What can we say about Marianne Vos? She's won 12 World Championships across road, track and cyclocross, two Olympic golds, and she won the Giro twice, and in 2011 and in 2012. This year she started her road season late and has been having a lot of fun racing for her team-mates, most notably supporting Pauline Ferrand-Prévot's wins in the Flèche Wallonne and Emakummen Bira - which makes Rabobank-Liv an even more scary team to try and beat!
PdC: What's your goal for this year's Giro?
Marianne: Because of my late season start, I haven't put all my focus on the Giro Rosa so far. I knew it could be too early, but looking back on the last weeks I am really happy with my shape at the moment.
My team RaboLiv is going very well now and we are all looking forward to this Giro. With the team we will go for the pink, with also Anna van der Breggen and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot as our GC riders. We'll try to play the game with the three of us and we'll see how the race develops.
PdC: Which stages are you looking forward to most?
Marianne: Well, actually I'm looking to the Giro as the full tour. Therefore I'm not focussed on one stage in particular. The stage finishing in San Domenico Varzo is a stage I'm a bit nervous about, but on the other hand also looking forward to. The final day with the finish on Madonna dell Ghisallo will be very special too.
PdC: And is there anything you're NOT looking forward to?
Marianne: Uhm, I like Italy: the country, the people, the atmosphere, the stages, the food. In this race however you'll have to be focussed all the time. Probably there will be some crashes and that's a thing I'm definitely not looking forward to.
PdC: You've had so many good Giro moments - which are your favourites?
Marianne: It's difficult to pick one or a few out of so many good moments. In the 2011 Giro however, there was a moment on the Mortirolo where I felt that I could be good enough to win that Giro. Before I had some doubts, so that climb gave me confidence about my own capabilities.
Also something that's nice every day: all riders in the team bus, trying to get ready for the stage. During the race you get more tired, but if the atmosphere in the bus is relaxed, that's very nice. We call it one big 'cycling holiday', especially in the worst moments of tiredness.
PdC: What will you pack in your Giro survival kit?
Marianne: Books! To kill the time in the car on the way back to the hotel.
You can follow Marianne though the Giro on her twitter, and on her excellent website, which pulls together everything from all her social media (her facebook, instagram, YouTube and Strava - where she'll be uploading details of the stages, so you can see exactly how much effort this race is) - and hopefully RaboLiv will be making their great race videos and putting them on their YouTube.
One of the riders to watch whenever the roads go uphill is Alena Amialiusik. The Astana-BePink rider has just won the double of Road and ITT at the Belorussian National Championships, and will be hoping for glory in the mountains and in the GC.
PdC: What is the best thing about riding the Giro?
Alena: I've been living in Bergamo, Northern Italy, for 3 years already (time flies indeed!) and I feel I'm a bit Italian. Riding the Giro Rosa is something exciting because you can test yourself in the worst conditions. It is tough, long and no day is an easy day in that race. Only if you have a strong preparation can you succeed. It is the occasion for climbers like me to ride in our favourite scenarios, I love mountains and nature. We are wearing Astana colours, we must fight to make them visible for the fans.
PdC: What is your favourite memory from previous Giros?
Alena: I think my favourite memory comes from GiroDonne, two years ago I was in a break close to "my Bergamo", I was out with some true champions (Johansson, Arndt, Stevens and Vos) and I felt I was able to play my cards with them. I got dropped due to the crazy pace set by Arndt on the flat but I understood how much I loved that race. I crossed the line at the 4th place.
PdC: Which stages do you think will be best for you this year, and why?
Alena: I came to Italy thanks to my Team Manager Walter Zini (and my stubborn attitude) he saw me in Offida at European championship 2011. I like riding in that area because it has been the area in which I've had my great occasion to become a pro. I've also won Muri Fermani twice there, so I think the 4th stage will be evocative for me, we will pass by Offida and Fermo. I have not seen already the other stages but I like the race profile of some stages, but you know... Riding a stage is different from doing a recce. The Giro is long, everything can happen. I have a strong team, our DS knows the stages very well so we will see day by day. Only Riders can make a stage hard and "easy" stages can be tricky indeed, you can win a Giro in a hard stage but you can lose it during an easy one.
PdC: Do you have any advice for riders racing for the first time?
Alena: I advise the girls who are in the peloton for the first time this year to ride wisely; safety is important at every single second of any stage. We have many young riders in Astana BePink and I try to show them how to ride in the peloton, sharing your knowledge with young riders is a duty for us more experienced riders. Women's cycling is pretty hard to understand because it has a huge irrational component sometimes, young riders must understand that hard work and concentration pay off, always. We are lucky to be paid to ride a bike and travelling with it, I am living my dream, passion must drive any rider at Giro Rosa.
Alena has just joined twitter, so make sure you're following her!
Emma Johansson is the current number 1 in the UCI World rankings, who is excellent on pretty much every terrain, and a very clever rider indeed. Short and sweet answers from the current Swedish Road and ITT Champion
PdC: What are your most looking forward to from this year's Giro Rosa
Emma: Some good pasta ("al dente")
PdC: How have you prepared for the race?
Emma: Rest has been my focus these last weeks before and after nationals leading in to Giro.
PdC: What will you take as your Giro survival kit?
Emma: A good book and my ipad with a good new series "True Detective" (according to my little bro)
PdC: Why should people follow this race?
Emma: Giro has everything: prologue, flat stages, rolling once and hilly once so there will be action :)
Sharon is one of the strongest mountain domestiques, a Brit who's based in the USA riding for UnitedHealthCare and having great results, including winning the Queen of the Mountains jerseys at the Tour of the Gila and the Friends Life Women's Tour. She'll be racing for Mara Abbott, who's looking to win her third Giro title.
PdC: Looking at this year's Giro course, what are your goals? What are you looking forward to?
Sharon: My goal is to help Mara the best I can to set her up for a win in the mountain stages. Watching Mara attack!
PdC: What's your best Giro memory? And your worst?
PdC: What advice have you been giving team-mates like Hannah Barnes who are racing for the first time, and to Americans who might not be used to riding in Europe?
Sharon: We haven't discussed it yet but it will be staying near the front and making sure you recover well after each stage.
PdC: You've been racing in the USA (and doing really well, congratulations) - what are the biggest differences to racing over here? Have there been any surprises?
Sharon: The roads are bigger, the bunch is a bit smaller and there are criteriums in all the stage races. In some respects the racing has been harder than I expected and the standard of the peloton has been high. The courses have also been really challenging. At the Northstar GP we had a 156km stage and it seemed to be a cross wind for almost all of it! The courses are generally the same each year which means many of the US girls have done the races many times and know how different scenarios play out. This is quite an advantage.
PdC: And finally, what will you be packing in your Giro survival kit?
Sharon: Tahini, nuts, goji berries, chia seeds, raisins and lindt dark chocolate!
The punchy Australian sprint-star has a huge following, because of her gutsy sprinting and her honest, funny, forthright blogging. She'll be contesting the sprint stages, and when it goes uphill, pushing herself to the limits for Hitec Products' GC rider Elisa Longo Borghini. If you don't follow her already, her answers here might give you a taste of why you should!
PdC: What's the best thing about racing the Giro?
Chloe: I think just the feeling of being part of the biggest women's stage race. For me, not being a hill climber, I did feel quite a sense of accomplishment when I finished it for the first (and only) time in 2012.
I hope to finish again this year and totally expect to with the preparation I've had. Would be great to create some more good memories with my Hitec Products teammates with hopefully a podium, or better, on one of the sprint or intermediate stages.
PdC: What's your best memory of the race?
It's probably from my first Giro in 2009 when I raced with the national team. Overall it was a traumatic experience because I just wasn't ready but on one stage where we had to do two 10km climbs Ina-Yoko Teutenberg rode up to me in grupetto and asked me, by name, if I needed some more water.
I didn't realise she even knew who I was. I answered yes and next thing I know she's giving me her water bottle. As a 19 year old it was pretty awesome story to tell that one of the best riders in the peloton knew who I was, and what's more gave me her water bottle. I think Mum still has the Columbia-Highroad water bottle at home somewhere, I know she definitely has a Nederland Bloeit water bottle Marianne Vos threw in her general direction in 2009.
PdC: And your worst/or most embarrassing memory?
Chloe: My worst memory is, without a doubt, the day I abandoned the Giro in 2009 on the 7th (or 8th?) stage.
The stage started virtually straight up hill and I got dropped straight away. I was with a small group of riders and one by one they started grabbing on to the motor bikes and being pulled back to the group in front of them but I refused to use the motor bike.
Then it was just me, alone on this massive highway with still about 90km of the stage to go. I got into the sag wagon in tears and didn't stop crying until later that night. I felt like such a failure, but looking back I'm proud that I didn't cheat. I know I wasn't ready for that Giro and I really shouldn't have been there in the first place.
PdC: As a sprinter, how do you feel about those big mountain stages, and what gets you through them? What's it really like in the laughing bunch?
Chloe: I dread the mountain days, the reality is most of the time it is still a struggle to stay with grupetto. The hill climbers might be suffering at the front of the race but I'm still suffering at the back of the race.
I am more confident this year however. I've been working a lot on my climbing and I showed in Bira that I can make an impact on the hilly races and help my teammates so I think now that I'm older, stronger and fitter they are quite as daunting.
PdC: What advice are you giving your team-mate Audrey Cordon, about how to get through it as a first-time rider?
Chloe: I've yet to give Audrey any advice actually. Even though this is her first Giro it seems like she has done everything. She handles herself really well in all sorts of terrain so I know she'll be a fantastic asset to our hill climbers Elisa and Ashleigh when the roads tilts upwards and also for the sprint days.
I'm also probably not the best person to give advice actually! Out of the three Giro's I've started I've only finished one so maybe I'm the one needing advice! I've been known to send Ina a few late night emails asking for advice during races so she might be receiving a few of those next week. We'll see.
I'm looking forward to the prologue for sure - who doesn't love a prologue to start a tour?! Actually I just read that Alison Powers doesn't, but there's always an exception... The Giro is the only race where we get to travel around the country and really be on tour and I love this aspect of cycling. There is no other sport where you get to see so much of a country (even if it is often through eyes leaking lactic acid).
I've been doing some solid training in Spain, some double sessions, long days. I'm a little nervous to see how it translates to racing as it feels like aaaages! (admittedly my last race was 10 days ago but I miss the Tours, it's disappointing Thurigen is so close). Aside from training, I've been preparing my body for some decent Italian coffee, and I've avoided pasta and chicken for the past month.
The essentials in my Giro survival kit include:
- my breakfast nut mix
- headphones and podcasts
Why should people following this race? Is that a trick question??
Because you get to following ten days of racing in a row! Not just 10 one day races, but a tour and all the extra races within the race that come with tours. Each day will be exciting in itself but together? Well, too much of a good thing is great isn't it! The spread of talent across teams has already provided some exciting battles this year, so the biggest race on our calendar is sure to prove unpredictable and thrilling (it's a shame you can't watch it live).
If you love everything about le Tour de France then you would love the Giro. It has all the same games and stories and excitement and disappointment, only you tend not to get the same level of (mainstream) coverage. But I can assure you it is just as good a spectacle, only with less fanfare and freebies…and better pasta.
Besides, Italy provides a stunning backdrop to watch the world's best female cyclists rip each other to pieces, it's a wonderful juxtaposition of beauty and beast.
Jessie has one of the funniest and best twitter accounts around - if you're not following her, do it now!
If you've liked this, and want more, come back tomorrow, when we'll have more riders, including superstar Evelyn Stevens - and if you haven't read them already, more riders answer questions in the Giro on the Café:
- My interview with Emma Pooley, including the Giro
- Part 1 of the Rider Q&As, with Ash Moolman-Pasio, Tiffany Cromwell, Megan Guarnier, Alison Powers, Jolien D’Hoore and Lucy Garner
- Part 3 of the Q&As, with Evelyn Stevens, Ellen van Dijk, Audrey Cordon, Hannah Barnes, Valentina Scandolara and Elena Cecchini
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!)