Koos Moerenhout on the Giro Rosa, polemica and Rabo-Liv's 2014

One of the big talking points from this year's Giro Rosa was the final climb on Stage 9, the Madonna del Ghisallo - and whether, when Emma Pooley was up the road, and Rabobank-Liv riders (and top 3 on GC) Marianne Vos, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Anna van der Breggen were playing fair with defending champion Mara Abbott, who was around 1:30 back on GC. You can watch the video of the climb and decide for yourself (the full climbs starts at 18:16) - but I talked to Rabo's DS Koos Moerenhout, to ask him about the controversy, how it feels to head a team that gets an unprecedented three rider onto the final GC podium at the biggest women's race of the year, and what the next goals are.

PdC: There has been quite a discussion on twitter about the last stage of the Giro, on the climb to Madonna del Ghisallo, with some people saying it was dirty or unfair tactics by Rabobank, boxing Mara Abbott in to prevent her winning the Giro and so on – what’s your view about that?

Koos: I’ve seen that on twitter, and I’ve spoken with my team about it, and I don’t recognise my team as being unsporting or having no respect towards Mara Abbott, because there’s a huge respect for Mara as the defending champion of the Giro, and if Mara feels offended by their style of riding, I’m pretty sure they regret that.

The race evolved as it did, and in the end Mara was the only contender left, and how I see it is three riders from my team were maybe a bit enthusiastic, over-excited about reaching an unbelievable goal of being 1, 2 and 3 on the podium.  And so they rode on the limit, but I don’t think they went over it – and Mara had other opportunities to attack, and it’s not fair to say that Mara could have won the Giro on the last climb – I think she was in better form on the day before, when she was quite some distance back on GC and took some time back.  But the Madonna del Ghisallo was a different kind of climb than the one on Stage 8, which was 13k and hard from the start.

The Madonna del Ghisallo was basically a really hard 4k, a couple of flat kilometres flat and then the last hard k, so I think it would have been quite hard to make up the time she needed,  even if she was feeling much better than the Rabo girls.  But that is all speculation, to say she could have won on the last stage.

PdC: We don’t see the whole part of their race on the tv, of course, because it was focusing on Emma Pooley in the lead – there were 4 or 5 moments where Mara was being boxed in, and you could interpret that as that happened the entire way up, or you can interpret it as the rest of the time she had chances to go – from your perspective, what was more accurate?

Koos: The tactics of the team for that day were to isolate Mara before the climb – that wasn’t the job of Marianne, Pauline or Anna, but their colleagues, and they increased the tempo before the climb so that Mara would find it hard to start the climb at the front.  By doing that, it would make her use energy before the climb started.  I think that part worked out pretty well.  And then the climb came and everybody was more or less on their own – and on my team, everybody was given the chance to attack if they could, and that was the same for Mara.  I can’t say exactly how many moments there was boxing in – but in my personal opinion, knowing my riders, I don’t think that they behaved like that all the time.

PdC: That early attack at the bottom of Ghisallo, on the steepest section, by Kasia Niewiadoma was beautiful, and the other GC contenders had to struggle to get up to her – and Lucinda Brand did the same thing on one of the earlier climbs in the race, hitting it hard and making everyone work – Rabo really rode this race as a team.

Koos: I believe that the girls knew that they would have to give a lot of energy to defend the jersey – that was our tactic, and that was our strength, that we could put 8 strong riders together for the Giro, and from Day 1 a lot of our riders, including Kasia, Lucinda and Annemiek, were doing well on GC, so if they could get in a break, it would probably mean they had a good chance of being the best-placed rider there, and they wouldn’t need to work in the break because of team-mates behind, and other teams would need to spend energy there as well.

PdC: It was an incredible achievement to get three riders on the podium and six stage wins.  The one was funniest for us at home, but probably not for you as a team, was Stage 4, where Lucinda nearly won.

Koos: We kind of planned that attack, we knew it was a technical finish, and Lucinda is very good at that, she goes really well through the corners, and if the team happened to be there, and she could have the chance to take off the front, and the competition had to had chase – and if Marianne was still there, she had a chance too  – and if Lucinda had had a little bit more luck, that attack would have succeeded.

PdC: Poor thing, when she had her hands in the air, thinking she had won – but also lucky to have Marianne there to save it!

Koos: It’s always good to have Marianne as the back-up!  That’s the advantage of having Marianne, she can win on the uphill stages, but she’s also very hard and fast in the bunch sprint, so that gives her a lot of chances during the Giro.

PdC: She picked up about a minute, didn’t she, in the sprint bonifications – and some intermediate points – was that part of her plan for the GC?

Koos: Every time she won a stage, it was 10 seconds, that builds up.  But it was not really her plan.  Last year she was chasing the bonifications seconds a lot more, because she knew was not that strong going uphill.  But this year she’s climbing a lot better, which sounds weird, because last year she had an amazing season, but if you really follow her you could see she had a tough year last year, some injuries that meant although she could still ride on a good level, it took a lot of energy out of her.

PdC: I wanted to talk about Anna, too – on Stage 6, she wasn’t caught on the climb until after the GPM, and then on Stage 8 she made it away up the climb and was only caught in the very last kilometre.  Did you know she could climb that well?

Koos: To be honest, yes – Anna played the most important role for Marianne in her last two World titles, in Valkenburg and Florence she paved the way for Marianne.  And last year, whenever it was a tough race, Anna was there.  She had her own personal doubts about whether the Giro would suit her, because last year she didn’t perform the way she wanted, and I guess she overcame her demons about the Giro, because as you can see, she performed really well.  She had a few minor crashes, at the beginning of the race, which were not in her favour, but in the end she came back in a good way.

PdC: As the DS, this was an amazing Giro for you – how can you beat this?

Koos: You can’t beat it in the Giro, top 3 on the podium, it’s never been seen before to my knowledge – and also a lot of stage wins for the team.  I don’t know how to beat that, but the only thing we can do is aim for is personal growth for each rider and growth as a team.  That’s something we’ve been doing for the past couple of years – try to get everybody not only win races, which is important if you have the best rider in the world on your team, but also develop the other riders to be the best they can.

They have stepped up big time. If I look back at last year, for the first half of the year there was a big gap between Marianne and the rest of the team, and during the season the other women picked up really well, and from the beginning of this season, more or less from March on, everybody had great condition and they kind of chased each other towards a higher level.

PdC: When you look back at the Classics season, it wasn’t bad, but you didn’t have the results I’d expected from the team, with no wins for Rabobank until the Energiewacht Tour – was it hard keeping the motivation going, or did you know it would be so fantastic at this point in the year?

Koos: We knew that the races that suited us were still to come. Classics like Ronde van Vlaanderen suited us, but we came up against the invincible class of Ellen van Dijk and Lizzie Armitstead, and they beat us and we couldn’t do anything about it.  At the Ronde van Drenthe World Cup, Anna and Iris Slappendel were in the break and maintained it for a long time, and in the end Iris worked really hard to hold the pace and keep the chasing group away, and only Lizzie Armitstead was able to come back to Anna and beat her in the sprint, so I think we did the best we could, and we got beaten by the better rider.

PdC: Thanks for taking time out to talk – you really deserve this break.

Koos: It’s just a short break – we have La Course coming up and the World Cup races in Plouay and Sweden, and they need to be planned and organised, so it’s a very short break before I’m back in the "office".

***

All the Podium Café Giro Rosa coverage is in our storystream, with videos in each of the stage reports, and lots of rider Q&As.  Follow the rest of the women's cycling season through the front page, or our women's cycling section.

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