Last year's runner-up, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv) was one of the favourites for an overall podium place at the Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile. But as the South African climber struggles on the lower end of the top-10, her teammate Marianne Vos has given the team three stage wins so far during the 10-day race. Her success indicates that she is on track toward being a serious contender for another rainbow jersey at the Yorkshire World Championships in September.
"The pure joy of a stage victory," Vos wrote in a post on social media after her stage 7 victory. "Thanks CCC-Liv for the trust and support. A win from all of us. Had to dig deep until the end, but definitely worth it."
Moolman-Pasio had a solid start to this year's race and moved into third place overall after the first real mountain stage to Lago di Cancano. She then fell off the pace in the uphill time trial, losing 3:27 minutes to stage winner and maglia rosa Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) and dropped to ninth place in the general classification.
"Ashleigh didn't race as fast as she normally can," CCC-Liv sports director Jeroen Blijlevens said after Wednesday's ITT. "There is no clear identifiable cause. It is a pity, even more so since she was well-placed before. We don't give up, but the podium seems out of reach now."
Moolman-Pasio came into the race as an unknown after she suffered several injuries in the months leading up to the Italian stage race. A hard crash in the final of the Amstel Gold Race caused a vertebral compression injury that wasn't diagnosed at first. She raced the other Ardennes classics before seeking treatment.
A third place overall at the Tour of California indicated that Moolman-Pasio was on the right track again and recovering well, but in a crash on stage 3 of the OVO Energy Women's Tour four weeks ago, she sprained her ankle and bruised her back again.
In this light, it's not all surprising to see the CCC-Liv's GC hope perform below her usual level.
However, Vos has picked up the reins and is delivering more success than was perhaps expected: Thursday's stage 7 was her third stage victory in six days, and her 24th stage win in eight participations.
Always near the front in the Classics-like final, Vos followed the moves with nous and was unbeatable in the sprint atop the finishing climb to San Giorgio di Perlena. Moolman-Pasio also recovered one spot in the overall standings, moving into eighth place.
"Marianne had her eyes on this stage and said so in the team meeting this morning," said Blijlevens. "It was a punchy stage with a difficult finish, and in her current form, she can do very well in this kind of race. The great thing about this result is that last year, Marianne started her resurrection in the town that we finished in today."
Blijlevens referred to the eighth stage of the 2018 Giro Rosa that started in San Giorgio di Perlena. After a fast stage, Vos won the sprint of a small group in nearby Breganze after attacking over the top of the final climb – and in the months that followed, she was nearly invincible, winning the BeNe Ladies Tour, Vårgårda Road Race, and Ladies Tour of Norway.
Vos' big goal for the second half of the season is the UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire where she wants to win a fourth rainbow jersey in the elite women's road race. It will be held on a course that is similar to that of Thursday's Giro Rosa stage - a challenging parcours well-suited for the punchy Classics riders.
With three Giro Rosa stages already under her belt in addition to the Trofeo Binda, Tour de Yorkshire and a stage at the Women's Tour, Vos' form in 2019 arguably is even better than it was in the second half of 2018.
If she can line up in Yorkshire in the same condition that she currently exhibits, Vos will be one of the top favourites come September.
The trouble for the Dutch national team will be deciding which of its many talented champions to support in Yorkshire with the likes of Anna van der Breggen, Annemiek van Vleuten, Chantal Blaak and up-and-coming sprinter Lorena Weibes, among others. A good problem to have in the eyes of many other nations.