Sisters in arms

The thick clouds made the start of the day of the third race a lot more pleasant. The Italians were up early this time and they succeeded to make the start location in Sogliano Micca look sharp. Parkhotel Valkenburg had risen before dusk and dawn and arrived at the scene in time to set everything up and enjoy a quick Italian coffee. There was a course of 104,1km ahead, so proper caffeine would not hurt. 

The two team cars with the riders, Bart, Wim and Jochem arrived some time later but after a short stop, they decided to explore the last kilometers towards the finish. This would get them a feel for the climbs, bends, curves, asphalt, and crazy narrow roads that they will have to face about two and a half hours later.

Back at the camper, the preparation started all over again: kit on, gather shoes and helmet, drink, eat, breathing exercises, drink, sunscreen, radio installation, drink, etc. The team went to sign and present themselves on stage quickly before furthering their preparations by hitting the Tacx bikes. By then end, the team was ready to defend the green jersey on the roads to the finish in Piedicavallo.

Leaving the start behind, the peloton was facing decent climbs and descends. Unfortunately, a crash happened early on involving Sofie de Vuyst. The jury called for the team car and Bart made his way down, towards the front, faster than lightning. Usually, he still manages to make remarks and chat while speeding forward, but these narrow roads needed to be handled with two hands high on the wheel and proper concentration. Imagine doing this on a bike surrounded by approximately hundred other riders… Once the team car got to the back on the peloton, Sofie was nowhere to be found. She had gotten right back on her bike, losing her race glasses and some skin in the process. 

After the technical descending, a long, wide road was ahead which gave the riders the opportunity to reset their mindset from half kamikaze downhill to a more casual style of racing. This also seemed to be the time for e-ve-ry team in the book to call for feeding, and the UCI speaker on the radio was struggling to keep up with all hands that went up in the air. Esther’s communication set was not working properly so this was replaced by Tom, hanging out of the car window, while Bart shared some passionate words with the driver of the car that cut him off. When the electronics were rightly installed, Esther also was given four bottles in her shirt to carry to her mates. That must have felt nice and cool in the scorching heat that had gradually developed. 

The road led the team through old villages where locals would be cheering everyone on. In one town, there was a friendly water canon set up with misty water dripping down on the riders. And Italy would not be Italy, if the nuns had not come out to give these athletes their best cheers. 

With the nuns out of sight and another crazy descend done, Nina had trouble with her front derailleur and was given her back-up bike quickly. Then, she also brought a fresh supply of cool drinks to her sisters in arms. Bad luck kept hitting the Parkhotel team, because Esther’s chain refused to do what it was supposed to do, and she was eventually taken in by the group following the peloton. 

Passing the start area again, the riders were able to get their last fresh drink from Ronny and then start their final climbing kilometers. One Trek rider was trying to make it on her own, but Canyon/SRAM decided otherwise and led the bunch to catch her. The road was up, and the riders started to climb hard. The team car passed Sophie de Boer who had given it her all. 

With the team car crawling up the mountain in first gear created a nice opportunity to spot the beautiful graffiti on the streets that seemed to spell ‘Vollering’. The Italians will be able to enjoy those letters for a while on their road to Piedicavallo. 

The pack was together but started dropping riders one by one. The heat coming from the sky and the heat coming from the asphalt were excruciating and making it hard to breath. Demi and Sofie kept fighting and were able to finish close behind the winner, in respectively 14th and 17th place. Nina and Sophie came in soon after, with Marit and later Esther following their example. They had done their job well today: executing assignments from their teammates, taking them in their wheel, and when the finale started, save the legs for the days to come. Those legs will be much needed for the fourth stage of this race which will start in Lisonne at 12:10. 

Text Suzanne Schrijnder