By Mara Abbott
2010, 2013 Giro Rosa Champion
CTS Contributing Editor
In July, the world’s cycling fans multiply. The phrase “yellow jersey” is bandied around in public. Here in the United States, you might even hear someone say “kilometers”. July is why I love cycling too, but my Tour de France watching habits are haphazard at best. For me, the race to watch is the Giro Rosa, the lone Grand Tour on the women’s racing calendar.
I’m biased of course – I was fortunate enough to race the Giro seven times and won it in 2010 and 2013 racing for the US National Team. I have often tried to explain precisely why the Giro means so much to me. It runs too deep. The Giro Rosa is the reason I was a cyclist. For those of you who followed this year’s Giro, let’s celebrate some of the greatest moments of this year’s race. For those who missed out, here are five reasons the 2018 Giro Rosa was the best (if not the biggest) bike race in July.
Annemiek van Vleuten’s Dominant Victory
Annemiek van Vleuten was a top lieutenant for riders like Marianne Vos for the early part of her career. She broke out as an outstanding climber at the Rio Olympics (a performance I witnessed at rather close proximity) but a crash on the final descent meant her race ended in a hospital bed rather than on a podium. Last year, van Vleuten was heavily favored at the Giro but a lapse of attention on an early stage saw her miss a split in the crosswinds and lose a minute and a half to her rivals, a greater gap than winner Anna van der Breggen’s eventual margin of victory. This year, van Vleuten finally got to shine, winning three different stages and the overall by a margin of more than four minutes. It was not only van Vleuten’s strength and skill that won her this Giro, but her patience and tenacity throughout her career.
Ruth Winder’s Stage 5 Victory
It isn’t actually easy for me to watch the Giro and not be there, but American Ruth Winder’s stage five victory was the moment that captured my wary heart this year. Winder was an impeccable teammate for me in the 2013 and 2014 Giro, so it was personally thrilling to see her pull on her own pink jersey after a three-woman breakaway launched her into the race lead. Winder has been a consummate teammate throughout her career, contributing to many riders’ career-defining victories. Most recently, she played a key role in Coryn Rivera’s victory at the US National Championships in Knoxville this June. Her modest style means she is often overlooked, but in her first complete season in Europe with the Sunweb team, Winder has shown herself to be more than worthy of the opportunity. Cyclingtips.com journalist Caley Fretz took a break from Tour de France coverage to write a piece on Winder’s win that is absolutely worth a read.
The Sunweb and Michelton-Scott Victories
After taking the lead in the opening time trial, Team Sunweb passed the pink jersey around to four different members of the team. Ellen van Dijk, Lucinda Brand, Leah Kirchmann and Ruth Winder each took a turn, as the team leveraged finishing sprints, bonus seconds and breakaways to share the glory. The performance helped highlight the variety of athletes that succeed in cycling and the importance of having a deep and diverse squad able to cover all challenges. It was exciting to watch them support one another and leverage their talents to achieve success as a squad without a GC favorite, although Lucinda Brand would finish fourth in her best Giro finish to date.
Michelton-Scott absolutely dominated this year’s Giro, adding two victories by sprinter Jolien d’Hoore and another by Amanda Spratt to van Vleuten’s three to net the team six out of ten total stage victories. Spratt also won the mountains jersey. The last few years the women’s peloton has seen a single dominant force in the Boels-Dolmans juggernaut, so it’s exciting and shows growth in the sport to have multiple strong teams fighting it out on the female peloton’s biggest stage.
Marianne Vos’ Stage 8 Victory
Vos has won virtually any race you can name. She is a world champion, Olympic gold medalist, overall Giro winner, and victor of a multiplicity of spring classics. That list doesn’t even touch on her successes in cyclocross or mountain biking. With such a dominant history, it would be easy to imagine she could be a rider who might consider winning commonplace. Nonetheless, Vos has had a dry season so far in terms of victories, and her honest joy and excitement at taking her first victory of 2018 in stage eight would delight any cycling fan.
Beyond her palmares, Vos has been a champion of women’s cycling as a whole and she is one of the most insightful, genuine riders I had the pleasure of competing with during my career. After a tough few years recovering from overtraining, Vos knows better than anyone not to take a victory for granted. It was thrilling to see her winning again at the Giro.
The competitors at this year’s Giro were fairly unanimous in agreeing this was one of the toughest courses in recent memory. The crown jewel was the Stage 9 ascent of Monte Zoncolan, a brutal and iconic climb only used four times before in the men’s Giro d’Italia. Frequently, the women miss out on many of the tough courses that male racers get to contest and the Giro stands alone as the one true mountainous tour on the women’s calendar.
Many fans complained as always about a lack of live Giro coverage, though the replay coverage was better than ever before. Beyond visibility, there is real recent progress on standards for pay and team support for elite female racers. Yet for myself, it was always the lack of competitive opportunities – especially in terms of tough mountain races – that stung the most. It’s one thing to miss out on money or glory, but it is quite another to not have the opportunity to participate at all. The president of the stage committee for the Friuli stage that ended on Zoncolan, Enzo Cainero, noted the Zoncolan was a new climb for the Giro Rosa and that “it gives a truly, big importance about the quality and power of women cycling.” With those words and a sentiment clearly shared by the entire race organization, Cainero gave the women of the 2018 edition the gift of an amazing mountain and he gave me another reason to fall ever more in love with the Giro Rosa.