After a bad start to this year's Giro, riding with a nosebleed and breathing problems, Emma Pooley won the first big mountain stage on Stage 6 - and then went on to win again today. She told us all about how today went for her.
PdC: What was the plan going into today? Can you describe how the race went, leading up to the climb?
Emma: Our aim today was to hang onto that green jersey, which meant marking certain people who might try to get into breaks in the early parts of the race and then not lose too many places in the final climb. My team mates did a great job of looking after me for the first 79km - it was fast, and a trickier than we expected (the profile in the race book is always somewhat.... approximate. Sometimes even misleading!). But luckily I got into the right position on the short steep climb near the start of the stage, and stayed near the front while the attacks were firing off right left and centre - helped hugely by Jolien, Liesbet, and Lieselot. I was worried I was doing too much chasing nonetheless, as the GC contenders were all tucked away safely out of the wind... After about 60km of racing the pace calmed down a bit, and the race regrouped. The girls kept me near the front, and I ate my oatcakes…
PdC: Then, the climb - can you tell us about it? How did you feel when Anna van der Breggen attacked - and where did you pass her?
Emma: In the run-up to the climb, several teams were drilling it on the front to keep their GC riders safe. I was pretty relaxed, just wanted to hang on as long as possible. Dany and the team had put no pressure on me to win the stage, I just wanted to do my best and see how much I could suffer. I really didn't think I had the form to beat the likes of Mara Abbott, or Claudia Lichtenberg-Häusler, or Elisa Longo Borghini, or the whole Rabo-Liv team... So I just kept riding. It felt ok. Rabo-Liv really rode hard at the base of the climb, that split the bunch and we were at the front with a small group. I just kept riding. Mara Abbott waited until it was steep to attack, repeatedly. I just kept riding. It started to feel a bit hard. Then the gradient eased off and so did the pace, and I noticed how beautiful the view was and that there were bikes and pink streamers everywhere and hundreds of people yelling for Elisa, and I started to feel a bit better.
Megan Guarnier attacked just when it was beginning to feel a bit slow, and Van der Breggen jumped after her. We still had Vos and Ferrand-Prévot with us, so I wasn't going to be the idiot that chased them down... that was the job of the GC challengers. Mara attacked when it was steep, and I kept riding. After a while I rode a bit harder because it seemed a shame to let the two ahead get away. We gradually lost riders off the back of the group.
The last 3km were pretty steep and we dropped Elisa, caught and dropped Guarnier, dropped Vos, dropped Ferrand-Prévot, caught and dropped Van der Breggen. For the final km it was me vs Mara, just like the good old days! I have painful memories of the Stelvio and I was quite sure she'd drop me just as effortlessly as she did back at the Giro in 2010. It must have been a hilarious "sprint" to watch... the two of us riding side-by-side from about 500m to go, dodging potholes. I upped the pace at about 200m to go, thinking it was pointless but I should at least put up a fight, and she never came past me. I didn't put my arms in the air because I was sure she was going to pip me on the line! In fact I think there was a little gap... but I wasn't going to take any chances.
PdC: Did you have tears in your eyes when you crossed the line today?
Emma: I didn't have the energy for tears, nor the breath to say anything for a while. I couldn't believe it.
PdC: You're definitely back on top - how are you feeling right now? And what's the plan for tomorrow
Emma: It's so satisfying to feel good again in a race and to feel like I can repay the support of those people (my mum, my friends, my team...) who had confidence in me despite my conviction that I was never going to win a race again. It's been a long time.... feels like forever! And it's strange, I thought I was not in good climbing shape coming into the Giro (Bira knocked my confidence) but it seems I've got stronger (relatively) during the race. I think it probably helps that I haven't done any hard running since my last triathlon on 1st June. I love running, but it does take the speed out of your legs a bit...! I had promised myself a run this evening in the very unlikely event of winning the stage, as a treat, and then I didn't have time due to the transfer. Bit upset about that.
Follow Emma through the rest of her Giro on her twitter, and on the Lotto Belisol twitter - and you can watch the videos and see photos from the stage on the Stage 8 race report. Emma also answered some questions for us after winning Stage 6, and before the Giro started - and I interviewed her about coming back to cycling after her break back in April, and you can read part 1 and part 2 of that here on the Café, or listen to it on my blog.
And here's a little video Wiggle Honda made after the stage, giving away the secret of her success today.....
As you saw from Pooley's report, USA rider Megan Guarnier was attacking hard on the climb, and ended up 5th on the stage, and sitting 7th on GC
PdC: Today was the Queen stage - can you tell us about it? We saw you were attacking on the climb - how was that?
Megan: It started off fast and furious. It was constant attacks and strung out much of the race. I had my teammates Ellen, Kasia, and Marieke trying to get in an early move/cover the front of the race. My job was on the climb. These women have been riding so incredibly for me all week and today was no exception.
On the climb I was feeling pretty good. I have been trying to recover from my asthma attack on stage 6. I had bad luck on Stage 5 with a crash in the final km, and I still am nursing the open wounds from the crash. Stage 6 I had a really bad asthma attack a few km up the climb and I couldn't maintain contact with the main group. It was a bad day to have a bad day. I looked around and noticed every time we upped the pace, that people were dropping off and struggling but I was feeling comfortable, however I didn't want to wait for Pooley and Abbott to attack all day, which was what Rabo was waiting for. So I decided to see if they would react on me. Only Van der Breggen reacted while the others continued to watch each other.
We weren't off for so long before Van der Breggen came around me, and I had a hard time following her, and eventually dropped to ride my own climb. I had to be careful to not trigger my asthma today.
PdC: You had bad luck on Stage 6, with a crash preventing you contesting the climb - how are you doing? What happened there?
PdC: Your attack was beautiful to watch - and you ended up fighting with Vos to get to the finish-line first - does that make you feel better? I mean, even with open wounds and asthma, you're up there with the best!
Megan: Boels-Dolmans wanted more out of this race, so I am feeling better that I know I have it in me, but I am not satisfied.
PdC: Boels have been aggressive all race, with riders in the breaks and working hard - what's the team atmosphere been like?
Megan: The team has been incredible. Everyone has really gotten on board with helping with my GC goals. Unfortunately for everyone, Stage 6 put us in a less than desirable position but the ladies have kept believing in me. The atmosphere is really great. The energy is still good and positive - I have been in situations by the end of the stage race everyone is dragging and slow but not for Boels here at the Giro! We are still having a good time! It is a pity the Giro Rosa isn't longer!
PdC: You've got one more climbing stage tomorrow - what's the plan? What's it like for riders at this point - exhaustion, planning to go all-or-nothing, or a bit of both?
Megan: You have to do both I think! It should be another challenging stage tomorrow and I am looking forward to it. It's the final day, and I know there are other women hungry for the Pink jersey while at the same time Rabo will be busy defending. I think every day there has been a surprise here at the giro, and I don't think the final day will be any different!
PdC: What have been the biggest surprises? And what's been the best thing?
Megan: Surprises: The prologue on cobbles....the difficulty of the first stage....the horrible road surface of the second stage...the extent of transfers..but you knew all those.
A nice surprise was the hotel we stayed in last night was along a lake and it was absolutely gorgeous. The floor I was staying on Winston Churchill stayed there in September of 1908. The Pope has also stayed there - so you know it was nice accommodation! (And a beautiful view).
Best thing: Top of my list is how incredible the entire Boels-Dolmans team has been. As I said, we are still having a great time together and that is really special for me.
Follow Megan on her twitter, and through the Boels-Dolmans twitter - and their mechanic Richard Steege has been one of the stars of the Giro, live-tweeting the stage, so follow him too. Megan and her Boels team-mates feature in this beautiful Specialized video, talking about what cycling means to them, and how they keep improving
Young British rider Hannah Barnes has been racing her first ever Giro with UnitedHealthcare - and while she was having her last massage of the Giro, she answered some questions about how it has all been for her.
PdC: It's been your first ever Giro - how has it gone?
Hannah: It's been good! Very tough but good fun. To be part of the Giro is a such a great experience. It's just like a circus, you're travelling the country, with the same people doing the same thing and I love it. So far it's gone well I think. We've had a couple of bad days as a team, a few crashes and mechanicals but for all 8 of us to still be in the race with 1 stage to go and in a good GC position were happy!
PdC: Is it different to what you were expecting? Any big surprises about racing here?
Hannah: I expected it to be hard and it is hard so it's everything I was expecting!!
Surprises: the uncertainty of the courses. You always have to be prepared for the unexpected. An added climb that you weren't expecting etc
PdC: What's it like racing those huge mountain stages?
Hannah: It's hard of course. It's never going to be easy. I can't climb anywhere near as fast as the big dogs so I do what I can to the base of the climbs, then it's just a case of getting to the top, whilst enjoying the views of course :)
PdC: What's been the best thing? And the worst?
Hannah: People are going to think I am mad for saying this, but the transfers. The scenery has been amazing and spending time with your team mates singing and laughing away is just good fun! You would just be bored sat in a hotel room anyway.
Bad bits - No Wifi!!!We've had 3 hotels with no wifi this week which has sucked. I'm not ashamed to say, I need the internet!!
PdC: What would you say about the race to any riders racing it for the first time in the future?
Hannah: It will end....promise!!!!
We'll be talking through the final stage of the 2014 Giro Rosa in the comments under the Stage 8 race report - and catch up with all the Podium Café Giro coverage on our storystream. If you want to follow the final stage as it happens, and watch the tv, I have a handy guide on my blog.
Photo used with very kind permission of Sean Velofocus - click through and check out all the photos from his Stage 8 gallery.