We are half way through the Giro! The fifth day of the Giro Rosa Iccrea has arrived and led the 24 women’s top cycling teams to the town of Pinte di Valtellina. All the teams were stationed in Aprica, which meant they all had to drive down the big mountain they had all driven up on the night before. The streets of Valtellina smelled like hot engines, overused breaks and challenged clutches mixed with fresh mountain air. With a comfortable temperature of about 28∞C, setting up the team zone was a lot more pleasant for the staff. The team occupied a nice long stretch of shade, so the riders could sit in the shade and Tacx in the shade. Shade all around.
While going through all her stuff, Esther van Veen, made good use of that shade and positioned herself in one of the camping chairs. She could not tell yet how she was feeling, but she would soon find out when she would get on her bike and race the race. Her goal for today was to remain with the bunch as long as possible. The course was demanding with a long climb right after the start, so she also wanted to choose the right position. They had actually discussed their strategy of lining up straight after signing, since they expected everyone to want the right spot: in the front. Honestly, these climbs are not something that make her heart beat faster (figuratively. Literally, they do.). Plus, the descending is ‘kneiterhard’ with speeds between at least 70 and 80km/h, is also not her fav. She has hopes to survive the first climb and then to be able to join a good group that would work together to finish the race as a whole. After chatting about the upcoming stage, Esther rushed a bit to get ready, get on the Tacx, get to the stage and get to the start. And at 11:45, the cycling mayhem resumed once more.
They were right: that climb was brutal. It just kept going and going, and we got so high, you would almost obtain a fear of heights. The first riders started to drop from the peloton quite early on, ending up between, and eventually, behind the cars. Hopefully they had gotten the memo that the organization – in consultation with the UCI – had decided that rather than a 60%-time limit, these World Tour riders were allowed a 20%-time limit. Quite a difference.
Three big groups were formed due to the magnificent climb in the first 15km. Parkhotel was nicely spread out over all the groups and had two riders in each of them. Esther found herself in the third group and was very pleased she was able to continue the stage with about twenty other cyclists. She was joined by some other Dutch women and both big and smaller teams were represented. The group worked well together, and they kept things rolling throughout the race (except in the descent where it was every woman on her own). Esther could tell that it was mostly the riders from the bigger teams setting the pace and urge the others to take turns. She also noticed it was mostly the Italian riders that would start to squeak when things got a bit faster uphill. No one wanted to be left behind, because everyone knows it is always better to be in a group. Especially in the Giro Rosa.
From climbing furiously, to descending like rockets (Marit: ‘when I explored the course, I knew I did not really have to break…) back to climbing the most hair pin bends covered road man has ever seen. All groups were shattered, and the spectators could hear the legs crying. Sofie and Demi had fought for their place in the first group and were pushing themselves as hard as they could to get on the top of that mountain. The team car ended up right behind Sofie and Raymond was encouraging her with all the phrases he knew, of which ‘push and pull, push and pull’ was his favorite. Sofie did an amazing job and indeed, pushed and pulled her way on the mountain, onto the gravel and over the finish line coming in at 14th place. The other Parkhotel boss, Demi, did a splendid job keeping as close as she could to the pink jersey group and managed to push/pull herself into 8th place.
The others arrived well within the time cap and were directed straight to the camper by Ronny. The presence of a cool mountain top wind was predicted by Wim, who had wisely instructed the riders to bring warm clothes. The riders took on his advice dearly and wore their long sleeves while cooling down on the Tacx bikes. All this with an amazing view of the mountain tops and a blue lake down below. Esther’s stage went pretty much how she expected it go, so she can be satisfied with her fifth stage in the Giro. Next up: an individual time trial from Chiuro to Teglio. First up is the allrounder and hard worker Esther, at 11:11am.