Ashleigh Moolman Pasio of Hitec Products has finished in the Top 10 of the Giro General Classification for the past two years, and last year was the first rider from South Africa and the African continent to get onto a stage podium, coming third on Stage 4. She recently was the highest non-Rabobank finisher in the Emakumeen Bira hilly stage race - and she's been saying that she'll be going to the Giro to hunt for stage wins and support her team leader Elisa Longo Borghini, making Hitec a super-formidable team!
PdC: Looking at this year's Giro, which stages do you think will be decisive? And which are you looking forward to?
Ashleigh: In women's cycling you have to be attentive on every stage. It's not like men's cycling where GC riders wait for specific stages i.e. mountain top finishes. Of course the last two stages with mountain top finishes will determine the final GC positions, but I'm sure that girls will try their luck even early on in the Tour where the roads are undulating, on the climbs that come early in the Tour or even on the descents (which Marianne is of course very well known for). For sure the racing will be aggressive from the start, as usually is in women's cycling.
I can't say that there is any stand out stages that I'm looking forward to in particular. I'm just looking forward to the Your and I'll be taking every day as it comes with my Hitec Team.
PdC: How have you been preparing for the race?
Ashleigh: Training has been going very well in preparation for the Giro. The Bira Tour was also great prep for the race, as it was a nice opportunity to test the climbing legs. I'm very fortunate to live in Spain close to the Pyrenees, so I've enjoyed some great training in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees. But actually, with the Commonwealth Games soon after the Giro, rather than preparing specifically for the Giro this year, I will actually be using the Giro as a build block/prep for the Games.
PdC: What's your worst Giro memory?
Ashleigh: Climbing Stelvio on Stage 9 in 2010 with a cold and blocked ears. I usually love climbing, but it was really tough doing such a massive climb feeling unwell.
Last year hitting the base of Mt Begua on Stage 5 way too far back. The descent before the climb came a few kilometers earlier than I expected, and caught me completely off guard and in bad position. This mistake cost me hugely! It was a hard lesson to learn!
PdC: And what's your best?
Ashleigh: Finishing on the podium in Stage 4 last year, when I finished a close 3rd place in an uphill sprint with Marianne [Vos] and Evelyn [Stevens]. This was my first Giro podium experience!
You can find out more about Ash in part 1 and part 2 of my interview with her before the Emakumeen Bira, where she talks in more detail about the Giro, and how last year's race went, and of course on her excellent blog and twitter.
For the past two years, Aussie Tiffany Cromwell has animated the Giro, winning Stage 5 in 2012 with a 100 kilometre solo breakaway, and having a dramatic Stage 3 last year, when she was the only rider who could keep up with Marianne Vos, until she over-cooked a corner, while descending like a demon. She'll be coming into the Giro with a super-strong Specialized-lululemon, supporting her team leader Evelyn Stevens, and making the most of any opportunities that come her way.
PdC: When you're looking at this year's course, what do you think will make the difference to the win? And are there any stages you're especially looking forward to?
Tiffany: It’s quite a well balanced route this year with opportunities for all types of riders. We have some flat stages for the sprinters, in-between stages for the all rounders and some tough climbing stages for the climbers. Ultimately though I think it will come down to a battle between the top climbers and whoever backs up the best as the toughest stages come in the second half of the race right the way to the end with the final stage finishing on top of the Madonna del Ghisallo. I haven’t really looked at the route in huge detail yet so I haven’t pin pointed a stage which I’m particularly looking forward to, the Giro is always a beautiful race and there are always a number of stages to look forward to.
PdC: Any you're not looking forward to?
Tiffany: No not really, I’m an all rounder, I love the climbs despite them usually being quite tough and raced aggressively, I can ride the flats and everything in-between. There isn’t really a stage that I’m dreading, again I haven’t really looked at it in full detailed but I love to race my bike whatever the stage or the terrain.
PdC: What are your best memories of the Giro? Winning your stage, and anything else?
Tiffany: Of course winning the stage two years ago is by far a standout. I have many good memories from the Giro, some highlights would be the couple of years we raced in the high mountains. Particularly the Stelvio stage, it’s such a tough climb but such a magic climb. The scenery is breathtaking (metaphorically speaking and literally with the altitude). I’ve celebrated my birthday every year for the last 5 years during the Giro so it’s nice to spend the day with friends and team mates.
The other great memory/highlight would be the stage last year when I was away for most the day and it had whittled down to a battle between myself and Vos. OK, so unfortunately it didn’t end the way I was hoping crashing so far to the finish but it was a day I felt so strong on the bike, being strong enough to be battling it out with Vos, some awesome descents, nice climbs. It was a good stage for the most part.
PdC: And what's the worst thing about racing there?
Tiffany: 10 days of colourless eating on your plate. Italians know how to do pasta very well but if that was all you were eating every evening along with chicken and if you’re lucky a dessert, you get sick of the sight of it. I love my colours on the plate, plenty of fresh fruit and veg and I miss that the most. Otherwise there could be far worse places to be racing your bike and there isn’t really anything too bad about racing there.
PdC: What advice would you give riders facing the race for the first time?
Tiffany: Take it day by day. Don’t get stressed out by the length of the race and the days coming up. Look for opportunities, find your group on the climbs and just enjoy the craziness of Italian racing.
Tiffany has an excellent website, brilliant twitter and to see the world through her eyes, her awesome instagram. I interviewed her before this year's Omloop het Nieuwsblad and you can read that here and here - and watch her guide to track-stands recorded while track-standing, in this Specialized video.
You know bike riders and their food! A rider with a different perspective on the pasta is Boels-Dolmans' climber Megan Guarnier
PdC: Looking at the race, are there any stages you're looking forward to?
Megan: Stage 3, it will be exciting because it is the first day the General Classification will play out, and I think the fireworks will really begin to fly on this day! It will definitely be a very hard day into the mountains and the race will start to shake up a bit.
PdC: And anything you're NOT looking forward to?
Megan: All of the stages should be exciting in one way or another, however, I am not really looking forward to Stage 2. There does not seem to be too many features, other than crit style racing, and so early in the race everyone will be really anxious, which might make the racing a bit dangerous.
PdC: If people are new to this race, why should they follow it, and what's special about it?
Megan: The Giro is one of the longest women's races on the calendar, which means anything can happen! Much like people love to see the dynamics of the Tour de France for the men play out, the women's Giro (and especially this year!) has many exciting stages where the race general classification can easily change. Of course, our stages are shorter, but this means that the real racing happens immediately. Unlike the long men's stages, where you can tune in 100km into the race and still figure out what happened, women's racing begins at the start line.
This is really the premier women's stage race on the calendar and all of the top riders will be racing for stage wins, sprint/QOM jerseys, and general classification; every team has its own goals for the race and that adds a lot of elements for spectators to take interest in.
PdC: What advice would you give to riders racing the Giro for the first time?
Megan: Enjoy the food! The Giro Rosa is the women's stage race that is known for the delicious Italian food! Sometimes eating can get boring day after day in a stage race, when you have to consume so much, but I find that the Giro has the best food on the calendar. The hotels in which we stay always vary, but the days you get to stay in the small family-run hotels are the best days for a great dinner!
Follow Megan through the Giro on her twitter, she always tells a good tale, and I've got a feeling about her in this race....
Short but sweet answers from another American, the current owner of the USA National Championships titles in the ITT, Road Race and Crit, Alison Powers, who will be coming over from her USA-based season to support her UnitedHealthCare team-leader Mara Abbott as she defends her title, and no doubt put some serious hurt on the peloton with her trademark attacks.
PdC: When you're looking at this year's Giro, which stages are you looking forward to?
Alison: The climbing stages where Mara can kick ass.
PdC: And are there any stages you're not looking forward to?
Alison: The prologue. Why not a real TT?
PdC: What's the best thing about riding the Giro?
Alison: The fitness gained from it.
PdC: What will you be packing in your Giro survival kit?
From climbers and ITT riders to sprinters.... Jolien D'Hoore is the 2008 Junior World Road Champion, and track star, who's been having a great season for Lotto-Belisol, having podiums in the Energiewacht Tour, Ronde van Gelderland, and wins at the Diamond Tour and her second Belgian road champion title. It's hard to believe that she's never ridden the Giro before....
PdC: This will be your first Giro Rosa - what do you think the race will be like?
Jolien: The race is going to be very hard, without any doubt. Especially if you’re a non climber like me. But I’m sure the sprinters will get their chances in the beginning of the Giro. Later on there will be great battles between the best riders in women’s cycling.
PdC: How does it feel to be riding it for the first time?
Jolien: I’m so excited to be a part of the Giro peloton. I’m really grateful that my team Lotto Belisol gave me this opportunity to start the Giro. It’s one of the biggest road races we have so I’m gonna enjoy every meter I ride.
PdC: You're a track star and sprinter - how are you feeling about the hills and the mountain stages?
Jolien: It’s like 2 different worlds, track cycling and riding the Giro. The main reason I'm riding it is to develop myself as a rider, to become stronger on the road and on the track.
PdC: What advice have your team-mates given you about the race?
Jolien: One of the things that keeps coming back they’re saying is that the atmosphere is great. They told me to make the race without speculating on my sprint. The goal is to come out of the Giro stronger then I began.
PdC: You've had a great season, with lots of podiums - what are your goals for the rest of the season?
Jolien: My biggest goal for this season are the Belgian championships tomorrow. I would be proud to represent the jersey every race. Other goals for me this season are the BeNe Ladies Tour and the Boels Rental Ladies Tour. I really love the Dutch style of racing so every chance I get to ride in echelons and in the gutter, I try to be at my best.
And in the day after answering these questions, Jolien won the Belgian National Championships, and was kind enough to answer a follow-up question:
PdC: What does it mean to be starting the biggest women's stage race in the world, in your national champion's jersey?
Jolien: It's going to be a special feeling riding the Giro with my Belgian jersey. I'm so proud to wear it and I'll try to show it to the world whenever I can ;)
Another former Junior World Champion, who won the rainbow stripes with her great sprinting in 2011 and 2012, and is also racing the Giro for the first time, is young British star Lucy Garner, who'll be starting for Liv-Shimano.
PdC: This will be your first ever Giro - what are you hoping for?
Lucy: I'm really hoping I can do as much for the team as possible, especially for our climber Claudia [Häusler]. It would be great if I could contest the sprint on the flatter stages but this is good training for me ready for the Commonwealth Games.
PdC: And how does it feel to be about to ride it for the first time?
Lucy: I'm very nervous but also excited to be apart of such a big event. It will be my longest and toughest stage race so far so I'm curious how I will do especially riding up the mountains. It's going to be hard but I'm prepared and ready for that.
PdC: As a sprinter, how are you feeling about the mountain stages?
Lucy: I wouldn't say I'm scared but I'm definitely curious how I will cope with them. I think I will just have to find my own rhythm and hang on as long as possible. I'm probably going to have a job to do so that will give me that extra push to help the team.
PdC: What advice have your team been giving you about the race?
Lucy: A lot of my team mates have obviously told me it is a very tough race but a great one to be a part of. I have no pressure from the team to perform on any of the stages so it's nice to test my abilities and see how I cope with it.
Part 2 of the Q&As, is up now, including with World and Olympic Champions, and 2011 and 2012 Giro winner Marianne Vos, and keep coming back for more and while you're waiting, don't forget to read my interview with Emma Pooley of Lotto-Belisol, who has finished 2nd on GC twice, on what she's hoping for this year. Part 3 of the Q&As, with Evelyn Stevens, Ellen van Dijk, Audrey Cordon, Hannah Barnes, Valentina Scandolara and Elena Cecchini - and Part 4, with Elisa Longo Borghini, Shelley Olds and Tayler Wiles.
If you want more information about the Giro, check out the race website, and my guide to following the race live, and watching it on tv/online - and Velofocus has excellent previews of each stages on his site. Omnevelnihil and I talked about the race and what we think might happen in our latest women's cycling podcast (it make have the odd swearword or two!)