Marianne Vos is the biggest superstar in cycling, the current World Champion in road and cyclocross, the 2012 Olympic road race champion, and the winner of the Giro Donne in 2011 and 2012. But on top of that, she's well-known for loving cycling with all her heart, and being remarkably friendly and down-to-earth. For example - can you believe she took time out of her race preparation to answer questions for the Café? Superb! Follow Vos through the Giro on her twitter and via her website.
PdC: What's the best thing about racing the Giro, and which stages will you be looking forward to?
Marianne: The best thing about the Giro? Italy and the Italians! The country is great for cycling: beautiful nature, fantastic towns and nice roads. Also the race is always organised well, with nice stages, proper hotels and good food. You can feel the passion for cycling everywhere around, and that gives an extra vibe to the Giro Rosa.
Racing for the GC you have to be sharp every stage, but of course the uphill finishes and the TT are really important. We'll see how it goes!
PdC: What are your goals this year?
Marianne: Of course I'll try go for the pink after my wins in the last two years. It's not going to be easy, because there are some girls riding really strongly at the moment. I chose a different schedule than normal this season, with a combination of mountainbike and road. This means I didn't focus specifically on this Giro, but I feel my shape is getting to where I want.
We have a great team and it gives a lot of confidence to have strong riders around you. I know all the girls from Rabo/LivGiant are looking forward to the Giro, so we are ready to show ourselves!
PdC: How does it feel to wear the maglia rosa leader's jersey?
Marianne: In Italy the 'maglia rosa' is something magical and the Italians raise you so high, that you have to watch out so you don't feel you are the queen.
The first time I wore the pink was in 2010 and by then I fell in love with it. At that time I knew I couldn't hold it until the finish, but I tried to keep it as long as possible. This was the moment that my dream to bring home the 'maglia rosa' took hold of my mind and didn't go away.
PdC: What advice would you give to riders who are racing the Giro for the first time?
Marianne: Be sure to look after yourself. It's easy to not drink or eat enough, because it's hot or because you are tired. Recovery is most important in a stage race, so take your rest and eat and drink well.
Another thing: everybody gets tired and has sore legs after a few days; you are not the only one... Stay positive and keep on going!
Riding alongside Vos on Rabobank-Liv/Giant is her fellow Dutch rider, Iris Slappendel. Slappendel is a strong Classics rider who gets into breakaways and sprint for wins, as well as supporting her team-mates in the sprint train and on the flat. When she's not racing, she has a design business, and writes columns for Wieler Revue magazine - and she has a great blog (in Dutch, or read it through Google Translate) and of course, a twitter.
PdC: What are you most looking forward about in riding the Giro?
Iris: I'm extremely excited to race with my team for the win, in stages as well as for the GC. We have a very strong team at the moment and it is great to be part of it. Somehow the surroundings and atmosphere in the Giro makes it extra special when you're performing well in that race.
Although I have mainly been suffering every time I have raced the Giro, I've managed to remember mostly the nice things and I guess that's why I like to come back every year. My teammate Roxane and I were just speaking about this last week; how you can be determined after a Giro to never come back to this race, and not even a year later you can't wait for it to get started again. I guess without this kind of partial amnesia I probably wouldn't be a cyclist at all anymore!
Secondly I looking forward to the stage in Varazze-Monte Beigua. Not because it a stage that suits me at all, but I remember Varazze quit well. I had my very first race as a senior-rider there; the Primavera Rosa; Varazze-San Remo, and I remember it as a beautiful area. I think it will be a beautiful stage and important for the GC. I'm not a climber so if my 'job' is done, I try to enjoy the mountains in a different way (doesn't always work by the way). But I always enjoy seeing all the different places in Italy during the Giro. Beforehand I search all the stages on the map, because I like to know where we are going and I'm always hoping for new places and stages.
PdC: Is there anything you're NOT looking forward to?
Iris: Yes, because I searched all the stages on the map I couldn't help noticing they are all quite far apart. And that means a lot of travelling after the stages, and a long time before arriving at the hotel for food, massage and bed!
PdC: What are you goals for the race?
Iris: My goal is to help our GC riders as well as possible. We didn't talk team tactics yet, but besides having the winner of the last two editions, we also have Megan, Pauline and Lucinda who are all-round riders and maybe can go for a good GC. So I guess we are gonna try to take the maglia rosa home! And if there is any chance for a stage win, I'll take it!
PdC: What advice would you give to riders who are racing the Giro for the first time?
Iris: Make sure you arrive at the start of the Giro very well rested and fuelled up!
I never leave home without a good set of earplugs. Italian hotels can be pretty noisy. And I always pack some of my favourite Dutch food. You can lose your appetite when you're getting tired (even for delicious Italian cuisine!) and you have to keep eating!
Travel light; you don't give a shit about your looks after a few days and everything you don't use you still have to carry.
Another Dutch rider, Bras became National Champion at ten years old, and has had a long and varied cycling career, including a few years out of the peloton with a virus. At one point she thought she wouldn't be able to race again, but she came back stronger than ever, and is known for being at the front of the hardest races, as well as supporting young riders to get into the peloton. A horrible head injury last year de-railed her dreams of racing at the Olympics and Worlds, but she came back for one final season, riding for Boels-Dolmans and mentoring young riders. She has a wealth of superb stories (find out about the time the race accommodation was in a bomb shelter in my 2011 interview with her!) and she's well worth following on twitter.
PdC: What is special about the Giro?
Martine: The Giro is one of the longest races for woman, even though now is shorter than the last years. We do not have so many races longer then 5-6 days. Normally the Giro is 10 days and that makes it special. The stages are hard and we have to travel heaps. The last years we did climbs like Stelvio and Mortirolo. It was very hard but so rewarding when you finished those stages.
What also makes it special is the whole thing about the pink. It has the same appearance as the men's Giro. The same name, same colour leader-jersey. I am 100% sure if we would have a Tour de France Femme with the same jerseys it would be just as big as the Giro Rosa. We get a bigger exposure in media just because of the name. If I tell my neighbours I'm going to the Giro, they are excited and want to know where and how long etc. If I tell them I go to the Bira they don't even know where it is. All of this makes it just more special to go to the Giro.
PdC: What is your best Giro story? Craziest thing, or most embarrassing or favourite ever Giro moment!
Martine: Oh so many!! :) When I was riding for Gauss I took the Queen of the Mountains in the first stage. It was not even a real hill but they wanted to give it to a rider. The next 4 days there were no mountains so just one sprint made me go to the podium every day without doing anything special. I am not a rider who wins a lot so it was a very nice experience. I kept it for 5 days so half the Giro. The embarrassing thing was that in my last green (mountains jersey) day I fell on a descent and of course the camera was there to put it all on film. That evening it was broadcasted in slowmotion 4 times. It was not a nice goodbye to my jersey.
There are more stories to tell, what about doing a timetrial in the middle of Rome!! That was so cool! I don't like timetrialling but enjoyed every moment of that one. Specially passing the Colosseum!! Or when we got stuck in a little street with our teamcars last year in Napoli and could not get out. We had to take our bikes out of the bus, get dressed in the middle of Napoli, get our drinking bottles and rush to the start of the first stage! Will never forget that day in my life!
PdC: What advice would you give riders who are racing the Giro for the very first time?
Martine: It is not only the racing you have to think about. The heat and traveling also take a lot out of you. So make sure you start really fit and full of energy. Eat eat eat and drink drink drink! Also get your rest. Take earplugs because sometimes it's hard to sleep. But most of all bring a positive mind to the start and try to enjoy the Italian way of racing. Don't expect the best hotels or food. Just go with the flow!
PdC: What are your goals and hopes for the race? Either personal or for the team?
Martine: I don't have high goals for myself. But I will see how I feel and pick a day or two to be in the break and maybe go for a stage victory. But most of all I hope that we can do well with the team. I think that Jessie Daams can try to get a top 10 overall. She is still young but has shown that she is able to follow the best climbers in the hills. For me it will be my last Giro and I am really looking forward to it. I love Italy, it is one of my favourite countries to go to. I love the culture and can't wait to be a part of it again for 8 days.
Sharon is recently back in the peloton after breaking her back - but even that couldn't stop her! She's a two-time former winner of the Cape Epic Adventure MTB race, and 2012 British National Road Champion, and has spent recent years riding the Giro as a mountain domestique supporting Emma Pooley's GC ambitions. After a delayed start, she's racing for Lotto Belisol, and you can read about Sharon's huge crash, recovery, and a lot more, in my interview with her earlier this month, and follow her on twitter.
PdC: What are the best and worst things about riding the Giro?
Sharon: The passion of the Italian’s for cycling, the fact that the race makes Italian TV, the length of the tour (though now it’s only 8 days ... do you think we girls will cope!!), the big mountain stages and of course the coffee!
And the worst? Long transfers, moving hotels each day and last year the heat ... the first 4 stages were over 40 degrees!
PdC: Are there any stages this year you're especially looking forward to, or dreading?
Sharon: In normal circumstances I would look forward to mountain top finishes – last year was a bit lacking in those. Although these stages won’t be good for me, in my current form this year, they will be great for our team. I don’t think I’ll enjoy the last stage – the TT. The TT position is still quite painful and I haven’t been able to train for it ..... but most of all because it is my birthday that day!
PdC: What are your own goals this year, coming back from your huge injury?
Sharon: My goals are to help the team, especially Ashleigh Moolman. I think she stands a real chance of a podium this year and I’ll be doing what I can to help her. From a personal point of view I’m hoping the race intensity over 8 days will bring me on in terms of fitness so hopefully I will see a marked improvement in my performances in August and September.
PdC: What do you pack in your Giro survival kit?
Sharon: Cous cous (for when I’m tired of pasta!), tahini, dark chocolate, kindle, ipod, compression socks, swimming costume for a cool off when the hotel has a pool!
PdC: What advice would you give to riders racing it for the first time?
Sharon: Remember it’s a long tour so don’t kill yourself on the first few days, make sure you eat enough to help you through each stage, embrace the atmosphere however nervous you are feeling.
It's the first time that Aussie sprinter Loren Rowney has raced the Giro. She came into the peloton after having a superb Australian 2011/12 season, and was signed by Specialized-lululemon, racing mostly in the USA last year. This is her first European season, and she's won stages in Gracia-Orlová and the Tour of Languedoc-Rousillon - but the Giro is by far the biggest race she's ever ridden. Follow her progress on twitter!
PdC: How does it feel to be a first-time Giro rider? What have your team-mates told you about what to expect?
Loren: I'm really excited! And for some, I guess they have said "what are you excited about? Long tough, hilly stages, long transfers etc etc". Yes, the Giro is going to be hard, really hard no doubt, and I'm sure I'll be suffering like hell, but what an opportunity! To think a few years ago I was back in Australia following results on twitter from afar, and now I'm racing with one of the best teams in the world, for Evie Stevens who I think has a real shot at winning the tour.
PdC: What are you most looking forward to? Are there any stages you have your eye on? Anything you're dreading?
Loren: My roommate Carlee Taylor and I have been looking at a lot of stages, and when she says a stage is going to be tough, it will be tough...she's a skinny hill climber! So I personally think stages 3-6 are going to be the hardest and where GC will be won and lost. For me, I just want to climb like a demon, and motor on the flats like a motor bike for Evie! So I'll be looking forward to the flatter stages, stage 1, stage 2 and stage 7 ;).
PdC: What are your hopes for the race?
Loren: I just want to finish each day knowing that I've helped to achieve the overall goal for the team, the Maglia Rosa.
PdC: What have you learnt about yourself - and your team-mates - on the stage races this year?
Loren: A lot! Particularly about my teammates. When you're living on top of each other you learn each others little habits, and their quirkiness. For instance Lisa always travels with her snoopy toy, Evie has her good luck Oakleys and sports bra (not sure if it gets washed during a stage race haha), Ally has her little excited bootie dance, Katie always sleeps with socks. So yep, you learn a lot haha.
For me though, I've learnt how important it is to manage yourself, and to make sure I always have my kindle for transfers!
PdC: What's your favourite thing about racing in Europe, and how is it different to Australia and last year in the USA?
Loren: I would have to say living in Girona, and getting the opportunity to travel to different countries. There's the language barrier obviously, the weather in the spring was tough! For someone who is used to nothing below 10 degrees, it was really hard! The overall level of competition is higher, so getting results is that much harder, and thus every win is really a savoured moment.
One of the mysteries of this year's Giro will be New Zealand's Linda Villumsen. She's known for combining spectacular Time Trialling abilities (she's been on the World ITT podium every year since 2009) with opportunistic attacking and climbing skills that helped her win last year's Giro Trentino. But she's been taking time away from the bike, and when she lines up for Wiggle Honda, it will be her first race of the year since the NZ nationals in January. How will she do in the Giro? It's going to be fun finding out!
PdC: What are you looking forward to - do you have a specific stage you're looking forward to, or scared of, or something you love about the race?
Linda: I seem to have been waiting months for this race not for one stage in particular as it is always hard to know the the legs feel all throughout a race like that. It is basically 8 one day races in a row (unless you have a go for the overall GC) but the atmosphere around Italian racing is always great so I really just look forward to it all to begin...
The Giro is an aggressive race, there are more than one level to race, the GC, stages or specifically target a stage but it is such a fantastic race because there is a day for all kinds of riders, some flat stages for the faster riders, some hilly stages and some with longer and harder climbs and even with hilltop finish. While the GC riders will battle for overall there is still a battle to take place in every single stage:-))
PdC: Do you have any specific advice for first-time riders?
Linda: I assume that these riders are on a good level and have been training well? The worry is often how fast is the bunch and how many riders are there, it can be scary riding in a bigger bunch but after a couple of races and adaption to the race speed then things slowly gets easier... It is always safer riding near the front of a bunch but especially at the beginning that can be hard… Everything takes time…
Villumsen's fellow-Kiwi and fellow-Wigglet, Emily Collins, is racing the Giro for the first time, in her first pro-team, after a few years being based in the USA with Vanderkitten. Racing with Wiggle she's been learning her way around the European peloton, and won the tough Lotto Cycling Cup round, Tielt-Winge. Follow her on her blog, and on twitter.
I'm looking forward to the whole experience - it's going to be my first time competing in the Giro Rosa. For me, it's always been a big goal to be out there racing it and competing with the best of the best. Can't wait to get out there and share the experience with my Wiggle Honda team mates. I'm definitely nervous but very excited about what's to come.
I know from my team mates that it's going to be seriously tough times - not only the challenges on the bike but logistically also. It's going to be one of the biggest stage races I've done to date so I'm relying on my team mates to help me through! I also know that it's going to be a lot of fun along the way (according to them). I'm sure the good times will outweigh the tough!
Huge thanks to all the riders for giving up their time, and good luck to them all! And check back later this week - here's part 3, with more to come!
If you want to know more about what the Giro is like, check out my highlights of the 2012 race, and Four riders' opinions what it was like to race last year. We'll have race previews and "how to follow" guides going up this week.
For more information about the Giro, have a look at the great race website, follow the race on twitter and the previews on Les Déesses de la Route and on Velofocus. And for more about ORICA's plans for the race, read this article on their site! As ever, any questions on anything at all, ask in the comments.