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As the profile of women's cycling grows, so do the gradients on the climbs and the caliber of the peloton.
Meet the new roads, celebrate some great racing, and admire those killer climbs—the Giro Rosa 2018 is a platform for the avant-garde of the cycling world.
As most eyes and lenses within the cycling world look toward France each July, we're finding ourselves, year after year, drawn toward a somewhat smaller, but no less prestigious, race. The world's best women cyclists take on their own premier stage race, the Giro Rosa, each July. The equivalent to the men's Giro, the women's Tour of Italy takes place over 10 straight stages, with no rest days included.
Those 10 consecutive stages are never easy, and this year the race included no fewer than three "proper" mountain stages, including the mythical and mighty Zoncolan, as well as two Valtellina-based stages, close by our HQ in Southern Switzerland.
As one of the few races in the women's calendar that includes high mountains, this would prove to be an exciting and hard-fought race. We took one of our ASSOS ambassadors, Atlanta-based Ayesha McGowan, along for the ride, giving her the unique experience of riding shotgun at the race in the Cylance Pro Team car.
STAGE 6: Sovico — Gerola Alta, 114km, 1,150 meters of climbing
First up was the stage from Sovico (just north of Milan) to Gerola Alta, a side valley tucked at the lower end of Valtellina. Other than the long 15km mountain finish, the parcours didn't present any huge challenges to the riders, other than the risk of wind on the trip up the eastern side of Lake Como.
Being a team that had just lost its General Classification hope thanks to niggles from an injury sustained at the start of the season, Cylance Pro Cycling was looking to get in the break of the day at best, or at least stay out of trouble during this stage, because it was set to be the first major showdown for the overall title.
Packed with locals, Gerola Alta laid the stage for a jubilant finish after a 15km drag of a climb with 800 meters of elevation. With the villages en-route having dressed up in pink ready to welcome the riders, the great show of strength, courage, and tenacity from the peloton did not disappoint the expectant fans.
If you want the full inside line on what it's like to ride shotgun on this stage then check out Ayesha's video—it sums up the highs and the lows of a day following a race.
STAGE 7: Lanzada — Campo Moro, Individual Time Trial, 15km, 1,000 meters of climbing.
The second stage that we were keen to follow was the individual uphill time trial set in yet another side valley of Valtellina. Tucked behind the provincial capital of Sondrio, the dead-end valley is better known by alpinists as the gateway to the Italian side of the imposing Bernina mountain range. Today's stage started in Lanzada and climbed a sinuous, narrow, and tunnel-strewn 15km road to the two dams that sit at Campo Moro. Never before used in a professional race of this caliber, this stage was essentially a test-bed for a future edition of the Giro d'Italia. Who knows, we've seen the same happen in the past with Passo Zoncolan, so there's hope for Valtellina yet. Either way, it's a spectacular road with views around each corner and out of each tunnel that will astound you.
As with the previous stage, Cylance Pro Cycling had no riders who favored this terrain or were battling for a position on the GC, so for them it was a day to focus on making the time limit while saving as much energy as possible.
Encircled by high mountains and the rich blue reservoirs of Campo Moro, the riders exerted themselves to the max, testifying to the challenging nature of this once-mysterious climb. And as with all things in women's cycling, this is the sort of ground-breaking riding on unknown roads that prove these riders are at the forefront of our sport.
Here at ASSOS we're continuing to champion women's cycling and hope that these hard-fought 10 stages—which, for the first time, received a daily televised recap—will have been observed and admired by those with the power to really make a difference to the professional lives of these riders.