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Giro Donne 2012 - The Highlights!

Before the Giro Donne started, it looked like it might be less exciting that previous years. One less stage, and no enormous mountain like the Stelvio or the Mortirolo this year. But who needs giant mountains, when you have imaginative race organisers, uphill finishes aplenty, and riders who love to make the racing explosive, whatever the parcours? It was a fantastic race, and below the jump, I'll tell you my favourite highlights of this year's Giro - with lots of video and links - and of course, add your own, and see other people's - in the comments!

Dancing Riders

I'm going to start with all the dancing teams. Be Pink started it, with their daily dancing at the race sign-ons, then there was Evie Stevens' Happy Dance after winning Stage 3, and by the end of the race, everyone was at it! Check out the start of this video!

The race organisers' social media

We all know it's not always easy to follow women's racing, but the Giro Donne race team really embrace social media. Their twitter stream gave live updates throughout the racing, and links to all kinds of fun information they found - and to the videos they commissioned and put up on youtube. Big thanks to Giulia De Maio and Serena Danesi for all their hard work on twitter over the week, and to the whole staff team - we loved it!


The racing!

Of course, there's no point having great reporting if there's nothing to talk about - but the racing was SO good! There were parcours designed by Edita Pucinskaite, who won the race in 2007, and by BePink rider Noemi Cantele. This meant that while there weren't the killer mountains, there were hilly stages designed for breakaway opportunities. you can read about each stage in more details in Monty's & my stage reports, and you probably have guessed by now that all the stages were my favourites, but four of the best moments for me include...


Stage 3 - Evie Stevens' Extravaganza

This was the first mountain stage - in 45º heat, no less, and after the early attacks and Linda Villumsen's suicide attack, Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-lululemon) and Emma Pooley (AA attacked early on the biggest climb of the day, and only Fabiana Luperini (Faren Honda) could keep up with them. Marianne Vos of Rabobank, who was in the maglia rosa after the Stage 1 sprint and Stage 2 ITT, made a valiant effort to catch the trio on the descent - she came closer, closer, closer, could see them in the distance, then was almost in touching distance.... and Stevens turned on the gas, and Vos was left behind as the three climbers kicked, and started duelling. Stevens was untouchable, and took not only the win, but also the pink jersey, in a win that can't fail to make you smile. She celebrated with some fabulously-Evie expressions - on the podium, with fans, on a penny farthing.... it was glorious!

Here's the video - the trio have escaped at 22:55, Vos is chasing solo - and descending in Vos-style at around 35:27, and at 37:05-ish, you can see her just about to catch the leaders, but then the road goes up! At 38:12 she nearly makes it again, but Stevens attacks and Vos is dropped. Evie comes in for the win around 44:10 - and keep watching for Luperini inexplicably yelling at Pooley as they cross the line


Stage 4 - Marianne Vos descends to glory

It's worth a reminder that this was just Vos' second race back after fracturing her collarbone in the Holland Hills Classic at the end of May. Although she said before the race that she was taking each day at a time, and not aiming for the overall win, she really, really loves that pink jersey, and wasn't going to let it go without a fight. Stage 4 had a giant climb, which didn't favour her, and a huge, technical descent, which absolutely does. Before the stage began, she'd been out to recon it one last time, and wow, that really paid off! Once again, Pooley and Stevens attacked on the climb, and Vos crossed the GPM point 50 seconds behind them.... only to have caught and overtaken them on the descent, hitting the bottom 1:30 ahead! Just WOW! She then solo-ed to the win, killing herself on every climb and taking any second's advantage she could on the descents - and ended the stage back in the maglia rosa, which she never came off her back again. SUPERB race!


Stage 5 - Tiffany Cromwell's spectacular suicide attack!

Orica-AIS were particularly aggressive throughout the race. Linda Villumsen is a non-stop attacker anyway, but made everyone else chase her at practically every opportunity, Judith Arndt and Claudia Häusler were serious GC contenders, Shara Gillow got into groups, but their highlight had to be Tiffany Cromwell's crazy 107km suicide attack that worked!

After two climbing stages in the ridiculous heat, Stage 5 looked like it was time for the sprinters to enjoy themselves. When Cromwell attacked at 23km, it seemed like one of the usual race appetisers, and she's be caught in time for a sprint show-down. But then the GC teams were looking at the sprint teams, the sprint teams were looking at the GC teams, and it was only when she's gained 12 minutes - and become virtual maglia rosa - that they started working. Cromwell ended up winning by eight and a half minutes, and joining Arndt and Häusler in the top ten. It was one of those crazy, plucky, brilliant rides - and I still want to know what she was singing as she went!


Stage 7 - Uphill through the alleys for another spectacular Vos win

Check out this photo - by CJ Farquharson, provided by the Giro Donne - isn't this one of the best finish-line photos ever?


You can see more of her photos of the race on and on her CJFoto website.

The finish was amazing - after a whole load of climbing all day, it ended up riding up through steep little alleys, to end with a finish-line just after a steep uphill bend - imagine watching from that outer curve!

It was a great race, and came down to a three-woman break of Vos, Pooley and Emma Johansson (Hitec Products-Mistral Home) attacking each other, until Stevens brought an elite group back, and it was non-stop all the way to the end, when Vos turned the corner just ahead of the group. Such breath-taking, nail-biting racing!


My other favourite stages were the first sprint, the beautiful ITT in Rome, Shelley Olds winning on the 4th of July, Vos' 5th stage win, and Emma Johansson beating Vos and Pooley on the final stage, while Vos cemented her win. Click through to the race reports for more information, the video links, and more! But it wasn't only on the bike that the riders kept us entertained - off the bike they gave us some GREAT insights into racing, life on the road, the Giro and all things women's cycling


Amber Pierce's live video Q&As throughout the race

I really love the women riders' commitment to the sport, helping us follow the racing on twitter and their blogs, but this year, Amber Pierce of Diadora-Pasta Zara took it all a step further. On most of the stages, after racing in the heat, then getting through the crazy transfers, hotel chaos, massage, team meetings, etc etc, she got online and did these amazing video Q&As, where she answered any and all questions, about the stages, the Giro in general, her team-mates, and women's cycling in general. It was a lovely mix of behind-the-scenes insight and great stories, and I really loved them. Huge thanks to Amber, and to Fuji Bikes and The Impetus Agency for making it possible.

Our own Ant1 asked Amber what we as women's cycling fans can do to help the sport, and she said that little things like RTing tweets and liking things on facebook make a much bigger difference than we might think - so even if you didn't see the Q&As, tell @AmberMalika, @FujiBikes and @ImpetusAgency that you heard the Q&As were really great, and you're sorry you missed them! They'll appreciate it!


Rochelle Gilmore's videos

Another rider who is fantastic with social media is Aussie sprinter Rochelle Gilmore, who, in addition to her blog and twitter, has been making a set of "Rochelle's World" videos on life as a pro-cyclist. This one below is her first Giro video, just before the ITT, but you can also see Rochelle and the Faren Honda team before stages five, eight and the final stage nine.


Specialized-lululemon blogs

I love all the rider blogs, they make me really happy, but the team who seems to do it better than anyone is Specialized-lululemon. Because the race was so exhausting, and internet patchy, we didn't get as many as we've had in previous races, but what we got was spectacular!

Clara Hughes blogged about pure pain, including:

Yes, that ‘lead out’ that left me gasping for air and moaning in agony. How embarrassing is it when you are in such a state of hurt- like in a time trial or sometimes on the trainer in the basement- that you just scream out the pain because no one is around to hear. Well this time I had the world’s best climbers all behind me when I was grunting and groaning up that climb in the heat of the scorcher of a day. And there was Evie behind me, whispering ‘just a little longer Clara…just a little further… can do it….just a little more…..’ and I am screaming in front like I am about to keel over.

My prayers to the cycling gods were answered when Emma Pooley of AA Drink attacked and I went ka-boom. Emma was my goddess that day because finally I could stop the torture. I could stop the pain of producing the power and gasp for some air for myself.

The funny thing was, today, in the flat as a pancake race that saw us creeping through the countryside being Tiffany Cromwell of Greenedge Orica who must have been in a world of hurt herself some twelve minutes in front of us, Emma came to say hello.

‘Clara, how was the climb for you yesterday, were you okay? There were some awful sounds coming from you….I felt bad to attack but to be honest I wanted to put you out of that misery…it sounded like you were giving birth!!’

and Chloe Hosking wrote about how she's a shocking room-mate!

One particular night during the Giro I woke up screaming and kicking at the bed next to me. I’m not talking a yelp that lasts half a second, I’m talking a prolonged scream worthy of a horror film.

Needless to say it was enough to wake up and trigger my two room-mates, Evelyn and Ally, scream-flexes who also started screaming.

I’d been convinced there was someone in the room and had grabbed Ally’s pillow, ready to attack – in reality I’d just grown too used to sleeping alone and the intruder was Ally’s foot. To be honest, I was a little disappointed that no-one came running to check on us, our screams had been so loud and lasted for so long I couldn’t believe that it didn’t wake the entire floor; we were in Napoli after all.


Marina Romoli at the heart of the race

One of the things about Italian cycling is how much they're like a giant family, and the way the race has adopted Marina Romoli as the 'Madrina' of the race typifies this. In 2010, 20-year-old Romoli had a dreadful accident when a car pulled out of a side road while she was out training. Romoli went straight through the back window, and has been in a wheelchair ever since. Her team, Diadora-Pata Zara, have always kept her as part of the organisation, and the Giro keep her in their hearts too. It was lovely seeing her commentate Stage 5 on RAI, and the way the race celebrate her. Forza Marina!


Monty's screenshot reports

A lot of all this was found via the comments under each stage report - and one of my very favourite things in those are the Monty screenshot reports. He never fails to capture exactly the moments I'd love - like Luperini's and Vale Carreta's sign language, Marianne's home-made cooling vest, , and he tells the stories so well. Check them out, because they've become one of my favourite parts of the race.


Chatting with all of you!

The other lovely thing about the comments has been all the conversations we've all had - really, I know it sounds corny, but races are so much more fun with other people! I especially loved having a real life conversation with omne about the race (listen to our Giro Donne podcast!) and all the chats here and on twitter - you're all fabulous, thanks so much!

To carry on the conversation, add anything you particularly enjoyed to the comments - or if you'd like to know more about this, or other races, ask away!