We're halfway through the race, and as Monty says in his stage preview, this stage ended in the hometown of current Road World Champion, Giorgia Bronzini.
It was the last flat stage before the mountain goats take over tomorrow, so all the sprinters & breakaway queens were out for their final chance for glory. They've had all kinds of weather in the Giro, and today it was time for blazing sunshine.... and for Marianne Vos, who so far has won the uphill cobbled sprint, and the incredibly hard & hilly Classics-style stage, to show us that she is just as good when the sprints are flat. The video's below, but if you don't have time for the full hour, you can watch the final 3km here. Vos is is the paler pink, Ina Teutenberg is in the maglia ciclomina (a darker pink) and Bronzini is in white with rainbows....
The race was overshadowed by the bad news that Australian cyclist Carly Hibberd was killed today when she was hit by a car in training in Italy. Our thoughts are with Hibberd's family & friends, and the Australian cyclists in the peloton - and to all cyclists everywhere, stay safe.
There's more information and things added into the comments - anything you find, please add it in too.
You can see how the stage developed from Roy Gershow's twitter - of course there were lots of attacks, because that's what flat stages are for - and for the first half of the race, there was a key break of three: Esra Tromp (Netherlands National Team), Valentina Bastianelli (Top Girls Fassa Bortolo) and Liesbet de Vocht (Top Sport Vlaanderen). They gained 2 minutes - and the race had to be temporarily neutralised, as they crossed a level crossing just before a train passed, cutting off the peloton. The trio reached the top of the climb first, but although the gap increased to 2:22, at 25km to go, it had dropped to 1 minute, and by 10km, after around 80km, they had been caught by a chase that was lead by HTC-Highroad.
For final kilometres after the break were caught were very fast, with lots of attack attempts, but no one being able to get away. HTC-Highroad and Nederland Bloeit were very active on the front - they have such great tactical skills, and it was fascinating seeing who reacted to which attacks. A rider from a smaller team would be caught by one of the HTC riders effortlessly - but when Garmin-Cervélo's Iris Slappendel tied to get away, 3 Nederland Bloeit riders chased, and race leader Marianne Vos appeared like magic from the middle of the front. The way Vos moves through the peloton makes it look like the easiest thing in the world - and watching Teutenberg and Bronzini watch Vos is also fun.
The end of the race was very technical, with roundabouts and two sharp corners before the finish. At 1km, Nederland Bloeit were on the front, with Marianne Vos positioning herself perfectly.... Vos excels at the technical finish, and when a big bunch entered the penultimate corner together, Vos was on the front at the other side, and with the final corner, she gained even more distance, sprinting for the win, with home-town girl Giorgia Bronzini right behind her, and Ina-Yoko Teutenberg in third.
I especially Teutenberg's post-race twitter anlysis:
I think we all need to go home+train more to try to have a chance. Congrats @marianne_vos. 3 mtn days to follow.
1. Marianne Vos (Ned) Nederland Bloeit, 03:14:07
2. Giorgia Bronzini (Ita) Colavita-Forno d'Asolo, s.t.
3. Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (Ger) HTC-Highroad, s.t.
4. Sara Mustonen (Swe) Hitec Products UCK, s.t.
5. Martine Bras (Ned) Netherlands National Team, s.t.
6. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Nederland Bloeit, s.t
7. Julia Martissova (Rus) Gauss, s.t.
8. Emma Johansson (Swe) Hitec, s.t.
9. Cherise Taylor (RSA) Lotto-Honda, s.t.
10. Annalisa Cucinotta (Ita) Kleo Ladies Team, s.t.
There's no change to the GC, except for some good news - Yesterday, Emma Johansson was sitting 10th, but had dropped time yesterday after she was caught in the huge crash at 50m to go, and had to walk her bike across the line, as it only had the front wheel left on it.... Hitec protested, and the race organisers have listened, giving her the same time as the rest of the bunch. So the GC, as the race heads into the mountains tomorrow, looks like this:
1. Marianne Vos (Ned) Nederland Bloeit, 16:03:46
2. Sylwia Kapusta (Pol) Gauss, + 00:24
3. Emma Pooley (GBr) Garmin-Cervélo, + 00:52
4. Shara Gillow (Aus) Bizkaia-Durango, + 01:31
5. Sharon Laws (GBr) Garmin-Cervélo, + 01:35
6. Grace Verbeke (Bel) TopSport Vlaanderen, + 02:32
7. Christel Ferrier-Bruneau (Fra) Gauss, + 02:35
8. Judith Arndt (Ger) HTC Highroad, + 03:23
9. Linda Villumsen (NZl) AA Drink-Leontien.nl, + 03:28
10. Emma Johansson (Swe) Hitec Products UCK, + 03:30
Other big GC contenders are Tatiana Guderzo (MCipollini) at + 03:34, Tatiana Antoshina (Gauss) at + 04:05, Evelyn Stevens (HTC) at + 04:51 and last year's winner Mara Abbott (Diadora) at + 05:03.
Vos also leads the points competition - 51 points to Teutenberg's 32 and Bronzini's 27, and is tied on 21 points with Emma Pooley as leader in the mountains competition. Rasa Leleivyte still leads the young rider contest. But tomorrow is the Mortirolo.... expect changes!
If you're new to women's cycling, it's hard to explain the phenomenon that is Marianne Vos. At just 24, the Dutch-woman has won seven World Champions jerseys - 1 on the Road (2006), 2 on the track (2008 and 2011) and 4 in cyclocross (2006, '09, '10 and '11) - an Olympic gold, in the points race, and she's won the Road World Cup series in 2007, 2009 and 2010. She's incredibly talented - with a devastating attack on the short, sharp climbs, a killer sprint and an ability to work herself into the ground.
But her talent is just one part of her - she really, really loves cycling, and describes herself as a "full-time hobby cyclist". On twitter, she's always friendly and down-to-earth, and she's the rare kind of person where you never hear a bad word said about her. She's as delighted for her team-mates as she is for her own wins - and works as hard for team success as she does for her own.
She faces a dilemma next year - does she ride cyclocross, which she really loves, or focus solely on her Olympics hopes on the track and on the road? But this year, she's worked on her climbing, to target the Giro Donne. The one thing she's not known for on the bike is the long climbs, but even so, in last year's Giro she never finished lower than 10th, including on the epic Stelvio stage. Her tactic seems to have been to gain as much time as possible before the big mountains.... how far will that take her? And after the Giro, she'll be looking to the World Championships... having won rainbow jerseys in 'cross and on the track this year, I wouldn't bet against her winning a third one by the end of the year. For more information, here's her website.