I'm not 100% sure who the equivalent of Gilberto Simoni is in the women's peloton, it may very well be the veteran Fabiana Luperini, but whoever it is now is the time for her to declare "this is when the real Giro starts". For where most women's races would be decided on hills like the ones in stage 3 the Giro stands out . We now have two serious mountaintop finishes to look forward to and we aren't talking hills either, these are real mountain climbs.
Stage 5 Varazze - Monte Beigua 73.3 km
Stage five takes the riders to Liguria. Well actually a looooong transfer takes the riders to Liguria but the stage takes place in Liguria, you know what I mean. The format for 2010-20111 took the Giro to some well known climbs used frequently used by the men's Giro. In 2012, as the race struggled financially the race was uncharacteristically flat but for this year the race returns to the old style, using some hard but less famous climbs. The Monte Beigua, that comes after a short but quite hilly stage even if the profile doesn't really show it, is roughly a 14 km climb at around 8%. It is a brute that crawls up a narrow and fairly poor road to the top that houses TV and radio antennas for RAI. The profile below tells the story. The route starts climbing at Pero which means it excludes the easy first kms in the profile and starts off where it turns nasty. The climb is unrelenting with only brief respites below 7 %. There are ramps of up to 15% and the midsection above Apicella has 4 kms that average 9,4 % . Forget the little timegaps on stage 3, this is going to create some major differences. Much of the climb is exposed as well so if it is a hot day it will be even more challenging.
Profile via www.climbbybike.com
Stage 6 Terme di Premia - San Domenico 121 km
With no rest the peloton is then moved up to Piemonte for a second hard MTF. This time the stage looks a gentler one leading up to the climb to San Domenico. The road rises gently (3-4%) for 8 km before the start of the real climb at Varzo. There starts the climb pictured below, 11 km at 7,8% with the last 4 kms looking absolutely the worst. Arrival is at a ski station which is generally a good sign. If the GC was in any doubt those doubts will be cleared up here no doubt.
Profile via www.climbbybike.com
Predicting these kind of stages gets troublesome since we never see the riders in this kind of terrain. Marianne Vos proved in 2011 that she could climb with the best, staying in contact wit Emma Pooley right to the top of the Mortirolo. She hasn't developed for the worse since then so expect her to be there. The main opponents look to be American. First there is Evie Stevens who has looked to be developing as the strongest climber but there are some question marks on her form. Her season hasn't been optimal with the bad fall and injuries to her face. On stage 3 she climbed with the favorites but didn't distance them like perhaps we might have expected of the Stevens we have seen in the last year. Importantly though, judging ability to climb over 10 km is hard based on the totally different climb to the st 3 Cerro al Volturno.
The second American challenge could come from 2010 GiroDonne winner Mara Abbot who comes back to the Giro after suffering health problems. She is once again on the US national team and her form this year indicates she may be back to her old self. If so there are few better pure high-mountain climber and she could be a major threat, Another old winner who looks back to old form is Tibco's Claudia Häusler and she also one of the rare breed of pure climbers, the sort of rider that suffers with a calendar that has far too few races that suit her abilities.
The Italian challenge will most likely come in the form of Tatiana Guderzo who podiumed in the mountainous 2010 edition. The former World Champ is looking attentive and has been part of every key move of the race so far. And then there are the fun challengers. Ashleigh Moolman is the obvious "newcomer" that will be most interesting to follow. My hunch is that she is perhaps on route to a Giro podium. She climbed with Vos and Longo Borghini (sadly out injured) on the Mur de Huy to get her best ever result. She could very well be one of those who rise to the challenge of real mountains if she has a good couple of days.Same goes for ORICA's Tiffany Cromwell who was unfortunate to crash out of the breaway with Vos the other day, otherwise she may have been sitting near the top of the rankings. Is she as strong a climber as some of the others who knows but she has been progressing steadily for the last two years to the place where she looks on the verge of a major breakthrough. Without Johansson here she has a real chance to have a go as well even if I think the pressure from the team is limited.
Three youngsters will be fun to watch. Rossella Ratto of Hitec, Anna van der Breggen of Sengers (here Dutch nat. team) and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. All of them have come here targeting the Young Rider jersey even if PFP is at a disadvantage as she may have to work for Vos whereas the others are free to ride for themselves. A superficial glance might indicate that Ratto should be the one to fare the best on the big climbs with van der Breggen being the heaviest rouleur type of the three but it is near impossible to predict. This is perhaps the most fun race to follow should Vos continue her streak of invincibility.
Stage 8 Cremona Timetrial 16,7 km
It's hard to imagine too much being left to decide after the two mountain stages but you never know, riders could be more evenly matched than you think. If so the race will be decided on the final day in the timetrial. In any case some of the placings will surely be in play. The White jersey battle could very well come down to the final day especially and in that case it's hard to look past van der Breggen.
The course is pan-flat and not very technical so it is one for the true specialists. Shara Gillow and Linda Villumsen are perhaps the most interesting names that haven't already been mentioned and they both fall in that category. Both should find it hard to climb with the best but they should be major contenders for the TT. along with the TT dominant of the year Ellen van Dijk. Evie Stevens may actually have an edge over Vos here so if she has been able to climb with Vos, or even grab some time back, this could be a doozy of a stage. Now if only I could get over missing Emma Pooley......