Of course there are many more things I loved about this race, but in no particular order, here are some of my favourites....
1. Marianne Vos and the Rabobank tactics
The 2011 and 2012 Giro Donne winner was always going to suffer in this race, because while it might seem that Marianne Vos can do everything, she's not a rider who likes the gruelling climbs. One of the reasons she won both her previous maglia rosas was because the routes included big descents, and the climbs had flats or dips for her to get her breath back on - while this year the two climbing stages had the mountains at the end, which pretty much just went straight up. But even though this route wasn't ideal for her, she and her team, Rabobak-Liv/giant, were still going all out to try to get as much time as they could before they hit the big mountain days. From winning as many of the intermediate sprint bonifications to get precious seconds towards the General Classification, which gave Vos the maglia rosa after Stage 1, to breakaway attempts, the team really animated the race. My favourite-favourite Rabo moments? Oh ok, you twist my arm...
Cerro al Volturno via velofocus.com
On Stage 3, Vos "accidentally" started a breakaway with her team-mate Lucinda Brand and four others - the then-Green Jersey Vale Scandolara (MCipollini-Giordana), then-Best Young Rider Barbara Guarischi (Vaiano Fondriest), Team USA's Lauren Hall, and Aussie spitfire Tiffany Cromwell (ORICA-AIS) - after no other riders had been able to keep up with them on the long descent 14km into to the day. Gradually the breakaway whittled down to just Cromwell and Vos, and there were some beautiful Vos-descending moments - for example, mid-race.
It looked like it would come down to a final duel all the way to the spectacular Cerro al Volturno finish, until with 7km to go, Cromwell was following Vos downhill and crashed in a corner, taking her out of contention. Watch it here - Cromwell was back on her bike as soon as she could manage, but at the speeds Vos was doing, she was gone.
It had been such great racing - no matter how the chasers worked, they couldn't catch the pair, and watching the pair work together in such a perfect, complementary fashion - Cromwell setting tempo on the climbs, Vos leads through the descents - was a masterclass. It would have great to see them attack each other at the end, and have a battle all the way up the narrow, super-steep, beautiful final climb into Cerro - but watching Vos ride it solo, pushing hard for every advantage and then Tibco's Claudia Häusler showing us she was more than back on top, racing for second place in the elite group of riders who were left as GC contenders after the punishing stage. Cromwell's crash aside, the stage was exciting from start to finish, and 'watching' on twitter it was nail-biting - would the break make it or get caught? All that in stunning scenery... a perfect stage! To watch an hour of video from the stage, start here and let the playlist run through - and here's the race highlights video, with Vos interviewed in English afterwards - and read Tiffany's take on the day on her CyclingTips blog.
After Vos had lost her maglia rosa to Mara Abbott (USA) in the mountains of Stage 5, and Abbott had extended her race lead on Stage 6, Rabobank came back with an absolute masterclass in how to foil the peloton in a sprint stage. To watch the final kilometre, with Lucinda Brand in her Netherlands Champion jersey, and Vos in the ciclomino points jersey, fast forward to the nine-minute point here:
So much fun! With four sharp corners in the very last section of the lap, it soon became clear that Brand wasn't racing through them as a lead-out, she was attacking to win! Such perfect Rabo tactics, as the other teams had to make a snap decision - let Brand steal the victory, or chase her down and lead out Vos? Three-time World Champion Giorgia Bronzini took the risk - and ended up with Vos locked on her wheel then swooping past to win - stunning racing! I loved it not only because it was so clever, but because it really felt like Vos would have been just as happy had Brand won and she taken second - amazing team-work.
To watch the whole hour of video from the stage, start here and let the playlist run.
Speaking of Vos' sprint-skills, I have to mention the finish of Stage 2 - it's still one of the best bits of bike handling I've ever seen. Vos was sprinting against Bronzini again - leading, and going at top speed, when her front wheel hit a pothole, and her bike went from this (scroll down to the photo) to a save that left her not only NOT crashing hideously, but ending up in second to Bronzini in a photo-finish! Bike-save from 3:10
I have no idea how she did that! But I liked her even more when afterwards she blamed herself - they'd crossed that line three times already, so she knew the hole was there - and said it was luck that caused her not to crash, not skill! You can see her talk about it in English at the end of this highlights video - and here she's talking in the Specialized-lululemon Stage 2 video - with Evie Stevens and Tayler Wiles - and here's the Wiggle Honda video - from preparation to the race car to celebration!
2. The race tribute to Elisa Long Borghini
My second favourite moment came in Stage 6, when the race passed through Elisa Longo Borghini's hometown, Ornavasso. Longo Borghini had been one of the riders to watch in the Giro, especially after a fantastic season, winning the Trofeo Binda World Cup and a second place in the Flèche Wallonne, among other podiums. But then, the week before the Giro started, after coming second in the Italian National ITT Champs, the 22 year old crashed hard in the Road Race, fracturing her hip and ripping open her stomach. This obviously put her out of the race - but she was most definitely there in spirit, cheering her team-mates on on twitter and in other ways. So when the race was coming so close to home, she borrowed a wheelchair and was on the road-side at the intermediate sprint point, cheering them on
Because she'd told the peloton where she'd be, her Hitec Products UCK team-mates were all on the front of the peloton to grin and call to her - with other friends in the bunch saluting her, and her team staff leaping out of the car to greet her. I've got to admit, when I watched the video (from 2:45), I had a tear in my eye...
I have no words for describing how happy I am for having seen the @GiroRosa2013 peloton! Thanks to everyone! This is why I love cycling!— Elisa Longo Borghini (@ElisaLongoB) July 5, 2013
To watch the full video of Stage 6 - with beautiful views, big mountains, and Mara Abbott confirming her return to the top of cycling with a huge attack in the final 3km, start here and let the playlist run - and to find out why Fabiana Luperini was disqualified at the end of the stage, read the race report. Longo Borghini answered some questions for us on how her recovery's going here - here's to her coming back even stronger!
3. The race's excellent online presence
Following the race was a lot of fun, and a huge amount of that was down to the Giro Rosa's media team, who had me on the edge of my seat with their updates, and kept me entertained and interested with all their updates. Their twitter account was updating in Italian and English, live from the race and RTing interesting information and tweets - and their facebook had updates and great photo albums - so we could see photos of the finish tweeted almost immediately. It wasn't live tv coverage, but it was the next best thing - and I particularly appreciated the translations in the official videos and all the other great work of Giulia De Maio and Serena Danesi. Here they are, in their Press Office, on the final stage. I don't know the names of the other staff who worked on the race, but I'm truly, truly grateful, especially after the race so nearly was gone forever - grazie mille a tutti!
4. Velofocus and the women's cycling communities
I spent pretty much the entire race drooling over the scenery and wishing I was there myself. Well, maybe not for the 500km + transfers, but for everything else... But getting to watch Sean/Velofocus' journey alongside the race was a lot of fun. I always look to Velofocus' race previews for the best stats, profiles, maps, information about prize money and much more - and while I was jealous as hell, I was so happy for him being out there - and following along with his twitter, his race photos and his team presentation videos, I felt like I really understood the race atmosphere. Here are some of my favourites of his shots - big thanks to Sean for the very kind permission to use them
Vos and Bronzini go head-to-head, just before the pothole - Stage 2
Evelyn Stevens gets watered by a fan on the climb - Stage 5
Claudia Häusler and Tatiana Guderzo on the podium - Stage 6
Team USA celebrating Mara Abbott's Giro won - Stage 8
And it wasn't just Velofocus - sharing the race with other online fans made it SO MUCH FUN! I love the conversations on twitter and in the comments here, and getting to know new people through the race. There's something lovely about sharing the race with online friends that makes it even more fun - and getting to enjoy other people's detective work, as they found things to read or look at just makes things better for everyone.
5. The riders!
Finally, my huge thanks to the riders, who make the race - not just in their riding, but the riders who tweeted those great one-liners (and I'd like to see more huge mountain-top finish, just to read the tweets when the grupetto-types get back down) or blogged about the race, or took photos, told us about it. I especially enjoyed Tiffany Cromwell's blogs on Cycling Tips, Gracie Elvin's and Lucinda Brand's on their websites and as always, Marijn de Vries' story-telling.
I also loved Amber Pierce's video reviews. Amber wasn't racing the Giro, after early-season injuries, but I really enjoyed her insights into tactics, and what it's like riding those kinds of stages. You can find those videos on my youtube.
From a personal point of view, I was blown away by how many riders took time out to answer my questions about the race, before, during and afterwards. The peloton seem so enthusiastic about what they do, and so generous with their time and insights. Especial big thanks to Jessie Maclean and Amanda Spratt for their daily Q&As for the Café, and to ORICA-AIS for arranging it all - find them in the Rider Reaction posts, and all the riders' pre-race posts in the Story Stream - and look out for riders' post-race thoughts later in the week!
I asked on twitter what other people's favourite moments were, and here are some of the replies (many apologies if I left anyone out!) - and I'd love to know more people's best moments, either in comments on on twitter - and look in the comments for other people's too!
Vos managing to keep up right on the final sprint for Stage 2 @_Pigeons_ Such impressive bike handling skills!— Total Womens Cycling (@TtlWomenCycling) July 8, 2013
@_pigeons_ Thanks Sarah. Another favourite: Stg3 final climb. Locals push riders up final climb.TaylerW, clearly exhausted refuses the help.— Velofocus (@velofocus) July 9, 2013
and a pro-rider reply
The women don't stop - tomorrow the Tour de Bretagne starts, 11th-14th July - and French sites le Blog de Gwéna and VeloNova will be great places to find information, along with the race website and the startlist on CyclingFever. Then another of the biggest women's stage races, Thüringen Rundfahrt in Germany, from 15th-21st July; and at the same time, one of the best places to talent spot for future bragging rights, the European u23 and Junior Road Championships on 18th and 21st July - and Tour Féminin en Limousin 15th-18th July. So much cycling! For all of these races, look for race previews on Velofocus and Les Déesses de la Route, and general information and videos on the Cycling Fever women's section. And keep coming back to the Poduium Café Women's Cycling section, we'll tell you all about it.
For stage reports and rider reactions after every stage, visit the Podium Café Giro Rosa Story Stream - the race reports have as many videos and links and I could find, with conversations in the comments.