Why Marianne Vos rules the roads: Giro Rosa Stage 3

Marianne Vos after Stage 3, Giro Rosa 2013 - https://www.facebook.com/girorosa2013

After two stages that ended in sprints, Stage 3 of the Giro Rosa was where the competition for the maglia rosa of General Classification leader would really kick off. A lumpy stage, that was last used in the race in 2009, the route was full of hairpin descents, windy climbs, and ending on a vicious steep little cobbled climb that reached 19% gradient.

The official race video, with English interview with Vos at the end:

RabosportTV's highlights,starting with an interview with birthday-girl Lucinda Brand at the start

The full hour of coverage is in 5 parts. You can watch part 1 - you can leave the playlist running to go automatically into the next ones, or click on part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5 - or here are the last two segments, with Vos taking the cobbled climb

The race started in the hill-top village of Cerro Al Volturno, heading south for 15km to Scapoli and starting a 67km loop through the hills, before returning to Scapoli and back to the start. With the first GPM point - where points are awarded for the Queen of the Mountains jersey - at just 10km, it was, like yesterday, fast from the start. A climb of about 250m was followed by 400m of descent - and here's where the first break happened almost by accident.

The riders had been strung out on the ascent, with Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini-Giordana) racing to gain more Mountains points, and other riders trying some early suicide-breakaways - but Scandolara crossed the line first, followed by Alena Amialiusik (BePink), ORICA-AIS' Tiffany Cromwell and Ruth Corset, over from Australia to guest-ride with Bizkaia Durango. With the peloton already divided into groups, and the descent a fast and technical one, Marianne Vos said afterwards that although she "didn't want to make any dangerous efforts", she looked around at the bottom of the climb, saw there were only five riders with her, and they decided to make a breakaway group and see if they could stay away.

Descending is one of those difficult technical skills, and for some reason a lot of the "pure" climbers, the mountain goats of the peloton, don't excel here. To do it well, you seem to have absolutely no fear, and watching it on tv can be exhilarating - real heart-in-mouth moments as riders swoop around the tightest hairpin bends, missing walls and fences by centimetres. Vos is a real genius at descending - fast and technically perfect, and this was a major factor in her previous two Giro wins. In Stage 4 last year, for example, Evelyn Stevens had started the stage in the maglia rosa, and crossed the top of the huge climb with Emma Pooley 50 seconds ahead of Vos, but on the descent at the other side, Vos had caught them and reached the bottom a minute and a half ahead, taking the stage win and reclaiming the pink jersey. With about 20km of continual small lumps and then more descents making up the next part of today's stage, it seemed a perfect chance for her to try to increase her race lead.

With her in the group were Cromwell, Scandolara, team USA sprinter Lauren Hall, yesterday's 3rd-placed finisher Barbara Guarishi in the white Best Young Rider jersey and Vos' Rabobank-Liv/Giant team-mate Lucinda Brand, who spent her 24th birthday working incredibly hard for Vos, pulling the breakaway forward. At the 30km point, the break had 50 seconds advantage on the chase, getting up to a minute and ten seconds but not much further - and at this point it looked as though the break was doomed, as first Guarischi and Brand fell back, and then Hall and Scandolara - especially with 25km of flat valley in the middle, and Specialized-lululemon and the USA National Team working hard on the front.

But somehow Vos and Cromwell stayed away, as the kilometres ticked down - and once they were back in the hills, they worked beautifully together, Cromwell taking the lead on the climbs and Vos on the descents that snaked around the hillsides and dived down through narrow village streets. They were very well-matched, and in the final 20km, it seemed as though they would stay together and race up that finish climb - and as Cromwell is a better climber than Vos, maybe she could win another Giro stage, to go with her Stage 5 win last year? But then, at 8km to go, disaster struck - following Vos' incredible lines, Cromwell's bike slipped out from underneath her, and she crashed on a curve. By the time she'd leapt back up onto the bike, it was too late - Vos couldn't stop at those speeds, and had disappeared into the distance.

In the ORICA-AIS race report, Cromwell was philosophical:

Q: What happened to you on the final descent of the day?

Technically, Vos and I are pretty evenly matched, except on the descents. We were flying down the descents because it’s the easiest place to put time on the peloton. I was following her wheel when we hit two tight switchbacks 8km from the finish. I’m not exactly sure what I did, but I slid out and came down. I got up quickly and still had an advantage on the girls behind, but I had lost my momentum.

Q: How are you feeling after your crash?

I lost a little bit of skin, but I’m okay. Mostly I’m disappointed to have been so close to the finish and not get the chance to go for it. I could have been on the podium or even contested the win. I guess I pushed a little too far, but to hold Vos’ wheel for as long as I did is an achievement in itself. Vos is the best bike handler in the bunch.

She's completely right - it's very hard to keep up with Vos when she's on a mission like she was today - racing with her fierce determination to squeeze every possible second's advantage out of the race, and on a course full of descents and the short, punchy climbs that suit Vos so well, Cromwell should be more than happy to have been the only rider capable of holding her wheel!

Cromwell was swept up into a chase group of eleven riders, the only riders left in contention. It was a highly select group, with the 2009 Road World Champion, Tatiana Guderzo (Cipollini) and three former Giro winners - Mara Abbot (USA), who won in 2010; Claudia Häusler (Tibco), 2009's winner, who beat Abbott to the win in 2009, aged just 23; and Fabiana Luperini (Faren Kuota) who won the Giro Donne a record 5 times, 95-98 and 2008. With them were more great climbers - Evelyn Stevens, Ashleigh Moolman; Shara Gillow (ORICA) and Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) who are great on these lumpy stages; and racing for the Best Young Rider prize, Rossella Ratto (Hitec) and Francesca Cauz (Top Girls). These were all that was left of the large chase group, as riders had worked their turn on the front and then fallen back, or crashed out of contention on the descents, or just not been able to keep up through the hills.

Vos was pushing and pushing, racing as hard as she could, extending her lead on the descent, until she hit the final climb. Rabobank had ridden that climb before the stage, so she knew exactly how to take it, and she pushed right to the end - winning solo and having to be pushed off the finish-line, to collapse by the railing.

Behind her, the front group raced each other up the winding cobbles, Häusler winning the uphill sprint, and Guderzo in third.

Here's Häusler talking about the stage at the end, in a Cicloweb video:

Stage 3

1. Marianne Vos (Ned) Rabobank-Liv/giant, 8:17:08
2. Claudia Häusler (Ger) Tibco, + 01:13
3. Tatiana Guderzo (Ita) MCipollini-Giordana, + 01:15
4. Fabiana Luperini (Ita) Faren Kuota, + 01:22
5. Rossella Ratto (Ita) Hitec Products UCK, + 01:24
6. Ashleigh Moolman (RSA) Lotto Belisol, + 01:29
7. Evelyn Stevens (USA) Specialized-lululemon, s.t.
8. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Netherlands National Team, + 01:32
9. Mara Abbott (USA) USA National Team, s.t.
10. Francesca Cauz (Ita) Top Girls Fassa Bortolo, + 01:36

All Vos' work had lead to her extending her General Classification lead, with the climbers taking over the top ten. Scandolara kept her green Mountains jersey, 1 point ahead of Vos, and Rossella Ratto stepped into Best Young Rider jersey - the second Hitec rider to wear it this year, and maybe helped by this!

General Classification after Stage 3

1. Marianne Vos (Ned) Rabobank-Liv/giant, 8:17:08
2. Claudia Häusler (Ger) Tibco, + 01:13
3. Tatiana Guderzo (Ita) MCipollini-Giordana, + 01:15
4. Fabiana Luperini (Ita) Faren Kuota, + 01:22
5. Rossella Ratto (Ita) Hitec Products UCK, + 01:24
6. Ashleigh Moolman (RSA) Lotto Belisol, + 01:29
7. Evelyn Stevens (USA) Specialized-lululemon, s.t.
8. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Netherlands National Team, + 01:32
9. Mara Abbott (USA) USA National Team, s.t.
10. Francesca Cauz (Ita) Top Girls Fassa Bortolo, + 01:36

Tiffany Cromwell wrote a great blog about the stage on CyclingTips - after all that, she finished 13th on the stage and on the GC, 1'57" behind Vos. With the next group behind Cromwell finishing over three minutes back, the General Classification contenders have been set... for now!

***

Tomorrow's Stage 4 will be the longest of the race, at 137km - with two nasty steep little climbs and an uphill finish - followed by a transfer of over 500km, before the mountain finishes of Stage 5 and Stage 6. Will that long day tempt the peloton to take it easy? It seems unlikely! Read about the stage on the race website and on the Velofocus preview, follow the stage on twitter - and come to the comments to talk through it!

***

UPDATE! I interviewed ORICA's Jessie Maclean after the Stage, and she told me how it felt having a team-mate up the road, what ORICA's Giro theme tune is, and all about performace-enhancing cacti. The post also has a little Q&A with Team USA's Brianna Walle, and a video review of Stages 2 & 3 with American racer Amber Pierce. Head over and read it!

If you want to hear omnevelnihil and me talk nonsense, rant, swear and laugh about stages 1-3, listen to the latest edition of our women's cycling podcast! And if you want to see what it's like at the Giro for fans, have a look at Velofocus' photos and read his adventures!

***

ORICA's Gracie Elvin has a blog about the stage on her website that you should read, and you can see other riders' reactions on twitter. As always, I'll edit more video in, and links to all the fun things I find - and as always, add anything you see, or any questions, put them in the comments!

UPDATE! CJ Farquharson's photos & stage report on womenscycling.net, Ben Atkins' Velonation report, Cyclingnews' stage report & photos, and Jen See's report on Bicycling.com.

Here's a video of the stage from the Boels-Domans perspective:

Boels etappe 3 (via nmgoud)


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