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Giro Donne - Five Young Hopefuls

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Among the men you know exactly what a young rider is: they almost all started out as kids, before progressing through the junior and amateur ranks to getting that pro contract at some point in their early twenties then perhaps riding for two or three years as a theoretical contender for the white jersey. A junior rider in the women’s peloton, however, is a far more awkward thing to define cleanly. Just after the Tour de l’Aude, Ina-Yoko Teutenberg described herself as the oldest rider in the race. Not only was that not true, but one of those riders older than her was Sharon Laws of Cervelo, not quite a first year pro, but not much beyond that. Here at the Giro Bridie O’Donnell beats both of them and she genuinely is a first year pro (for a rough count, I reckon that there are eight riders on that iffy Giro start-list older than Ina – the UCI licence is a cruel mistress). Then at the other end, multiple world champion and Olympic gold medal winner Marianne Vos is still technically a young rider even if it doesn’t really seem fair to the others that she is. So in keeping roughly with the spirit of the white jersey, over the page I’ll run down five youngsters who are worth keeping an eye on, and who I reckon qualify as not so well known.

Elena Berlato (born 1988 - Top Girls Fassa Bortolo - Ghezzi) was runner-up in the white jersey competition last year, and by the look of her results so far in 2010, she spent a lot of the winter going up and down hills. She stayed with the lead group in the Trofeo Alfreda Binda right to the end and finished a respectable seventh, then got an eighth place in the Fleche Wallonne, once more just ahead of Judith Arndt. Then just a few days ago in the Giro del Trentino she ended up with a sneaky seventh place in the final GC just by consistently staying with the lead group on every stage

Tiffany Cromwell (born 1988 - Australia National Squad). Well you didn’t think that we’d forgotten her, did you? Tiff’s been riding the top European races since 2007 and been steadily improving all that time until this season, where things don’t quite seem to have clicked. Not that she’s having a bad year, it’s just that after her stage wins last summer in the Tour de Limousin and the Route de France I’d been expecting a few more podium places this year. Actually a lot of the Australian girls have been hiding in the peloton this year – I wonder whether the focus of the entire team is on peaking for their home Worlds in September. Tiff can both climb and timetrial reasonably well, so if she has been training for this race she's got a pretty good shot at doing well.

Eleonora Patuzzo (born 1989 - Safi - Pasta Zara) is the youngest of my five, but probably has the longest palmares. She was world junior champion on the road in 2007, rode and finished the Giro in 2008 while still only eighteen, took part in stage races in Spain, Italy, France and Germany in 2009 and just last week at the Tour of Trentino won her first UCI race when she outsprinted Judith Arndt and Claudia Hausler in Cles at the end of a very soggy stage 3 of the Giro del Trentino. If the Italians worry that this year’s Giro is going to be Anglophonic (and the RAI commentators talk about this all the time) then here’s one hope for them for the future.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (born 1985 - Lotto Ladies Team) The oldest of my five names to keep an eye on, and one who’s not actually eligible for the white jersey unless they extend the date (competition cut-off is born 1987 or later, but if they don’t have enough entrants they may extend it to 1986 or 1985), but this is her first season in Europe so I’m making my own rules. She rode better than I was expecting in the Emakumeen Bira and if her final position didn’t show it, that was more down to an unfortunate series of mechanicals than anything else. Read her own version of what happened on her website complete with one very frightening photo of the mist that came over the course on the last day. And I can’t track it down now, but someone posted a piccie of her on Twitter during that race and she is pretty tiny. Ash did a recce of a couple of the Giro stages last week. Note that while the men go in the team car with team back-up, she just filled a rucksack and set off on the train with her Pinarello.

Irina Molicheva (born 1988 - Fenixs - Petrogradets). Here’s a funny thing. I’ve been noticing Irina in races all this year, and seeing her regularly making the important breaks. Yet when I went to CQ to check up her actual finishing positions they look fairly unspectacular. It doesn’t help that the team website is not one of the most informative (though it’s a long way from being the worst), nor that she’s been riding a lot in Russia. All I can say is believe me, I’m not just putting her name down as a way to get to five.

That’s my five, now it’s time for me to sit back and wait for the bricks thrown by enraged mums.