Pooley and Häusler among favourites for Giro Donne

British champion Emma Pooley (Cervélo) is among the favourites for the Giro Donne, which gets under way with a short stage around the historic city of Trieste on Friday. This year’s edition is felt to be one of the toughest in the race’s twenty-one year history, with a gruelling stage to the top of the Stelvio awaiting the riders on the penultimate day.

Pooley was 4th overall in last year’s race, but appears to have stepped up a level this season. She has been in fantastic form thus far in the campaign, clocking up victories in the Flèche Wallonne, Tour de l’Aude and the Giro del Trentino.

Pooley is enthusiastic about the route, telling Cycling Weekly that  “it's pretty exciting, it's a really tough course this year. It suits the strength of the team really well”. She will be favoured to feature strongly on the Stelvio, and should be in the hunt for the maglia rosa from the stage three time-trial at Biadene onwards.

The biggest challenger to Pooley's pink jersey aspirations may well come from within her own Cervélo team. Last year’s Giro Donne winner Claudia Häusler will start as the nominal leader of the squad. The German impressed in taking a Tour de l’Aude and Giro Donne double in 2009.

However, if Cervélo choose to let the road decide the leadership of the team, she may just find herself serving as a super-domestique for Pooley. In any case, it is clear that Cervélo have considerable depth, with a roster that includes Britain’s Sharon Laws and Australia’s Carla Ryan, as well as sprint ace Kirsten Wild for th.

HTC-Columbia is also sending a strong contingent to Italy. Evie Stevens is a natural climber and impressed in the Tour de l’Aude before crashing. That was her first ever ten-day stage race however, and it might be the case that the experienced Judith Arndt will lead the team. Arndt arrives into the race in decent form after winning the German time trial championship and taking silver in the road race last week. The course may once more prevent sprinter Ina Teutenberg from repeating her four stage wins of 2008, however.

Mara Abbott will lead the USA team in the event and will be looking to go one step further than last year’s second place finish. A strong climber, she will seek to limit her losses in the 16.9km time-trial and if she is still in contention come the Stelvio, anything is possible.

A number of young riders will also be aiming to make an impact on the race. Rasa Leleivyte (Safi-Pasta Zara) will be back in action after her surprise sprint victories in the Tour of Qatar earlier this season. Annemiek Van Vleuten (Netherlands) put in strong performances in the Emakumeen Bira, as did Safi-Pasta's Elandora Petuzzo.

The demanding race this year travels east-west across northern Italy. The hilly stage five around the picturesque Lago d’Orta will be a highlight of an attractive route, and the climbing rachets up a notch from there on in. Stage seven sees the climb of the Giro di Lombardia’s storied Madonna di Ghisallo, before back to back stages in the high mountains to Livigno and to the top of the Stelvio round off the race. The Giro Donne finishes with a 115km stage on the famous Monza racetrack.

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