Guest Blog: Chelsea Hosking on The Giro Rosa

Chelsea and I at the start of stage five of the Giro Rosa.

While most loyal blog followers would be aware of my parents, Sheryn and Steven, and their penchant for following women’s cycling some might not know about my older sister, Chelsea or Chels.

Growing up I was always looking for obscure sports to play so that I had some hope of being better than Chels. As my parents still remind me, Chels was – and probably still is – more athletically talented than me. And it’s true. She was a runner. A fast runner.

So instead of trying to beat her at her own game I chose sports like rock climbing, field hockey, and eventually cycling. While Chels briefly entertained the idea of also becoming a cyclist she decided it just wasn’t for her – we joked it was because there wasn’t a lane for her to follow like in running – and I was able to breath a sigh of relief; phew I still have MY thing. 

But while Chelsea didn’t become a cyclist herself she wasn’t able to escape the constant cycling discussion at dinner or the weekend trips to cycling races. And like when you are forced to watch or listen to something for a prolonged period of time she eventually developed a knowledge and interest in the sport; I often refer to her as a ‘closet cycling fan’.

In the closet or out, Chels is one of my biggest supporters and has followed me around the world on numerous occasions to cheer like a crazed Belieber (Justin Biber fan); it’s an important job, that of a groupie.

In her first guest blog Chels shares some of her favourite outfits of the Giro Rosa and why she likes following women’s cycling.


Chatter over the dinner table has always been about cycling in one form or another.  Not entirely disinterested in cycling, but not as fanatical as my dear parents, I have usually sat at family dinners silently listening to names such as ‘Marianne Vos’, ‘Emma Johansson’, and ‘Giorgia Bronzini’ being passed across the table, and having little to add myself.

So when Chloe announced that I would be her ‘guest blogger’ for the Giro Rosa 2014, I wasn’t quite sure what to say.  She suggested I write about ‘how to talk your way into being allowed to drive up closed roads’, or ‘what to wear to bike races in the European summer’.

This year I wasn’t required to talk us into any places we weren’t supposed to be, mum and dad managed that one on their own.  But we did have another interesting encounter with local law enforcement and I kept my eye out for good outfits, and even found a few interesting ones…

One of the interesting outfits Chelsea saw at the Giro.

One of the interesting outfits Chelsea saw at the Giro.

Using the race program as a hat.

Using the race program as a hat.

This is the second time I have followed the Giro, the first being in 2009, Chloe’s first attempt.

This was her fourth start and we were hoping to see a bit less of her this time.  In 2009 Chloe abandoned the race, her sprinters legs being unable to carry her over the mountains at the same pace as the experienced climbers, and she came with mum, dad and I for some R&R in Varese.

My family and I at my first Giro Rosa in 2009.

My family and I at my first Giro Rosa in 2009.

 This year, now older, wiser and fitter, we were hoping to follow her all the way to the finish line in Madonna del Ghisallo.  And we did.  Chloe finished the Giro in 92nd place, but the place was never going to be important in such a hilly race, I’ve already mentioned her sprinters legs.

It is tiring being a groupie, the long transfers between the end of one stage and the start of the next stage, the rushed driving to get from point to point to see the girls wiz past.

It is distressing too, when you don’t quite make it to that point on time, to see the end vehicle disappearing into the distance.  It is extra stressful when you add mum and dad Hosking into the mix, where you are fighting not only closed roads, and the clock to get to random points on a poorly drawn map, but also Dad’s free GPS.  As Mum regularly stated, “you get what you pay for, Steven”.

One of the great things about following women’s bike racing, and in particular as a family member of one of the competitors, is that you actually get to meet some of the girls, which makes the racing even more interesting.

Mum mingling with the pros. © Wei Yuet Wong

Mum mingling with the pros. © Wei Yuet Wong

There are now a number of girls in the peloton I can shout out for as they zoom past.  Which is brilliant because with so many girls, going at such a speed, it is easy to miss Chloe.  Every time the bunch went past, mum, dad and I would look at each other “did you see her?”, sometimes all three of us did, sometimes no one did and we would all have our fingers crossed at the next point.

“The race organisers managed to lose the bunch that Chloe was riding in”

I recall one stage in 2009, mum and I couldn’t see Chloe in the bunch as they went past our viewing point, all of a sudden the ambulance flew past with its sirens blaring.  Mum and I were in a complete panic until the very end of the race, convinced right until the moment we saw Chloe at the finish, that she was in that speeding ambulance.

For me though, the highlight of the 2014 Giro Rosa came during the first stage.

The race organisers managed to lose the bunch that Chloe was riding in.  The final car came around the last corner and Chloe’s bunch hadn’t yet come through.  The Polizia put barricades in the middle of the road, and then allowed cars to park right in the middle of the race.

We tried to explain that there was another bunch still coming, but to no avail.  When the riders came around the corner, Mum ran onto the road and started dragging the barricade off it.  When a police woman, still not believing that there were riders on the course, tried to stop her they became engaged in a tug of war over the barricade.  It is an image that will stay with me for a long time.

All in all following the 2014 Giro Rosa was great fun. We got to chat to Olympians and World Champions. We got to see some beautiful places that we otherwise would not have gone to. And we got to see some exciting racing.

I told Chloe after the race was finished that I was exhausted and wasn’t doing the Giro next year, but I’ll probably have recovered by then.


*Chelsea also wanted it to be noted that she is currently 1000 points ahead of me in our fantasy Tour de France tipping competition, le Tipping.

#FlashBackFriday: Thank You Italy!

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This week’s #FlashBackFriday comes from my first year in Europe, 2009, and the Sparkassen Giro which I raced in early August. After starting the Giro Rosa with the Australian national team and struggling in every stage until I abandoned on stage seven or eight (I’ve mentally blocked out the memory) I returned to racing with my club team, Moving Ladies, and finished third behind Rochelle Gilmore and Suzanne De Goede.

I thought this blog was fitting to share (again) as I prepare for my first race after this year’s Giro Rosa. While the race isn’t the Sparkassen Giro – which I will unfortunately  miss this year as I’ll be competing at the Commonwealth Games – I’m hoping that, like in 2009, I’ll reap the rewards of suffering up the mountains and I can turn my string of top tens into podiums.

After a week of ‘aggressive recovery’ after the Giro Rosa I’ll be lining up for the new two day, three stage, BeNe tour in the Netherlands and Belgium tomorrow. I’m hoping the race will be ripped to shreds in the crosswinds.

In the meantime, enjoy my blog from 2009…


As it turns out my time in Italy and the suffering I endured in both races and training when the gradient of the road tilted upwards has come back to lend a helping hand. The Sparkassen Giro, held in Bochum Germany the past weekend helped prove that all those hours of agony spent off the back of the bunch were actually worth it after I finished third behind Rochelle Gilmore and Suzanne De Goede.

The race, carrying a UCI ranking of 1.1, one classification below a World Cup, was 6 laps of a 14 kilometre circuit. It had two power climbs and a long, fast downhill to the finish line so was raced at an average speed of 37km/hr. With crowds lining the course there was a real party atmosphere surrounding it and I found myself feeding off the crowd’s energy as I powered over the climbs each lap with the front group.

As I stood waiting for presentations I saw riders like Mark Cavendish and Henrich Haussler casually ride past me to the start of their race. I realised that the crazed crowd weren’t hear to see me, rather these athletes who carry superstar status. Nonetheless, it was still pretty amazing to ride infront of what was possibly a hundred thousand people or more.

Donning the Moving Ladies colours for the first time in a little over a month is was great to race with all the girls again. Emma was very aggressive in the race and found herself in a break with two laps to go which had all the major teams in it. Nurenberger, however, were obviously unhappy with the composition of the break as they dragged it back with a little over 15 kilometres to go. And so it was to be a sprint – was I happy? Was I ever!

The long descent into the finish line meant that the speed of the peloton in the final kilometres was around 60km/hr and there was no one team controlling the front of the bunch. The last two kilometres were truly chaotic as all the teams were vying to get their sprinters into the best possible position for the final right hand corner which was only 200 metres from the finish line.

Since arriving in Europe and growing to know and love the European peloton I have learnt many things, one of which is this; if you want to sprint and succeed in Europe you need to have guts, and be willing to take risks.

After a few very close calls and wheel touches while travelling at 65km/hr I arrived at the final right hand corner in fifth wheel, not necessarily the ideal position with only 200 metres to go. It was great to see the Australian team taking a firm hold on the race with Vickie Whitelaw giving the new Australian sprinter, Kirsty Broun, a fantastic leadout as she took her into the final corner in second wheel with Suzanne De Goede, Rochelle Gilmore and I strung out behind her.

As we all exploded out of the corner the noise of the crowd thundered in our ears as banners and flags were waved madly. Rochelle proved too strong, taking out the win narrowly from Suzanne and myself. It was a close and exciting sprint with thousands of people watching on and yelling wildly for no-one in particular.

I was extremely happy with my third in one of Europe’s major races. What was also great was having the three Australian sprinters, Rochelle, Kirsty and I all racing against each other in a quality international field as it really demonstrates the strength of female cycling in Australia.

While no longer riding for the Australian team it was fantastic to see how they took hold of the race, trying to control it. But it was not only the Aussie team that really impressed me; my Moving Ladies team mates were really active throughout the whole race. All the girls seem to be going from strength to strength as the season moves towards its climax, the World Championships in late September.

The Sparkassen Giro is definitely going on my list of races I will do again. With any luck I’ll be back next year and hopefully I’ll be able to improve on third.


 

Giro Diary: Stage Nine

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And that’s a wrap. Today my seven Hitec Products teammates and I finished the 25th edition of the Giro Rosa. Lauren Kitchen, who at 23 has already ridden the Giro five times, said it was the first time she has finished with a full team. High fives all round.

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But we have more to high five about than just finishing. Despite the tour being dominated by one team, Rabobank – they ended up finishing first, second and third on the general classification – we (or more precisely Elisa) finished fifth overall and won the best Italian rider jersey. We also had five top ten finishes.

But what is most satisfying was how we raced together as a team. Even the super team, Rabobank, commented to our director how well we were racing. So with nine days of racing behind us we were determined to keep the trend going in the ninth and final stage from Trezzo sull’Adda to Madonna del Ghisallo.

With half the peloton’s heads already on the plane home I told the girls in the the team meeting to stay focussed, “this is the last stage, it’s easy to check out and say ‘okay I’m done’ but it’s only 80km, just give 100 per cent one more time.”

With Elisa placed fifth on GC but less than 30seconds off the podium we still had everything to fight for and, unlike the final stage of the Tour de France which is merely a procession, the 80km stage offered the parcours to claw back those 30seconds.

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The first 70km of the race was undulating, racing along lake Como before turning uphill for the last 10km. The finishing climb was actually a climb made famous by the Giro di Lombardia; the Madonna del Ghisallo. It is known for the church that sits at the top which is more a shrine to cycling than anything else.

From the beginning the pace was on. Two riders from Astana-Be Pink escaped from the long, strung out peloton but behind we were racing like there was no-one away.

One attack after another. One rider would fire off to the left of the peloton before another would counter on the right. My Hitec Products teammates did a fantastic job of making sure if anything was escaping we were going to be in it.

You wouldn’t have thought we had been racing for nine days already because the pace was just crazy; we covered the first 45kms in under an hour. While I tired to have a go through a technical section of the course and did manage to gain a small advantage with a group of riders the high pace meant it all came back together.

From then on, it was a race to the bottom of the climb.

Our director had warned us of some tunnels that we had to ride through just after 50km and it appeared that most teams were more than a little stressed about them as full lead out trains started appearing. I think memories from Giros past where the peloton were forced to ride downhill through barely lit tunnels probably inspired this sudden organisation of lead out trains.

Finding Elisa I started surfing the trains keeping us in the top ten of the peloton. United HealthCare were controlling the pace so I moved us up onto their train. Then Giant Shimano appeared so I jumped right. Then Orica-AIS, left again.

As we came out of the tunnels we hit the lake and it was game on. Still more than 10kms from the bottom of the climb I hadn’t expected teams to be pushing the pace so hard so early but since Elisa and I were there I decided to keep surfing trains. By this time Rabobank had appeared and there were now three teams fighting for control of the peloton. It was fast!

With 2km to the base of the climb I dropped Elisa off onto Emma Johansson’s wheel and watched the front of the peloton race away. I was shocked to look behind me and see a splintered peloton. Only 15 or so girls remained at the front and behind was carnage.

As I dropped backwards like a stone through water I saw Mara Abbott pulling a group behind that included riders like Evie Stevens and Emma Pooley. They had obviously been caught out by the surge of pace.

Riding ‘piano’ up the final climb of the 2014 Giro Rosa I was proud of my – and my teams – last stage despite not knowing the results. We had stayed focussed and raced ‘full gas’ to the end.

Crossing the line I heard that Emma Pooley had taken her third stage win. Rolling up to the camper I was met by a smiling Elisa, “I finished fifth and kept fifth in the general.”

She was happy. I was happy. We finished the Giro; 10 days of racing, 953kilometres, 3 mountain top finishes, 20 hours of transfers, seven different hotels.

No days left.

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Giro Diary: Stage Eight

At this year’s Giro Rosa they waited until the eighth stage and ninth day of the tour before the ‘Queen Stage’. So, what that really means is they waited until everyone was mentally and physically exhausted before we got to race the hardest stage of the tour.

The stage itself was actually the ‘brain child’ of my teammate Elisa Longo Borghini; 91km from Verbania to San Domenico di Varzo, the stage had one 7km climb after 10km and then finished up a 15km climb.

The stage.

The stage.

It started in the small town of Trezzano and raced along Lago Maggiore for 10km before turning left onto the Panoramica, an extremely picturesque road that rolls along the foot hills above Intra. This was the first challenge of the stage, a gradual 7km climb that went up in stages and even featured some Italian cobbles.

From the beginning, despite having eight days of racing in their legs already, the peloton was clearly ready to race. Teams like Alé Cippolini and Giant Shimano had lead out trains organised like they were sprinting for the finish line, in reality they were racing for the left hand corner onto the Panoramica.

While my Hitec Products team had planned to do the same the speed was just too high so we instead chose to use the other teams. Ash, Audrey, Elisa and I rounded the corner in the top 15 which was ideal; we were out of trouble and in good position if any riders tried to breakaway.

While the pace was kept high by Giant Shimano it wasn’t until the short decent around 20kms that the attacks began. But when they began they were relentless, like me when I’m determined to find chocolate.

Road art thanks to the Zampine.

Road art thanks to the Zampine.

Orica-AIS started launching riders as did Specialized Lululemon and Alé Cipollini. Our director had made it clear that nothing was to go without us so with Ash, Audrey and Elisa conserving for the second part of the race I started covering, one, two, five attacks.

While my legs still had that horrible, heavy feeling from yesterday I had extra motivation today. We were in Elisa’s home area, an area I’ve been training a lot in lately, and we would never go more than a kilometre or so before we heard the next ‘forza Elisa!’ or ‘dia Elisa!’

I even heard a few ‘dia Clue’, which is how my name is pronounced in most European countries because my parents forgot the accent.

Struggling over a climb at about 25kms I worked my way back to the front to thankfully see Audrey and Julie there with me, covering attacks. Still nothing was gaining more than a few metres.

There was a sprint in front of the local watering hole in Ornavasso – one that I had frequented on my recent visits to Elisa’s house – and we had decided in the team meeting that we wanted to try and win it; not for the seconds on offer but because it was in Ornavasso, Elisa’s home town.

While Audrey and Julie did a great job in the lead out, when push came to shove I finished third.

As Elisa rode past me I muttered, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry” which basically sums up my day after that. I got bottles for the girls, put in one more futile effort at an attack and then it was ‘arrivedercci’.

Knowing there was a a big group behind me I decided not to try and match the pace of the heros in the laughing bunch who still thought they could win the bike race. Instead, I chose to ride my own tempo and enjoy the climb and the crowds.

Pink ribbons everywhere and messages of support for Elisa I wondered what was happening up the road. I found out when I finished that Emma Pooley had taken her second stage win, with Mara Abbott second and Aana van der Breggen third.

Beer o'clock.

Beer o’clock.

The highlight of my day came 1km from the finish. I had been promised weeks in advance by the Zampine (the Ornavasso sporting cheer squad and friends of Elisa) a beer and a push in the final kilometres of the stage. And, as promised as I rounded one of the final corners of the 15km climb I spotted the Zampine.

“Ciao Zampine,” I yelled, waving my hand in their signature paw wave.

Like a crowd at a football match when their team scores the group of ten or so erupted into cheers, “Ciao Chloe! Ciao Zampini!”

Andrea, one of the ring leaders of the group, ran down towards me with a cold beer in his hand and turned to run alongside me as he reached me. He handed me the beer and as I passed the crazy, cheering squad of Zampine I raised the beer to my lips and and poured it down my throat like it was water on a 45degree day. Amazingly, as I did so, the cheers got louder.

With a huge smile on my face I handed the beer back to Andrea and he fulfilled the second part of his promise, giving me one final push before I passed the group.

Sometimes, on days like today, you need people like the Zampine and things like the beer to help you get through.

1 day left.

Giro Diary: Stage Seven

You know those days where you jump on your bike and your legs feel like lead? Heavy, sore and unresponsive. Today’s seventh stage of the Giro Rosa was one of those days for me. And unfortunately, the parcours was unforgiving for anyone caught on an off day.

The 91km stage from Aprica to Chiavenna literally started directly uphill. Unless you count the 13km neutralised descent we had to endure before the race jury lowered their checkered flag.

The first and only mountain sprint (GPM) of the day came a mere 7.3km into the race. The climb, which started less than 1km into the race climbed 600 altitude metres over 7kms. As soon as the peloton hit the climb my legs started screaming at me.

Orica-AIS and Rabobank had riders setting the pace on the front and while I tried to hang onto the group for as long as I could, 3kms from the top I lost contact and found a small group behind me. I tired to find a rhythm and limit my losses; we were still tangled up in the convoy and I could see a group of about 20 riders in front of me.

As my small group crested the climb our dare devil descent began to try and rejoin the group in front of us.

The 13km descent wasn’t technical, but the roads were terrible. Dodging pot-holes we started to pass dropped riders and by the bottom we had almost closed in on the group in front of us, there was a mere 100metres between us.

The issue was all of a sudden we were climbing again, up an uncategoried climb that rivalled the gradient of the Murr de Huy (or at least it felt like it). The same screaming noise that had come from my legs on the first 7km reared it’s ugly head again but I tried to channel my inner Jens, ‘shut up legs’.

There were two big groups agonisingly close to me; I felt like what I imagine my dog feels like when I tease him with treats. Holding them just out of his reach, he would pop back on his hind legs to try and snatch it but I would raise the treat a little higher just before he got the chance.

The catch with this metaphor is that after I had my fun I would always give him the treat. Today, I didn’t get my treat. Today, I didn’t get to that group in front of me.

Crossing the finish line after having ridden the last 70km of the bike race in the ‘laughing bunch’ –where I can promise you there was no laughing and very little conversation – I was met with the devastating news that the group that had been so agonisingly close on the Italian Murr de Huy had re-joined the lead group and rode to the finish with them.

A group of 70 ended up contesting the stage win. Marianne Vos won (again) ahead of Giorgia Bronzini and Emma Johansson.

It’s a really crap feeling when you know you should have performed better and you didn’t. My team needed me there today to help lead out Ashleigh in the final which was a tricky uphill drag to the finish. But I was M.I.A.

Now in the car for our two hour (pending traffic conditions around Milano) transfer to Verbania for tomorrow’s stage eight – which races through my teammate Elisa’s home town and was actually planned by Elisa herself – I’m hoping tomorrow my legs do just shut up and I can be of some more help to our hill climbers; Elisa, Ash and Audrey.

2 days left.

Giro Diary: Stage Six

Like when you’re waiting for your final marks at school to be released I woke up with this feeling of dread this morning. Stage six of the Giro Rosa was the first real foray into the mountains and my Hitec Products team still had three riders placed in the top ten on GC, meaning we still had everything to fight for.

The 112km from Gaiarine to San Fior had three notable climbs; the first coming at 32kms is affectionately known as the Ca del Poggio, ‘the small Poggio’. For those who are unfamiliar with the Poggio, it’s the climb made famous by Milan San Remo, short and steep it’s often where the race winning move is made in the men’s classic.

So, given the nick name you’ve probably deducted the first climb of the day was short and steep. If so, you would be right. Hitting pinches of 20 per cent and just over 1km in length it is one of the climbs that just makes your legs scream.

The second climb of the day came 60km into the race and was a gradual climb for 6km while the third was the first real ‘mountain’ of the tour; starting at 74km the climb covered 1000 altitude metres in 12kms. Just to add insult to injury it was predominantly on what can best be described as goat paths rather than actual roads, it had more pot-holes than Jennifer Lopez has ex-husbands.

Even before the team meeting I could feel my legs hurting. With such a mountainous day ahead of us I knew my job would be early on in the race meaning I would still have drag myself to finish line, most likely more than 30minutes after the winner had crossed the line.

And I wasn’t wrong. In the team meeting our director pointed to Lauren, Emilie, Cecilie and I and said our job was to make sure nothing escaped in the first 30kms of the race and then to do a full on lead out into the ‘small Poggio’. Julie was to get over the climb with the front group to make sure Elisa, Ash and Audrey had an extra rider up the front to help them before the climb at 74km.

Legs screaming and heart rate almost maxed out I made it over the climb in a group just behind the main peloton

The speed was so high in the beginning kilometres and teams like Giant Shimano, Alé Cipollini and Wiggle Honda seemed determined to try and get a break away which didn’t make my job any easier. But we did what were told and with 2kms to go before the base of the ‘small Poggio’ the group was all together and teams were starting to organise full on lead out trains.

Emilie and I found Elisa and we brought her into position, turning left onto the climb I was in about fifth position with Elisa on my wheel. Job done. But I still needed to get over the climb and I wanted to get back to Elisa to help her for as much of the remaining 90kms as possible.

Legs screaming and heart rate almost maxed out I made it over the climb in a group just behind the main peloton. Julie, Audrey, Ash and Elisa had made it over the climb comfortably which was good news.

After a short chase I rejoined the front group to find out a group of about seven had escaped up the road which included riders like Emma Pooley, Trixi Worrack and Giorgia Bronzini. Elisa didn’t seemed too concerned and was happy to let Rabobank control the gap.

We cruised up the second climb of the day. By the top the break’s advantage had grown to over two minutes and Elisa decided maybe it was time to contribute to the chase and put Julie and I up the front with Rabobank.

By the base of the climb we had brought the gap down to less than two minutes and as the hill climbers surged past me I switched the lights off, thinking of the next three stages and the other mountains still left for me to suffer over.

Audrey told me that Rabobank just went full gas from the very bottom of the climb and from then girls were just dropping like flies. By the top of the climb only seven riders were left which included Vos, Elisa, and Mara Abbott, and all but one of the break away group had been reeled in, Emma Pooley.

Pooley went on to win the stage solo. Vos finished second, Anna van der Breggen third and Elisa sixth.

It was, in my opinion a great day for the team. We like to say that we’re the biggest small team in the world of women’s cycling. Today we rode like one of the ‘big’ teams.

4 days left.

Giro Diary: Stage Five

Today’s fifth stage of the Giro Rosa from Jesi to Cesenatico was most likely the last chance for the sprinters to come out to play this year. With the peloton moving into the mountains tomorrow I was determined not to miss another opportunity as I had a few days earlier in Frattamaggiore.

Hitting the half-way point of the tour the tiredness and hunger hit me hard last night but as we rolled out of the beautiful – and busy – starting town of Jesi I could tell it was one of those where you get on your bike and your legs just want to party.

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The 118km stage made it’s way back towards the Adriatica coast which we rode along yesterday before following the coastline north for the remaining 100kms or so.

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As we turned left onto the coast we were meet with the crosswinds that didn’t show up yesterday and I immediately went into high alert mode.

I love crosswinds, I get a strange kick out of the fact that while the mountain climbers can drop me in an instant on the climbs I can roll in the echelon and drop them on dead flat roads. I find it somewhat ironic.

I was confident that if any teams were going to try and split it I would:

a) be in a good position to jump straight into the echelon or
b) be able to sprint up the outside and jump in the echelon in time.

But, we’re at the Giro not Qatar so rather than racing to the front and trying to get an echelon happening – as I would have done in races like the Ladies Tour of Qatar – I immediately started searching for Elisa. Finding her quickly I told her to stay on my wheel.

We saw it in the Tour de France in 2009 when Quickstep and Columbia-HTC totally shattered the peloton in the crosswinds catching out GC riders like Contador. I was paranoid that teams like Giant Shimano, Orica-AIS or Boels Dolmans would try the same thing and didn’t want to risk Elisa finding herself out of position at the wrong moment.

I was confident that if any teams were going to try and split it I would:

a) be in a good position to jump straight into the echelon or
b) be able to sprint up the outside and jump in the echelon in time.

While Elisa is actually fantastic in a peloton, having her on my wheel just gave me some piece of mind. I knew if I started to see the classic warning signs of a team about to ‘throw it in the gutter’ I didn’t need to look any further than behind me before I raced to get in the echelon.

Despite my high alert status we reached the halfway point of the race all together. While individual riders like my teammates had been active trying to get a breakaway going nothing was going away. What was really lacking to break up the peloton was a group effort where six or more riders caught the rest of the peloton by surprise and immediately started riding echelon; opening the pace line maybe wide enough for six or eight riders to get protection from the wind but leaving the rest of the race hanging in the gutter, single file.

I started talking to the team leaders of Specialized Lululemon and Boels Dolmans, Trixi Worrack and Ellen van Dijk.

FindingTrixi in the bunch I leaned over and asked her; “Would you guys be interested in trying to break it up? You, us and Dolmans?”

Trixi: “Do you think it’s windy enough?”

Me: “I think it is if you actually ride echelon rather than just put everyone in the gutter.”

Trixi: “Okay, yes.”

Ellen also agreed. I made the decision that we would try directly after the first and only mountain sprint (GPM) of the day at 75km.

As we started to move towards the GPM my team and I started getting ready. I could see the orange train of Boels moving up the outside of the peloton as well and behind them the black and white of Specialized Lululemon.

The climb was short but steep and Anna van der Breggen (Rabobank) launched herself up and over the climb but there were still a few Boels, Specialized and Hitec at the front and just as planned, as we started the descent Ellen jumped to the front with her teammate Megan Gaurnier on her wheel. I jumped on them with Elisa and Ashleigh on my wheel and we started rolling through. Tiff Cromwell from Specialized Lululemon was rolling through with us and we had it in the gutter.

But in the end out attempt to split the peloton was futile; probably a combination of not the perfect moment, too much shelter from buildings on the side of the road and not actually enough wind. Still, it felt cool to try, and to open my legs up a bit.

With still more than 30kms to race my high alert status remained switched on; if I could have had a siren like they have when a tornado approaches small towns in the States I would have. Or at least a flashing light like the ambulances.

On a few occasions the peloton stretched into a long line in the wind as individual riders continued to try to breakaway but nothing was escaping. The race had an average speed of 42km/hr so that gives you some idea of why a breakaway group found it hard to stay away.

Leading into the last 15kms my teammates were gathering around me and we started moving up to the front of the peloton. With about 3km to go I found Bronzini’s wheel and started following her further up the peloton.

With about 1km to go Orica-AIS were on the front driving the pace and as we followed the road up a small off ramp before the road swept left and under itself I seized the opportunity to move up. Seeing Emma Johansson backing off the wheel of her teammate slightly I used the speed of the off ramp to slot perfectly in between her and her final lead-out girl.

I couldn’t believe how smoothly this was going. With 800ms to go I was siting third wheel. Perfect.

Oh, we’re still going left. Shit. A sharp left hand corner which hadn’t been shown in the road book was all of a sudden in front of us and caught more than just me off guard. Locking up my back wheel I fish tailed through the corner and almost went straight instead of left.

Correcting the fish tail I made it through the corner but not without loosing five positions. Shifting frantically out of my 53×12 I tried to accelerate as quickly as possible back to the leading riders, luckily I found Vos’ wheel.

Now sitting about sixth wheel I followed Vos’ line around the final left hand corner which came at 400ms to go. When the sprint finally opened I found myself stuck between Bronzini and Johnasson. With no where to go I was forced to pretty much back pedal. I finished 5th.

While it’s not the podium, or the win, I was looking for I was still happy with the result.

After we cross the line Vos said to me, “nice save”. Guess she also wasn’t expecting the corner.

Tomorrow is finally where the GC riders get their mountains. If they ate lollies I would say they’d be like kids in a candy store, climbing to 1200ms at one point the overall classification will surely be shaken up.

5 days left.

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Giro Diary: Stage Four

Stage four of the Giro Rosa was as close as we get to rest days in women’s cycling; after three hard road stages I think everyone sub-consciously wanted one too.

In the end the however, the predicted crosswinds were a no show like Wiggo at the Tour this year.

118km from Alba Adriatica to Jesi, the race had the potential to reek havoc. Following the Adriatica coast for the first 76km before turning inland to the finish in Jesi, most people were expecting – and some were hoping for – some gutter action. In the end the however, the predicted crosswinds were a no show like Wiggo at the Tour this year.

So instead, the majority of peloton enjoyed an extended recovery ride for the large part of the race. While one escape artist put up quite a fight and extended her lead to over three minutes at some points she was dragged back in by the peloton when we all finally woke up after forcing down some caffeinated gels.

A short, third category climb that came with less than 15kilometres was the catalyst for the gels.

Today's Giro Rosa course profile.

Today’s Giro Rosa course profile.

Orica-AIS, who took over the mountains jersey yesterday from my teammate Ashleigh, kept the pace high on the short, gradual climb and stretched the peloton but were unable to splinter it.

I was well positioned as we crested the climb with Ashleigh, Elisa and Audrey close by so we immediately switched our focus to the bunch sprint scenario we had discussed in the team meeting before the race.

The climb was followed by a twisting descent which quickly gave way to a technical approach to the last 1km which swept uphill before the final right hand corner with 150ms to go.

On paper it looked like a great sprint for me, but in reality the little pinches leading up to the finish were too much for my sprinter legs and I fell off the pace with 800ms to go leaving Elisa and Ashleigh to fight for the stage honours.

Had we known the finish would be so tough we might have changed the team plan to go for our French super woman Audrey Cordon who has an impressive turn of pace in tough bunch kicks which she showed when she finished third in the tough Belgian classic Omloop van het Hageland earlier this year. Or even Ashleigh who won Holland Hills Classic in 2013 from a bunch kick.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing.

Despite this, the girls did a fantastic job of setting up the leadout train which, if anything, will be good practice for the last sprint stage tomorrow before we head into the mountains in stages seven, eight and nine.

Despite me falling off the pace Elisa was able to finish the race off in impressive style with a top ten. More importantly, she stayed out of trouble while other GC riders got caught behind crashes and punctures in the closing kilometres.

Vos showed how impressive she is again by winning her second stage of this year’s Giro while Shelly Olds finished second and Lucinda Brand was third.

My heart goes out to poor Lucinda who probably had the stage locked up before she prematurely saluted and a fast finishing Olds almost stole the race victory. Luckily for Rabobank Vos was there to keep the victory in the team.

5 days left.

Great image by velofocus.com of yesterday's third stage.

Great image by velofocus.com of yesterday’s third stage.

Giro Diary: Stage Three

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Finally the Giro moved from circuit races to point to point races and according the race bible today’s third stage was the first chance for the general classification (GC) riders to come out to play.

But as we know the first road stage two days ago already offered them the chance to rip everyone else’s legs off which they seized. In fact, we actually climbed more altitude metres on Saturday than we did today.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a hard stage however. With temperatures soaring the 125kilometres stage from Caserta to San Donato Val di Comino was always going to be tough.

I managed to sit comfortably in the peloton up the climb which was a small victory in my eyes.

My Hitec Products team went in with a clear plan; we wanted to save Elisa, Ashleigh and Audrey for later in the race when the peloton would hit the first categorised climb of the tour at 87kilometre and then a 10kilometre climb to the finish in the beautiful town of San Donato Val di Comino. Lauren, Julie, Cecilie and Emilie were to cover breaks and go with any dangerous moves while I was free to do the same or save my legs for the next two stages. Elisa asked me in the opening kilometres of the race if I could stay with her so that’s exactly what I did for the next 115kilometres.

The peloton was aggressive from the beginning and the girls did a fantastic job of covering all the moves and when the right combination of riders finally escaped around the 50kilometres mark we had Julie in there flying the Hitec Products flag.

It was quite a large group that escaped with about 12 riders including Annemiek van Vlueten from Rabobank, Valentina Scandolara and Loes Gunnewijk from Orica-AIS and Tiffany Cromwell from Specialized-Lululemon, but there were no serious GC threats so we were happy to let the gap blow out to as much as 2 minutes.

Boels Dolmans obviously weren’t so happy with the mix of riders and started chasing about 10kilometres after the group went clear and brought the gap down to around 40seconds before we hit the first climb of the day.

While I had been certain that the peloton would shatter on the climb it seemed with the break up the road everyone was happy to ride ‘piano’, or at least piano for those who are actually good at climbing. I managed to sit comfortably in the peloton up the climb which was a small victory in my eyes.

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Some of the amazing countryside we rode through on the day's stage.

As we came over the climb the gap to the leading group had blown back out to over one minute and United HealthCare and Giant Shimano started to chase, with 20km to go 10 of which were uphill, they were obviously worried about the group in front. Which as it turns out they should have been.

Great shot from velofocus.com before yesterday's stage two start.

Great shot from velofocus.com before yesterday’s stage two start.

As the kilometres started to come down I positioned myself close to the front and started to prepare for the last 10kilometres of the race. Our director had asked Ash to go full gas at the bottom of the climb with Elisa on her wheel, but since I was still (amazingly) at the front of the bike race I told the girls I would go as hard as I could for as long as I could at the bottom of the climb and that’s exactly what I did.

As we rounded a right hand corner the road immediately kicked up and I went straight to the front. We could see the breakaway group just in front of us and I kept pushing until Ash took control and I dropped through the peloton quicker than I devour cup cakes.

Finding a small group behind me I rode the last 7kilometres easy and crossed the line two minutes or so behind Annemiek van Vlueten who had escaped from the breakaway group with three others to win. Berlato (Alé Cipollini) was second and Mayuko Hagiwara (Wiggle Honda) was third.

Elisa, Ash, Audrey finished comfortably in the group behind meaning Elisa stays in third overall and in the best Italian rider jersey. Unfortunately Ash lost the mountains jersey after the breakaway riders claimed all the points on offer for the day.

It was nice to have my Dad in the team car for the day, he even saw me on multiple occasions as I was the team’s camel for the day, bringing water to the girls throughout the stage. If I was to make a rough estimate I think I transported more than 25 biddons through the peloton to my teammates.

Seeing Dad after the finish and the big grin on his face made the 125km in scorching weather worthwhile. I asked him how it was, ‘It was fantastic!’ Glad we could put on a show for you Dad!

6 days left.

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Team dinner last night shouted by my fantastic parents. Thanks Mum and Dad!

Giro Diary: Stage Two

Professional cycling, or just professional sport in general, can be an emotional roller-coaster. One day you can be on cloud nine, nothing could have gone better and you’re loving life. The next day everything can go wrong and you just want to crawl into a dark corner and stay there.

After yesterday’s ecstasy brought on by the team’s fantastic performance in the opening road stage of the Giro Rosa that saw Elisa Longo Borghini finish second on the stage and move into third overall, today was a dark corner day for me, and for the rest of the team.

The race was one for the sprinters; six laps of 20km circuit on dead flat roads. There was a small chance a breakaway could escape but with teams like Wiggle Honda, Orica-AIS and my team, Hitec Products, all looking for a mass bunch kick the odds were never in the favour of any escapee.

Despite this teams who didn’t have a sprinter still wanted to have a go. With just over 50km to go a lone rider broke away from the fast moving peloton and established a lead of almost two minutes before the sprinters team’s decided to take charge.

With 40km to go we sent three of ours riders to the front, along with Alé Cippolini, to bring the gap down and were joined by Wiggle Honda a little later on. While the lone rider put up a valiant effort she was reeled in with just under 20km to go and we were set for a bunch sprint.

I had been sitting comfortably in the bunch all day and my confidence was being bolstered by my teams’s unwavering belief in me.

In the team meeting before the race our Director had said today was all for me and the girls were all in agreement. They did a fantastic job throughout the race to make sure I was always protected, well hydrated and just generally okay.

With 15km my team and I were coming together, we’d spoken about where we wanted to start our lead out train and I had all seven of my teammates with me. Elisa, clad in her blue best Italian rider jersey had taken control and was organising all the girls; Lauren Kitchen, Audrey Cordon, Ashleigh Moolman, Julie Leth, Emilie Moberg, Cecilie Johnsen. They were all around me, it was an incredible feeling to have that sort of support.

Crash.

A huge crash, right at the front of the peloton. Like dominos girls just started piling on-top of each other.

Shit.

I had no where to go but down, riding straight over the top of poor Amy Pieters (Giant Shimano) who was on the bottom of the pile. Getting up straight away I looked to my left to see Ash on the ground with me.

Picking my bike out of the pile I could hear Emilie who had managed to avoid the crash frantically asking if I was okay. I was fine, but picking my bike at of the tangled mess of riders I could immediately tell that my bike wasn’t.

With car number two my team vehicle was quick to arrive at the crime scene and I caught my mechanic just before he started running towards me with wheels, “spare bike, spare bike!”

He immediately dropped the wheels and ripped my bike off the roof, putting my race bike to the side I jumped on my spare bike to see Emilie waiting for me and a frantic chase began.

I should note that this all transpired in less than two minutes. In bike racing so much can happen in the blink of an eye.

The three girls brought me back to the peloton and immediately started weaving through the mass of riders to bring me back to the front. With less than 10km to go the back of the peloton was not where we wanted to be.

As Emilie and I started the chase back to the peloton I could immediately hear a noise coming from my bike and could feel extra resistance, like that horrible feeling when your breaks are rubbing but worse, but I pushed it to the back of my mind. I was concentrated on getting back to front of the peloton.

Within a minute I saw Lauren and Audrey up ahead, they had also waited to help me get back to the front of the peloton. Crashing is never something you hope for, but when you have support from your teammates like I had today it makes it just a little bit better.

The three girls brought me back to the peloton and immediately started weaving through the mass of riders to bring me back to the front. With less than 10km to go the back of the peloton was not where we wanted to be.

Elisa, who had been waiting for us in the peloton saw the green train of Hitec flying up the side of the peloton and jumped in to help but I could still feel something off with my bike.

When the girls got out of the seat to kick out of a corner I couldn’t do the same, it was like my fast twitch fibre had disappeared. I’m sure if I had an SRM (a power metre computer) on my bike it would have told me I was I was pushing close to 600 watts when those around me were pushing 300.

With 3km to go Elisa, Audrey and Julie were all still with me but as the peloton weaved through the technical approach to the finish I was finding it harder and harder to accelerate out of the corners.

Slipping further and further back in the peloton my race was over. It was a devastating feeling to have your teammates so committed to helping you get a result and then not being able to deliver.

Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle Honda) went on to win ahead of Vos (Rabobank) and Shelly Olds (Alé Cipollini).

Unless you’re Marianne Vos you don’t get that many opportunities to win a stage of the Giro Rosa in your career and today feels like a missed opportunity. Knowing that my legs were good and my team was even better just adds salt to the wounds.

The silver lining of today’s race is that Elisa remains in third overall and in the best Italian rider jersey and didn’t lose any serious time on the general classification, while Ash remains in the mountains jersey.

Tomorrow’s 125km third stage from Caserta to San Donato Val di Comino will be another day where the general classification riders will come out to play with the race finishing on a 5km climb.

From a purely selfish point of view I’m hoping there are more opportunities to sprint in this Giro so I can bring myself out of my dark corner.

7 days left.

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