Exclusive to the Café! Four riders tell us about their Giro Donne

The Giro Donne more than lived up to it's reputation as the best, most exciting women's stage race of the year - and a week after it finished, I thought it would be fun to know more about how it really was for riders to race. So I asked some!

Find out below the jump what it was like for Tiffany Cromwell and Shelley Olds to win their stages, how Giada Borgato enjoyed riding in her brand-new Italian Champions' jersey, and what it was like for Iris Slappendel to be riding in support of the maglia rosa, Marianne Vos.

We'll start with Tiffany Cromwell - the Orica-AIS rider attacked at 27km, and solo-ed for 107km to win Stage 5. I started by asking her what she was thinking when she attacked....

We had a team meeting in the morning, on paper the stage was dead flat and one for the sprinters. It was also the mid way stage of the tour so we were thinking about what other teams might do, eg. want an easier day, set it up for their sprinters etc. Then the point was made that we shouldn't worry about the other teams plans and focus on our own and what we wanted to get out of the stage. We don't have a sprinter, we had a number of GC cards to play but also a number of girls that were capable of stage wins. So it was a case of if we wanted to win the stage how would we do it. Go on the attack. We tried a lot in the beginning, getting small gaps but nothing sticking, the roads were small and technical so it was a good area to do it before we got on the bigger roads. Finally I tried one last time and I got a gap. The plan wasn't to go alone but hopefully have a small group but nobody wanted to join me. To start with I was thinking maybe I should go back and we try again being so early in the race but I waited till my team car came out to me and asked the D.S and he said it was a good situation but be prepared for a long day.

And when did you start to think you might take the win?

It probably wasn't until about the 20km to go mark when I was still around 11 or 12 minutes, I was holding good pace and doing the calculations of how much faster they would have to ride in order to catch me by the end and I thought unless I completely died then I should be able to hold them off. At the time I was still feeling strong and the gap was holding steady, then at around 10km to go I was pretty certain I had the stage as long as nothing drastic happened.

When you're out all alone for so long, what do you do to keep focussed? (Monty thought he saw you singing, on the video)

Talk to myself. No I wasn't singing but maybe I was moving my lips in what I was thinking. I was mainly focussed on my speed and trying to hold around 40km/h as it was flat roads, not much wind so I just got into time trial mode, looking for the shortest line always and turning over the pedals keeping on top of the gear. The cars and the moto's also kept me entertained, always coming up with water and time gaps and also each time my D.S came up I had a bit of a chat. There was also a point that probably not many people knew about but they took me off course for about 500m, missing a turn then having to go around a roundabout and back, made for a bit of confusion but luckily I didn't lose too much time from it.

Were there any moments in the whole race you'd like to forget, or at least have a chance to do again?

Not that I can really think of, it was a pretty nice tour as a whole. You can always go back and think what if I pushed this bit harder to make the split or countered a move or what not, it is what it is, I raced hard, exceeded my performances and getting closer to being in that front group when it really gets hard and just developing as a rider and team mate and really enjoying having a distinct role to play in each race we start.

And finally, apart from the win, what was your favourite moment of the Giro?

I would probably have to say the start in Naples, yes it was a crazy city, few near death experiences but rolling out of there on the first stage in neutral, having a lot of people around seeing us ride by was nice as more often then not in women's racing we do lack the big crowds and atmosphere. Also the TT in Rome, it was a really fun course and it isn't everyday you get to race past the Coliseum on a completely closed road. Finally celebrating my birthday with my team mates, they made it a fun day and I even had one of my team mates who wasn't racing bring us cake.

Here's a photo - by CJ Farquharson, provided by the Giro Donne - of Tiffany's win - and to see how it played out in real life, check out the race organisers' 4.5 min video and the 50min race report. And to find out more about Cromwell, follow her on twitter!

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Shelley Olds

Stage 5 had looked like one for the sprint teams, before Cromwell pinched the win - so the sprint teams were out in force for what looked like their last chance - Stage 6. This one ended in a more traditional style, and when Marianne Vos started her sprint early, USA super-sprinter Shelley Olds of AA Drink-Leontien.nl kept her cool, and timed her own move perfectly, to blast past and win the stage - an American winner on the Fourth of July. I asked her about how it felt:

Can you tell us a bit about the actual sprint? It looked fantastic from the video, you timed everything to perfection. How does it feel to outsprint Vos and Bronzini - and on the 4th of July, no less?

It was an incredible feeling, racing to the victory on the 4th of July. In the sprint, I was protected from the wind for the last kilometers by my teammate, Sharon Laws. She put me on the wheel of the best sprinters in the last kilometer. It was a hard, fast finish and it had been a difficult race until the end. I was in perfect position in the last 300m and I timed my sprint just right and was able to come around Marianne Vos before the finish. It felt amazing to be successful in the sprint, after so many mistakes I have made this season. I believed that I was capable of winning, especially after how close the sprint was against Vos in Stage 1. I was truly ecstatic and so proud to win for America on such an important day for our country.

You seemed to be out in a lot of attacks, riding for intermediate sprint points etc - and your ITT was superb. What was your plan with that? Riding for fun, Olympic training or just because you could?

I was racing the Giro Donne this year as my final preparation race for the London Olympics. I had trained very well going into the Giro and I knew that I was ready to race hard and get the most out of the race as possible. I also knew that I was a part of a team that could contend the overall, so I raced very aggressively for my team, to help us with our GC ambitions. I also wanted to make sure that I was pushing myself everyday. You cannot simulate the fitness you get from racing in your daily training, so I wanted to get the most out of each day.

So, I guess my answer is yes. I was riding for fun (because I much prefer to be aggressive in a race than sit and follow wheels), I was racing hard for Olympic training, and because I came very prepared to the Giro, I knew I could push myself there beyond what I could do training on my own. I know that some people may have thought that I was going for bonus sprints for nothing and attacking like crazy for nothing, but every sprint was an opportunity to practice and every attack was a hard training effort for me. Also, by attacking I knew that I could help my teammates be a little more relaxed in the bunch.

My goal in the Giro was to win a stage and train hard, and I am happy to have accomplished my goals.

Were there any moments you wish didn't happen, or that you could go back and change?

Yes. My one big mistake and regret was not following the move in Stage 8. I was there and I saw the break go with Evie, Vos, and Arndt. I should have and could have been there, but I hesitated and then my teammate tried to jump across. I also wish that I would have jumped with her and tried to help her bridge the gap, but it was too late. I missed the move, she missed the move, and then we were stuck chasing a three-person breakaway in the end of a stage that should have ended in a field sprint. It would have been another opportunity for me to sprint against the best, and I missed it. It was a mistake of our whole team and we were disappointed at the end of the stage. I wish I could take those 5 seconds back and change the way I reacted.

And apart from winning stages, what's the best thing about riding the Giro?

The Giro is such an amazing race. It’s the longest and the hardest of all the stage races on the women’s calendar. It takes us all across the beautiful country of Italy. It attracts the best riders from all over the world and we get to race against each other on all different types of terrain, day after day. I truly love the Giro.

To read more about Old's Giro, check out her excellent blog about it on her brand-new website. It will be worth book-marking that - and her twitter - as Olds will be racing the Olympic road race in the stars and stripes - good luck, Shelley! Here's a picture of her win - again by CJ Farquharson, provided by the Giro Donne - and click through to the Stage 6 report to see videos and to listen to an audio interview.

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Iris Slappendel

Dutch women's cycling is full of great riders, but one of the best is Iris Slappendel. After a year troubled with injuries, and then the disastrous collapse of the Garmin-Cervélo team, it's been fantastic to see Slappendel back to her great, attacking form in her new team, Rabobank. She's a sprint and Classics specialist and a killer domestique, and here she was riding the Giro in support of the winner, Marianne Vos.

Is it very different, riding in Italy than it is in the Netherlands?

Well, you still have to ride your bike as fast as possible but there are some differences yes. For me the biggest (and less nice) changes were the temperature (hot!) and the courses (a lot less flat!). You also notice the bigger crowd and the enthusiasm of the public.

What do you like best about riding the Giro?

The best thing in the Giro is the atmosphere. There is a lot of attention for our race, in the Italian media, but also on the side of the roads, the start- and finish places. You see a lot of pink decoration along the courses and the Italians are always enthusiastic and cheering. They were especially crazy about Marianne, it is cool to see that she is so well-known in Italy. Because of all this, it is still a hard race but it feels more special than other races.

And are there any moments you wish you could forget, or have another chance to do again?

I have almost everyday a moment I wish I could forget, but mostly it has nothing to do with the race so I won't tell you about that! The race itself I am already trying to forget for a big part. I started with bad legs in Napoli and never felt good all Giro. I don't know why, because I had a good shape the weeks before the Giro, but it was the reason for a lot of suffering for me and I felt like I never really had a good day. For the team, the Giro went actually quite according to our plan, everyone was relaxed and we didn't make any big mistakes. Personally I had a bad feeling about the first stage, when we had to make a leadout for Marianne and I totally screwed up. But anyway, Marianne was still winning without a leadout so it wasn't a very big disaster. I am actually pretty good in wiping all the bad and painful memories and remembering the good ones, which I have a lot of from this Giro!

How does it feel, riding on the team defending the maglia rosa? Did you always know Marianne would win?

It feels great. I have ridden before in teams with girls who were able to win the GC or won a GC, but it was always a lot more stressful than with Marianne this Giro. I'm not sure if she is always as cool and relaxed inside as she looks to us, but it gives the team confidence, and it makes us also more relaxed and enjoyable to ride for her. I knew from the start that Marianne could win, but there are always things that can happen, so it was still a big relief when I crossed the line in Bergamo and knew she was taking the maglia rosa home.

You can follow Iris on her twitter and find out more about her on her two websites - her cycling site, and the one for her design business, which she runs in her spare time off the bike! Her bike site has great blogs on it, in Dutch (non-Dutch speakers, read them through Google translate) and she has a mid-race blog, and a post-race one. You should definitely read them, she always tells a great story.

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Giada Borgato

Finally, one of the riders we enjoyed learning more about in this race was Giada Borgato. Borgato is one of a really exciting generation of young Italian talent, and since moving to Diadora-Pasta Zara, she's just been getting stronger and stronger. Just before the Giro started, she won one of the toughest National Championships out there, taking the Italian road jersey in a solo attack. In the Giro, she looked delighted to be in the tricolore, as she supported World Champion Giorgia Bronzini in the sprints.

You looked very happy every time we saw clips and photos of you at the Giro. How was it, riding in the National Champion's jersey?

Giro was the first race where I wore my new jersey! and I think there wasn't a better race to wear it for the first time! around my country for 9 days, and people all over saying "congratulations" "can we take a pic" …that's why in every clip I was smiling! It's something special for me! just a dream!

What was your favourite thing about the race?

of course before the start the people around me, and the thing I ll never forget is the first stage when while we were riding, all the champions together, Teutenberg, Vos, Van Vleuten and such, half the peloton came to me saying good job, enjoy your year with the jersey! When I think about their words I'm still thrilled!

Are there any moments you'd like to forget? Or have the chance to do again?

There are many things I would like to forget. In every career there are bad moments. I had 2 hard years with health problem and 1 month before the national a bad accident with a truck during a training. I would like to forget, but maybe I did what I did because even these bad moments made me stronger! so never delete something

If you could win one race, which would it be?

Every win is a special and important win but I think that winning a stage in Giro could be something stored because it is an important race, with the best racers in my country! so i think this is!

You can follow Giada on her twitter - and to find out a bit more about her, read this interview with her by Ben Atkins in Velonation, after she won the Italian Championships. Here's a photo - by CJ Farquharson and provided by the Giro Donne, again, of Borgato lined up with the other national champions in the Giro

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Thanks very much to all the riders for answering the questions - and massive good luck to them for the rest of the season - it's fantastic that they take time out to talk to fans like us, and I really appreciate them!

To see more of CJ's Giro photos, check out her womenscycling.net and her photography site, CJFoto. And if you want to know more about the 2012 Giro, check out our Podium Café coverage, and my highlights of the race, with lots of video, links and other things!

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