and the men, the road race course in Rio is seen as a one-off opportunity for many. Climber-focussed courses are rare and, with a competition that only takes place every four years, nobody wants to miss out. Van der Breggen is not leaving any stone unturned, and she was one of several members of the Dutch team to head out to Brazil late last year to take a look at the proposed course.

“It’s a difficult circuit, it’s really hard. I wasn’t in shape at that time. It was really hard at that time, but maybe when we are there in top shape, then it will be ok. It’s really special,” she said. “I like climbing… no I don’t like climbing it hurts, but I’m good at climbing so for me it’s good. I think it’s a big opportunity. It’s once in four years, and when you have a circuit like this you have to take it with both hands, and I’m just trying to be in the best shape. You try, but you never know.”

The Dutch national team qualified for the full quota of four riders and heads towards Rio with serious strength and depth. Coach Johan Lammerts had a tough choice and had to leave on-form rider Chantal Blaak behind, a decision that was seen as contentious. Joining van der Breggen on the trip of a lifetime will be time trial medal contender Ellen van Dijk and former trade teammate Annemiek van Vleuten. Most importantly, possibly, is the inclusion of Marianne Vos. The 2012 Olympic champion has named van der Breggen as the team’s main medal hopeful, but she believes that Vos being part of the squad will give them more options.

“I’m really happy that she’s back again,” said van der Breggen. “You will see it in the race. If the climb is hard and there is a small group in front then hopefully she is there because we have so many more opportunities with Marianne there. If she’s not there, then that is a pity, and I will try to do it. At least it is really good to try and be there together and to try it. Hopefully, the climb will be hard enough.”

The Giro Rosa gets underway on Friday, July 1 with a short two-kilometre prologue in Gaiarine, while the Olympic road race will take place on Sunday, August 7.

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