Annemiek van Vleuten is on her way to win another Grand Tour this season, with consistently high level performances throughout the 2023 Giro d’Italia Donne mountain stages too much for a field missing Demi Vollering.
The Dutch superstar torched everyone on the first mountain test on Stage 2, riding away from her rivals on Passo Della Colla (9.9 km, 5.8%). Despite it being a shallow descent finish, she won the stage with a 45 second gap, doing one of the best pure climbing performances ever.
It was the first fully raced stage of this Giro Donne as the time-trial was cancelled due to weather. Due to the ease of the stage before the sole climb, Van Vleuten practically did a full gas 20 minute FTP test up Passo Della Colla, pushing 5.62 ᵉW/Kg for 20 minutes and 17 seconds. Marta Cavalli lost 32 seconds on the climb, doing 5.31 ᵉW/Kg but was later joined by Gaia Realini and then caught by a bigger group. Van Vleuten has not been as dominant in 2023 as in previous years but her performance on stage 2 was promising for the upcoming Tour where she will compete against Vollering. The World Champion plans to retire after the season but it would not be a surprise if she would continue for one more year as the 2024 Paris Olympic Games road race route (announced today) is going to be hilly and a good chance to complete her palmares.
Stage 5 was the first hard day of the Giro with multiple hard climbs throughout the 106 kilometre stage. The race ended for most of the riders after the first climb of the day, the Passo del Lupo, where Van Vleuten again destroyed everyone, with only Gaia Realini staying on her wheel. Steep gradients suit Realini well so it is not a surprise she could challenge Van Vleuten despite being dropped on the shallower climb on Stage 2. Despite facing gearing issues, the Italian beat Van Vleuten on the mighty Lagos de Covadonga finish in La Vuelta earlier this year, losing only to Demi Vollering.
Unsurprisingly, the riders were spread out after Passo del Lupo where Van Vleuten did 5.15 ᵉW/Kg for 34:23 minutes. Due to drafting, Realini did 0.05 ᵉW/Kg less. The next riders where Longo Borghini and Fisher-Black (lost +0:36), Cavalli, Persico, Niedermaier and Santesteban (+1:21), Ludwig and Garcia (+1:58).
After a long descent and shallow climb, a lead group of the strongest nine riders was formed. Van Vleuten was not that active in chasing attacks made by numerous riders, already having a comfortable lead in GC. In the end it was Niedermaier whose attack was successful and she went solo, while Van Vleuten was riding defensively and saving her legs for the mighty Sant'Ignazio climb (4.1 km, 8.2%) with 15 kilmoetres remaining.
On the Sant'Ignazio climb Van Vleuten made her move and at the top the gap was only 14 seconds, according to the TV. Longo Borghini was the only one who could initially follow her but the Italian champion was distanced by Van Vleuten at the top of the climb. After that followed a steep, narrow and technical descent. As there was a possibility to win a stage, many riders took big risks. Longo Borghini went too fast in a tricky corner and crashed hard, fortunately being able to finish the stage but losing more than 7 minutes to the winner.
Van Vleuten did not crash hard but needed to stop after she also missed a blind corner which doubled back on itself. The 20 year-old Niedermaier also was taking risks and managed to stay on a bike and with mistakes from her closest followers she could take a big victory for Canyon-Sram.
Niedermaier beat Van Vleuten by only nine seconds. The gaps were huge as Greta Marturano who finished 22nd, lost more than 13 minutes. Thanks to a consistent performance across the GC stages, Van Vleuten leads the GC by 2 minutes and 7 seconds over second placed Niedermaier. There four stages left in the Giro Donne but none of the remaining days will be a hard mountain top finish or even a mountain day, compared to Stages 2 and 5.
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