The second to last stage for Parkhotel Valkenburg promised some flat loops before taking on the steepest mountains in the books. The host town of the departure of stage nine was Gemona del Friuli. It’s largest parking lot was down one of their steepest hills and everyone struggled on it. Ronny tried to conquer it on his beautiful, white fixie but he wisely decided to walk after his attempt failed. Since the team got there early, they reserved a nice spacious spot for the team. The parking lot manager was very passionate about managing all the vehicles and expressed this in rapidly spoken Italian words. He was probably told three enormous team buses would have to fit in his parking lot as well, so he seemed a bit stressed out. Tom was not very bothered by his hot headedness and made sure the team cars and all the Tacx bikes would fit.
Once again, the start area had a nice festive feel to it with music playing (live music this time by a brass band), stands, arches and a big stage with posters of the riders. The take-away cups were still scarce at the Italian cafes, so we were handed a tray full of ceramic cups and jugs of hot water. The staff appreciated their caffeine start of the day before the rest of the team arrived. The riders were in a good mood and while warming up on the Tacx bikes, they loudly sang along with some Dutch hits (good thing they ride bikes…). Raymond also shared his vocal talents and they ended things with a well-known Belgian song for Sofie.
Waking up this morning, Nina felt pretty good after eight days of racing. Obviously, she could feel the efforts her strong legs have made, but she knows everyone is bothered by that. Despite her laid-back response after stage seven (‘it actually felt quite easy’), at the start of stage eight, she did acknowledge some tiredness in her legs. Regardsless of that feeling from yesterday, today was a new day and she was ready to smash it. Her goal was to get away before the first climb. She thought it would be great to get in a breakaway with a group and hit that climb as one of the first. If that did not end up being the case, she would stay with the peloton as long as possible and work for Demi and Sofie.
After they wove the flag to start the race, the peloton hit the roads and they hit them hard. There was no cruising around; the tempo was high. After 23km, a group tried to break away and succeeded. Nina had missed that boat and knew what to do: stick with the peloton on the flat and work her way up the mountain the best she could. Marit was struggling the first hours and Esther came to the team car to gather all the possible solutions there were to get her to feel better: caffeinated gum, a bar, some gels, a coke, encouraging words.
The two and a half laps on the flat were over and things were starting to get seriously hilly. The breakaway was caught, the peloton was shattered into smaller groups, and the cyclists were suffering. When the team car passed Nina, Raymond yelled through the window she was riding really good. Nina said yes, Nina agreed, Nina knew.
Not long after that, the team car hit a very steep part of the wall of concrete that functioned as the road up the mountain and it refused to work any longer. Three people strong pushed the car, but it seemed to have made up its mind and did not want to continue. Nina passed us again, thinking about smiling, but mostly focusing on pushing her pedals down to not suffer the same fate as the car. Raymond backed up the car and we started walking up the mountain. All of the sudden, he passed us, beeping his horn to have the other cars let him through, because if he were to lose speed, it would be over. The rest of us got lifts up the mountain and we all made our way to the top somehow.
The first one of Parkhotel to cross the finish line was our strong champ Demi with an amazing fifth place. Sofie de Vuyst came in 40 seconds behind her. And at a magnificent 29th place, Nina passed finish line, still pushing her pedals hard to gain every second she could. Everyone quickly put on warm clothes and made their way back down to the camper. Marit and Esther both finished together well within the time limit, being absolute heroes who faced that mountain head on.
Back at the camper, Nina had quickly changed into something more comfortable and grabbed one of the pasta meals that Wim prepared. After days of grabbing the ones with the most meat, she had a more balanced composition of food groups. She said she was not positioned right to make it to the break-away group when they jumped. After that, Mitchelton-Scott was at the front determining the tempo, so she accepted her fate to stay in the peloton and survive the climb. At the age of 21, she just finished her ninth Giro Rosa Iccrea stage that was not for the faint hearted like a boss. Without doubt, she will kill the last and tenth stage too.
Stage ten will commence at 12:15am in San Vito al Tagliamento and the peloton will spend 120km on their bikes to the city of Udine. One last sprint and one last climb before crossing the finish line one last time during the 30th edition of the Giro Rosa Iccrea.