With all the excitement around the Tour De France it may be easy to overlook the Giro Rosa, which is a huge race on the women’s cycling calendar.

The Giro Rosa is the only women’s Grand Tour and this year three NSWIS Associates have lined up, all in the colours of Orica-GreenEDGE.

Pics courtesy of Anton Vos

Sarah Roy, Amanda Spratt and Rachel Neylan are three very different riders who have made it to the pro women’s peloton in very different ways, so this occasion gives us a great chance to celebrate their achievements. Although not part of our Race Team they are part of the NSWIS family and when Sarah Roy offered to write a few words about her experience it was too good an opportunity to miss.

So here it is, the Giro Rosa 2015 as it started for Sarah Roy & Orica-GreenEDGE.

In November the team managers told me I’d be lining up for the Giro and my initial reaction was, “WHAT?! Are you sure? Have you thought this through?”

Those who know me know that my strengths do not lie in riding up 30km climbs. The team managers reassured me that my actual strengths were required for the team and that the Giro is not just about climbing. This Grand Tour starts off with a 2km prologue followed by nine stages totalling 891.5km. The first four stages are relatively flat and this is where I’ll be having my most fun.

GIRO ROSA Stages & Profile: http://www.girorosa.it/tappe.html

Since November I’ve overcome Glandular Fever and a very rocky/late start to my season, but I’m eager to put it all behind me and repay my team for the unwavering support they’ve shown me. I’ve made it to the start line with a very strong team including fellow NSWIS athletes Amanda Spratt and Rachel Neylan. We also have our pocket rocket Italian Valentina Scandolara, our GC rider Katrin Garfoot, our junior-burger Macey Stewart, our token ranga Chloe McConville and our comeback queen Lizzie Williams.

Team presentation was an experience I’ll never forget. We rode our bikes up a ramp onto a huge bicycle decorated stage with pink lighting and were presented pink roses from some very cute podium dancer men.

Prologue: 2km Circuit – Ljubljana (Slovenia)

Being my sort of thing I was targeting this little lap. We had a great pre-race day and coffee ride the morning of, and we rode the course in the evening before we started. The course had one left turn, two U-turns and one right turn. Our team set up is unreal and my Scott Plasma is a dream to ride. I felt good in my warm up and 15 minutes before my start our swanny helped stuff me inside my skin suit and my helmet.

I rolled down to the start area on my road bike and met our mechanic and another swanny with my TT bike. Their famous last words were, “Always go faster, always.”

I took off down the start ramp pretty determined. The lap was so short you just could not leave anything in the tank. My team mate Lizzie was off earlier than me and advised to ride a big gear. I like big gears so that’s what I did. I had an awful grimace on as I approached the first U-turn which captured a photographers attention (so he told me), and so he set up his lens to snap me as I came out of the turn hoping for a picture of the pain face. Well, he got more than he bargained for…

I was motivated and keen for a good ride, so I changed my gears under load but unfortunately broke my chain in the process. The challenge then was to figure out how to get back to the start. Given the race is so short and crashing is generally not expected you don’t have a follow car. I will admit I did first attempt to ride my bike with the idea of scooting along but the road was slightly up hill. The spectators were clapping for me so I smiled and said, “Maybe I could ride one of your bikes?”

When life gives you lemons…

I rolled to the finish and was given equal last place. Our Italian Vale finished an impressive seventh, putting herself in the best placed Italian jersey…quite an achievement.

 

Stage 1: 102km, flat with one intermediate sprint and one QOM, 32degrees, no wind.

Road captain: Spratty.

Plan: Take the leaders jersey. Chloe and I to support Vale for intermediate sprint and final sprint.

The pace was very fast and a break of three were met by a few solo bridges, making a six rider break with no real threats. We were all in good position but the break took the sprint and QOM points/seconds. This meant we were to set Vale up for the sprint finish.

In the meantime there was a small off on the descent involving our protected rider Kat, so both Rachel and I waited and brought her back to the bunch. No harm done.

It was mostly up to Team Bigla to bring the break back, which they did, and in the final kilometres I did what I could to help Vale and Lizzie, but I just didn’t have speedy legs today. Barbara from Velocio-SRAM took the win and fellow Aussie Tiffany Cromwell came in third.

Camper

The highlight of the day would probably be filling the car with the wrong fuel and all having to pile into the non-effective air-con camper for a 2h transfer…consider any world drought cured.

This is a pic of our mechanic Pat – re-packing the camper/sweat box, post fuel tragedy.

 

Stage 2: 102.5km with 3 intermediate sprints and 3 QOM’s. 40 degrees

Plan: Macey, Chloe and myself to cover first 75km to bottom of first QOM. Spratty, Lizzie, Vale and Rachel to look after Kat on the climbs.

The first 75km went to plan and as soon as we hit the climb all three of us had our reverse lights on. Spratty did a great job looking after Kat but unfortunately she don’t have the legs today. Rachel found herself in great position, and although just off the very select group of eight leaders she finished an impressive 10th place on what was a much harder stage than we had anticipated. 

Heat2

Pics Courtesy Anton Vos

We have learned to never trust an Italian course profile. The conditions were sweltering and many riders were caught out in the heat, unable to drink enough given the race was split to smithereens and support vehicles were few and far between.

At the moment it’s quite a struggle to get enough fluid in. Because it is so hot we drink a minimum of 13 litres a day. I make sure I am well hydrated the night before and keep drinking right up to the start time. I have one litre with an electrolyte tablet at breakfast and on the way to the stage. At the start of the stage I have two biddons with electrolytes and one water bottle to pour on my head. During the race I drink a minimum of three biddons per hour as well as pouring water over myself. After the race, I drink a cold water bottle on the finish line and two more biddons with electrolytes. On the transfer to the hotel I make my way through a two litre bottle which I finish before bed. 

During the race it can be quite chaotic as everyone is desperate for water. All the teams’ swannies are lining the streets with their arms out and riders are chopping each other, dropping biddons, yelling, screaming etc. There’s nothing better than an ice cold biddon though, when you can feel your face melting off like you’re in a fan forced oven. 

I also fed from a musette for the first time and the swanny had tied a knot to shorten the handle for the smaller girls. At first I couldn’t get it over my arm and head so I put it over my head like a necklace and then squeezed my arm through. Once I’d emptied the bag I couldn’t get it off! I couldn’t get my arm out again. It stayed there flapping around for about 5km and Chloe had to help get the bag off me.

Stage 3: 127km with one QOM but two big lumps and one intermediate sprint. Another hot 40 degree day with less wind and shade as less climbing today

Plan: Be opportunistic and present in every move. Rachel to take it as easy as possible; If looks like bunch sprint go for a lead out train to set up Vale for a good finish.

It was a good day for us today. We are starting to work better and position ourselves together which makes it easier to communicate.

 We were all present at the front in the beginning, getting in moves and creating moves. Eventually Lizzie got away solo. She was pretty lonely out there in the heat for about 20km. In the meantime it wasn’t a free ride for the rest of us. There were a lot of moves we all had to cover but unfortunately no solo riders had a proper go so the peloton reeled her back in. Shortly after, Spratty was in a split and as it was caught I came with speed down the right hand side and used it to attack. I was out there for a whole 2km as we hit a steep climb but Vale used this to our advantage and attacked over the top of me, taking eight riders with her. There was about 70km to go.

 Boels Dolmans were not represented in the break and since they’re in the Leader’s Jersey they kept the break at a safe distance. They were never caught however, and our Italian pocket rocket Vale pulled off a great ride for second place. While she’s somewhat disappointed as she has a good kick for sprinting I think it was a very positive result for the team.

To make it even sweeter, Vale’s mum made a huge tray of fresh Italian almond biscotti!! I’m not kidding when I say biscuits don’t get any better!!! 

It can be hard in the peloton with riders strung out along the course. Lizzie’s bike broke down and she needed a bike change but the team car was up the road with Vale in the break. The commissaire was nice enough to let her hang on to their car until the team car came back with a bike. Rachel also came down in a small pile up but bounced back up quickly. She has a bit of a corky in her quad.

 Another story from the road… We got a flat tyre in the car on the autostrada on the transfer to hotel and had no spare wheel. Chaos. 

 

Stage 4: 100km and almost pancake flat (according to the Italian course profile. Hopefully no surprise 6k climbs)

This sort of stage will see a very fast average speed and a lot of teams being aggressive, but I think will ultimately end in a bunch sprint. Our plan will be similar to today’s Stage Four, be present in every move and be together to set up Vale or Lizzie for a sprint finish. 

The tour starts going up and up from the end of stage 5 as it finishes on a big climb. We will continue to be ready for any solid long term breakaways but we have some cards to play with both Kat and Rachel who could do really well on the hill top finish. 

From then on, things for us will be a matter of setting up our climbers as best we can. Things will get really interesting so stay tuned.