A few months ago someone told me the world of women’s tour cycling was a circus and I quickly discovered that they weren’t lying with that one! My introduction to the `circus’ was the 17th Giro d’Italia Donne Elite which is the ten day women’s tour of Italy consisting of one prologue and 9 road stages. Over 10 days 130 women race 894.2 km through Italy, starting from Rome and finishing on the summit of the Madonna del Ghisallo climb in the Como area near Milan.
The ‘circus’ comprised of 17 international teams and included many fascinating spectacles; like bearded women (they where actually just `he-shes’ but no less scary!!), a Baby Huey look alike, a Hulk Hogan policeman and of course what freak show would be complete without a midget. There were many other peculiar characters such as the cone head euro mullet, from Russia with love team and who could forget Mittens, the rider who wore arm warmers and woollen gloves for 10 days in the dry, 38 degree heat!! All these characters and more helped to make the Giro a fascinating and somewhat scary event!
The giro started off with a 5.2km Prologue (short individual time trial), which was mostly uphill and a power climb. I had a decent enough ride although I think I was more nervous than I realised as I actually can’t remember anything about the ride apart from not being able to turn my legs over fast enough! Getting to the end of the first day was great as you shed a few nerves and now the main event begins!
The second day of the Giro was a road stage of 115km around Lake Bracciano, which I gather from the one second I actually got a glimpse was really beautiful! My first European road race was actually quite nerve wracking; you can’t take your eyes off the pack (peloton) for fear of running up the backsides of the other riders. This is fairly typical of any peloton, though as the rider in front of you is already so close to you that you pretty much have your handbars on their butt, it makes it all the more scary. Not much stopping space that’s for sure!!
Because of the lack of room, nerves and everyone being super keen and pushy there were riders going down left, right and centre. There were screams and yells all day as people had to swerve, brake hard and come to a skidding stop if you didn’t actually plough into the person in front. I have never been in such a vocal pack and if the guys at home think I’m bossy in a pack then I’m sorry but I’ve got nothin’ on some of these ladies! Slaps on the butt, cries of `occhio’ (watch out in Italian), `aqua’ and other emotional words in Italian are going around all day. I was pretty happy to have no comprehension of all the screams and chatter happening around me….
I ended up finishing day two in around 15th position and was delighted with that effort as it’s incredibly tough to push your way to the front of the pack. It was also nice to go home in one piece as there were many times where I missed falls by a fraction. All in all a good day for my first euro road race!
Day Three was another strange one. The program stated we had to race 130km but for some reason we signed on, were introduced to the crowd then jumped on our bikes to ride 5km down hill. After 5km we got back in our team vehicles, drove 25km and re started the race on a random stretch of road in the middle of nowhere??? Go figure?? But as they say, “when in Rome, do as the Roman’s do.” So we all jumped on and started the race which was then to be 101km. The race was fairly flat in the profile and I spent most of the time working my way to the front only to be spat out the back again. This is the way of the peloton though and I went with it gaining a little more confidence in the pack and trust in my fellow riders.
Day Four was the big one of the tour! 130km of racing with 3 decent climbs. The day started in the main piazza in a village called Orvieto, which was extremely old and had a spectacular church with intricate mosaic pictures on the front. The rest of the village had cobbled streets and a lot of old cute buildings filled with Italian arts and crafts. Definitely a village to explore but of course we departed for the race quickly.
I felt really strong on day four and rode the whole stage well. I put in some attacks, was involved in a few short break aways and just tried to be involved in the race as much as possible while still riding smart. On the final climb of the day I was positioned a little too far back in the pack which can stretch out a few hundred meters. I quickly learnt that it’s not a good idea to be at the back at the start of the climb and subsequently was dropped by the front pack… Maybe I would have been anyway but I finished the day top 30, didn’t lose too much time and felt ok for having raced 130k so I was pretty happy.
Day Five was a shocker. 92km involving 3 laps of a circuit with one major climb. Towards the top of the climb the road went onto cobbles and the road decreased in width by about 2 meters to go through an archway. Let me tell you now, 130 girls on bikes all trying to squash through a 2 meter arch way at once just doesn’t work, someone’s always gonna lose!! This was all good fun, however that morning I also woke feeling weak and tired so I spent the day somehow clawing my way up the climb trying to stay in touch with the lead group. Because I was tired I felt mega unconfident on the descents and cornering and it was a horrible feeling to lose wheels all day. At one stage I even lost touch with the chase pack and had to discretely use the convoy to jump back up to them…. Later on the chase pack caught the breakaway so it was a relief that I managed to stay with them! The less said on this stage the better but on my worst day in the tour I was lucky not to lose any time which might have affected my end result….
Aussie Team sign on and introduction.
Team Australia pre race