On Friday, it's the start of the biggest women's race of the year, the Giro Donne.
If you read Monty's race preview (and if you didn't - what were you thinking? Go and read it now!) you'll know what to expect from the course - but what are riders thinking about the race?
I asked Bridie O'Donnell, the Aussie cyclist for Top Girls Fassa Bortolo what advice she'd give to riders facing the race for the first time - this is her reply, just for Podium Café!
2010 was my first Giro Donne, my first ever 10 day tour, and my instructions were very explicit & simple:
1. We were there to win the tour with our leader, the reigning World Road Champion, Tatiana Guderzo. Plan B, get the blue jersey for Best Italian (as it turned out, she was incredible despite the chaos in our team, got 3rd in GC and the maglia azzurro).
2. I must not damage my bike in a crash, there would no spare in my size (what with me being so molto alta, and all).
3. I HAD to finish, no matter what. I would not be fed/paid/allowed to breathe if I did not.
So, here are some pointers for those of you out there who ain't freakishly talented or named Pooley/Arndt/Vos/Abbot or if you weigh more than 55kg and haven't been riding a bike since Johnny Farnham started his 1st round of retirement gigs.
1st time riders should expect a lot of handsome men on motorbikes offering their arms. If you find yourself straggling off the back of the grupetto on a mountainous stage from say, Livigno to ...say, Stelvio, then take that man's arm. He may be from the Italian version of C.H.I.P.S, in his aviator sunglasses. You NEED to get to the grupetto, or they will pull you from the race.
But seriously, it's 10, hard, HOT days. You need to drink, eat and put your legs up more than ever before. And the post stage transfers do not exactly fulfil the 'ideal recovery strategy' in the text books! Racing 120km against the best women in the world is hard, but sitting in a non-air conditioned camper van for 2h afterwards is just as hard!
You should be nice to everyone. In every team. You never know when you might have to ask someone for water, a gap to squeeze into or a shoulder to cry on.
Or if you might need to ask another team's soignie for food because your team doesn't feed you... (in fact, the more I remember last years' Giro, the more surprised I am that I actually did finish). This year is different, our team has wonderful, supportive staff who are very experienced in running a good team for the duration.
Do not trust the profiles provided on the internet, but the race bible (you will get one, skip past the game show hostess ads and pictures of local produce for each region & there will be some relevant information in the back) has actual gradients and accurate points for GPM and Sprint points.
Know the riders with an agenda, and therefore there will be less surprises. There are a myriad of things going on in a stage, and not all of them important or relevant to you. But noticing them is important.
You're going to feel bad. And tired. but don't worry, so is everyone else (some of them just go faster than you).
And Bridie's goals for her own race?
My goal for the Giro is to sacrifice & survive. We have 2 young riders with the capability to win the maglia gioveni (white jersey for best young rider) and possibly the maglia azzurro. We want to protect them for the hard stages (7, 8 and 9) and support them on whatever way we can.
One is Elisa Longo Borghini, from a famous family of athletes (her brother, Paolo, rides as domestique for Ivan Basso in Liquigas; her mother competed at 2 Winter Olympics in Nordic skiing... no pressure there :) and the other is Elena Berlato. I try not to stand next to her for fear of looking like a transvestite giant from the southern hemisphere... she is TINY.
I'm feeling much better prepared than I was last year, both physically and mentally. I'm not afraid, I can only do what I can do, and if someone yells at you in Italian over a race radio, you can always take it out.... ;) A wonderful friend and ex-professional cyclist who rode 5 Giro d'Italias in the 80s has been giving me wonderful advice. He said you'll feel like you're dying every stage, but each day, is a new day, a new opportunity, maybe to grovel, but maybe to feel ok.
He said, most importantly, "expect nothing. To finish one stage is great. Anything more, is really great." Wise words from a Bavarian who has seen thousands of kms in endlessly hard tours... 'stai tranquilla"
So what'll she be taking as her Giro Donne survival kit?
I would like to take a jar of Nutella, but I fear that might hinder my performance... I have the tv show 'The Wire' as my survival kit. Seasons 1 and 2. That way, every night, I can think that at least I'm not selling crack on the streets of Baltimore... now that WOULD be bad!
You can follow Bridie's Giro Donne via her twitter, and see more of her writing on her website - massive good luck Bridie! The Power of Podium Café will be with you!