Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile - Preview

The 2016 Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile, or the Giro Rosa as it is also known, is expected to be a show-stopper with a world-class field. Some riders are on the hunt for the maglia rosa, some in pursuit of stage glory and others will be looking for gold-medal fitness ahead of the Olympic Games in August.

This year’s race, held from July 1-10 across the northern provinces Italy, is part of the new Women's WorldTour. The 11th round of the series will see a long list of big-hitters with defending champion Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv), world champion Lizzie Armitstead and WorldTour leader Megan Guarnier (both Boels-Dolmans).

Armitstead has won three rounds of the WorldTour series: Strade Bianche, Trofeo Alfredo Binda-Cittiglio, and the Tour of Flanders. Her teammate Chantal Blaak won at Ronde van Drenthe and Gent-Wevelgem, Van der Breggen (Rabo-Liv) won La Flèche Wallonne, Chloe Hosking (Wiggle High5) won the Tour of Chongming Island, Guarnier took the overall victory at the Women’s Tour of California and the one-day Philadelphia International Cycling Classic, and Armitstead recently claimed the overall title at the Aviva Women’s Tour.

Guarnier is currently leading the ranking with 624 points with Armitstead in second with 537 and Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5) in third with 463.

Guarnier turned heads last year when she won stage 2 and took the pink leader’s jersey, but what was more impressive was her (and her team’s) ability to hold onto that lead for the following five stages. She lost the lead to time trial winner Van der Breggen on stage 8. Fellow American and former two-time overall winner Mara Abbott (Wiggle High5) won the final mountaintop stage 9 in San Domenico di Varzo and Van der Breggen sealed the overall victory.

Spectators can expect Van der Breggen to be on the hunt for another overall win with tough competition from Abbott and Guarnier, who ended up third overall last year.

Other outside favourites for a GC are Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Rabo Liv), Evelyn Stevens (Boels-Dolmans), Flavia Oliveira (Lensworld - Zannata Etixx), Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) and Shara Gillow (Rabo-Liv), who were all in the top 10 overall last year.

Notable comeback riders include Emma Pooley, who has her eye on a gold medal in the time trial in Rio and recently signed a contract with Lotto Soudal Ladies. She is a four-time stage winner at the event and was second overall in 2011, but said she will race in support of teammate and former overall winner Claudia Litchtenberg.

Nicole Brandli, who retired from professional bike racing seven years ago, will start the race with Footon-Servetto. She was third overall in 2009, the same year Litchenberg (maiden name Hausler, ed.) won the overall title. Look for her to make her mark on the mountain stages.

Armitstead, along with several other notable names at the race, will be looking to capitalize on the challenging terrain over the 10 days of racing to build form for their goals at the Olympic Games in Rio.

This year's race will include a tough mountain finish to Tirano, passing over the challenging Mortirolo during stage 5. The women's peloton will also contest an opening 2km prologue in Gaiarine and a 21km individual time trial to Varazze during stage 7. They will take on one final mountain stage to the Sanctuary of Madonna della Guardia in Alassio on the Ligurian coast on stage 8. The race ends with stage 9 in Verbania, on the northern shore of Lake Maggiore, north of Milan.

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