Giro Rosa: Challenging course set to test world-class field

The Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile is set to host the best racers in the world at one of the biggest stage races for women, 10 days of tough racing from July 3 to 13 between the Slovenian capital Ljubljana and San Domenico di Varzo in northern Italy.

Rabo-Liv’s domination of last year’s race, of which they secured the top three overall places, may be dampened this time around with out the outright leadership of defending champion Marianne Vos, who has given up on her season’s targets in order to properly recover from a lingering hamstring injury.

The Dutch team will field current world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, who was runner-up last year behind Vos, however she too has battled with an injury to her leg since May and is only just returning to peloton. She recently won the French Road Championship, however; a sign that her fitness is good heading into the Giro Rosa.

Anna van der Breggen, who was third last year, is also back and in top form having just won the Dutch time trial title over the weekend. She’s had a strong season so far having placed third in the road race at the European Games, podium in a stage at the Euskal Emakumeen Bira, won the overall title at Elsy Jacobs, won two stages at the Energiewacht Tour and won the World Cup at Flèche Wallonne.

The team will once again include Katarsyna Niewiadoma, who was 13th overall last year, but has proven herself to be a top contender after recently winning the overall title at the Euskal Emakumeen Bira.

Rabo-Liv lost its powerhouse performer Annemiek van Vleuten to Bigla Pro Cycling, and after winning two stages during last year’s edition, she is sure to shine again. Bigla will also field South African champion Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Swiss time trial champion Doris Schweizer and Canadian road champion Joëlle Numainville along with their new signing Carmen Small.

“We want to do a good Giro overall,” said Thomas Campana, the team’s manager. “This is another big test for us and we want to honour the race and make it an exciting one. Together with all teams, we want to put on a great show of women's cycling for the partners and supporters of the sport. We've chosen a diverse line-up. It will be curious to see how we do it the time trials but overall we will look to do well with a balanced team.”

Two-time overall winner Mara Abbott, who placed fourth last year, will take the start line with a strong Wiggle-Honda squad. She will have the backing of Elisa Longo Borghini, who was fifth overall last year, and the team will field sprinters Giorgia Bronzini, a six-time stage winner, and Julien D’hoore.

“I am so excited for it to be Giro time again this year,” Abbott said. “This race is special because it is now our only stage race with truly big mountains, but the atmosphere and excitement of the race make it even more special. Taking part in this race has a magic of participating in something extraordinary that I haven't seen at any other competition.

“I am so proud to be on such a strong team as well,” Abbott added. “I am honoured to get to be on the roster with these girls. I can't wait!”

Alena Amialiusik, overall winner of the Garcia Orlova, will lead the Velocio-SRAM squad for a top overall placing. She recently won the road race at the European Games in Baku along with the Belarus national titles in the road race and the time trial.

"Our team is racing strong at the moment, with winning the Aviva Women's Tour of Britain and now so many great rides at the national championships. I think we have a lot of cards to play for the Giro Rosa and it will be an exciting stage race. I have seen the stages and it looks very open this year. With the individual time trial being so late in the race, it also has the opportunity to change the overall classification a lot. I think we can expect a very exciting race!"

Katrin Garfoot will be one to watch for a top place in the overall and she has the backing of the Orica-AIS squad, however, director Gene Bates noted that the team’s main target is to gain experience. “The first goal is to gain experience in a stage race such as the Giro. For the women, it’s the biggest race of the year and there is a lot of hype with that.”

Liv-Plantur duo Claudia Lichtenberg, a former winner of the Giro Rosa, and Sabrina Stultiens will be a pair to watch for on the climbs.

Recent British national road champion Lizzie Armitstead will debut her new jersey at the 10-day race with aspirations of bringing her Boels-Dolmans team success in the selective stages and sprints. Her teammates will include Evelyn Stevens and Megan Guarnier, who will focus on the GC, Chantal Blaak, Ellen van Dijk, Romy Kasper, Kasia Pawlowska and Demi de Jong.

“Megan and Evelyn are the riders we count on in the general classification. It will be a tough Giro Rosa with the hardest part at the end of the race. Megan got seventh last year and I think she can do better this year. We will have a stronger team with Evelyn Stevens on her side. We aim for the podium of the general classification, but that doesn’t mean there will be no chances for our other riders to try to win a stage. I think every rider in our team is capable of that.”

The remaining teams include Lotto Soudal Ladies, BTC City Ljubljana, Astana-Acca Due O, Alè-Cipollini, Servetto-Footon, BePink-LaClassica, Tre Colli-Forno d'Asolo, Top Girls-Fassa Bortolo, Michela Fanini-Rox, Aromitalia-Vaiano-Fondriest, Inpa Sottoli-Giusfredi-Bianchi and Nazionale Messicana.

The course

This year’s Giro Rosa will start in Slovenia and continue on into northern Italy. It will begin in the capital of Ljubljana on the evening of July 3 with a flat, two-kilometre prologue. It is a technical circuit with two 180-degree turns on course.

The racing will continue in Slovenia for stage 1 on July 4 with a 102.2km road race from Kamnik back to Ljubljana. The course is flat and fast with the exception of one seven-kilometre climb located at the halfway point, which could foil the sprinters’ aspirations for a bunch sprint and a chance to take the early leader’s jersey.

The peloton heads into Italy for stage 2’s 121km race from Gaiarine to San Fior in Trevisio. The riders will complete three initial circuits, before heading out on the larger course that includes three climbs followed by a long descent to the finish line.

Stage 3 will take the riders along a relatively flat 127.5km stage from Curtatone to Mantove. There is only one climb on course, in Monzambano, but it might not be enough to separate the field, and at nearly 80km away from the finish line, the sprinters could be treated to their first bunch kick.

Stage 4 will likely offer another chance for the sprinters to shine with a 103km flat stage from Pioltello to Pozzo d’Adda near Milan.

The climbers will be treated to their first uphill finish during stage 5. The 128.4km race will start in Trezzo Sull’Adda and finish on the long ascent to Aprica. The climb is not too steep and a small group is expected to arrive together.

The field will be tested once again on stage 6 with three categorized climbs ranging from six to seven kilometres each during the 102.5km race from Tresivio to Morbegno. The final climb is located within 20km from the finish line and could be an opportunity for gaps to form in the GC.

Stage 7 will start in the seaside town of Arenzano and contest the nine-kilometre climb over Naso di Gatto followed by the climb over Rialto before plummeting to the finish line in Loano. The stage is only 89.7km but it will surely shake up the overall classification.

Stage 8 will offer a day for the time triallists with a 21.7km parcours from Pisano to Nebbiuno. The time trial will be predominantly downhill during the first half and a gentle grade uphill on the last half.

The finale stage 9 at the Giro Rosa, 92.7km beginning in Verbania, is not a celebratory stage. It will be one of the hardest stages of the 10 days, particularly on the 13km finishing climb to San Domenico di Varzo. The climb was used on two previous occasions where both Abbott (2013) and Emma Pooley (2014) won solo. The climb is almost certain to decide the overall winner of the 2015 Giro Rosa.

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