After winning stage 4 of the 2022 Giro d’Italia Donne and taking the overall lead, putting five minutes or more into all but two of her competitors, Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar Team) was adamant that she would not get ahead of herself and take the race “day by day”.
Van Vleuten learned this lesson the hard way in 2015 when her thoughts already were on the next day’s time trial during stage 4. She lost two minutes in the crosswinds and eventually finished the race in third place, only 1:39 minutes down.
On the final climb to Bergamo Alta, Van Vleuten was in 15th position in the peloton just as it caught the last remaining attacker – normally a good place to be, neither too far ahead in the wind nor too far back. But as chance would have it, Élise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM), riding just in front of Van Vleuten, crashed when the road surface changed from asphalt to cobblestones, and the maglia rosa had to brake hard and unclip her left foot to avoid falling herself while riders around her could swerve around Chabbey and continue almost unhindered.
Having to get going from a standing start put Van Vleuten on the back foot as attacks for the stage win started flying further up the road, but with her usual determination, the 39-year-old went all-out.
Her GC lead was in real danger as Mavi García (UAE Team ADQ), second overall at 25 seconds, had bridged to a move by Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma). The Spanish champion went to the front of the group immediately to increase the advantage.
Van Vleuten herself had been chasing all-out on the last part of the climb to regain contact with the group of favourites. She reached the tail end of the group just as Longo Borghini attacked and continued to chase on the winding descent.
The front trio was at most 11 seconds ahead as Van Vleuten chased them all by herself, closing the gap 1.1km from the finish. There was another heart-stopping moment as a car pulled out on the race course at the same time, but the driver quickly reversed the car, and all the riders were able to go around.
On the final kilometre, the maglia rosa could relax somewhat and follow wheels as the rest of the group fought for the stage win. Van Vleuten crossed the finish line in sixth place and kept her GC lead intact ahead of the three mountain stages that will decide the outcome of the Giro d’Italia Donne.
Van Vleuten enters the mountains 25 second ahead of García and 54 seconds ahead of Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), who will be the riders she has to watch most closely. Fourth-placed Longo Borghini is a whole five minutes down.
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Lukas Knöfler started working in cycling communications in 2013 and has seen the inside of the scene from many angles. Having worked as press officer for teams and races and written for several online and print publications, he has been Cyclingnews’ Women’s WorldTour correspondent since 2018.