The most prestigious women’s stage race in the world, the Giro Rosa gets underway on Sunday with three American teams, and 15 American riders, scheduled to race. Two of those women — Evelyn Stevens and 2010 champion Mara Abbott — will start the race as favorites for the overall.
Stevens will be racing with a powerful Specialized-lululemon team, while Abbott (Exergy Twenty16) will ride for the U.S. National Team composed of Exergy, Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies, and Vanderkitten riders.
After a rough start in the spring, including a serious crash at the Classica Citta di Padova that saw her miss a month of racing, Stevens has exhibited strong form heading into the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile (Giro Rosa). The race runs June 30 to July 7, with an overall finish in Cremona.
“It was definitely tough to miss most of the spring races, but I have had a nice block of racing lately, with [Parx Casino Philly Classic], then [Emakumeen Euskal] Bira, and then [Giro del] Trentino,” Stevens wrote in an email to Velonews on Wednesday. “All of them were hilly and it is good to just get the racing speed and miles back into the legs.”
Stevens placed third in the GC at the Emakumeen Bira in Spain earlier this month, and went on to become the first American to win the women’s Giro del Trentino in Italy two weeks ago. As one of the few riders to outmuscle the world’s no. 1 rider Marianne Vos (Rabobank) at the 2012 Flèche Wallonne, Stevens is considered by many as the top American contender next week.
Stevens will enjoy the support of an experienced Specialized squad that includes U.S. national time trial champion Carmen Small.
“We have Evie, who is pretty primed for GC, so we will be supporting her,” said Small. “I had a good spring over there [in Europe], a couple of top 10s in the World Cup, a fourth place in another one-day race, the Energiewacht stage race that we won. We should be a really strong squad, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Two Americans — Ally Stacher and Tayler Wiles — are among the other riders in a limited edition Specialized team kit in Italy and will be joined by Katie Colclough, Loren Rowney, Dutch TT champion Ellen Van Dijk, and German TT champ Trixi Worrack.
Tibco-To the Top, the other American trade team at the Giro, will be riding with only six riders in support of 2009 winner Claudia Häusler, meaning top U.S. sprinter Shelley Olds will be left to freelance for stage wins.
“The main goal is to race for the win, so my priority is to win with Claudia,” said Olympian and multiple-time Giro stage winner Shelley Olds. “We are riding with six instead of eight, so we will definitely use many riders to protect Claudia in the sprints. If I get a leadout, it will be from one rider, and I will be lucky to have that one.”
Tibco director Manel Lacambra is confident that his squad can score its biggest victory to date at the Giro.
“I think a podium will be a real goal,” said Lacambra, who directed the U.S team that won the Giro Donne with Abbott in 2010. “If Claudia has some good days, I think we can win the Giro.”
The Tibco roster also includes Chantal Blaak, Jasmin Glaesser, Joanne Kiesanowski, and Lauren Stephens.
Abbott is the only American to have won the women’s Giro and will be returning as part of the U.S. National Team. A composite squad that includes strong all-rounders Andrea Dvorak (Exergy), Kristin McGrath (Exergy), and Janel Holcomb (Optum) will support Abbott throughout the eight-day race. Lauren Tamayo (Exergy), Lauren Hall (Optum), Brianna Walle (Optum), and Ruth Winder (Vanderkitten) round out the roster.
After taking the 2012 season and half of 2011 off from racing, Abbott demonstrated she’s back in top form with a strong performance at the U.S. professional road nationals in May. She bridged to the winning breakaway on the final climb and proceeded to attack as the group hit the finish circuits. An unfortunate mechanical ended Abbott’s podium hopes, but her performance was noticed by the women of the U.S. National Team, who believe she’s hungry for the win.
The Italian mountains and closing time trial suit Abbott’s strengths. The Giro will be her biggest start since returning to road racing and triathlon this season and she recently told USA Cycling PR staff that simply racing in the Italian mountains on a big stage is as good as stage racing gets.
“For myself as a stage racer, the Giro is the largest stage race we have for women. Generally speaking, the Giro goes up into the mountains, and mountaintop finishes and alpine stages are to me the most magical part of stage racing there is. So, to be able to go and participate in this race that has so much prestige for us and goes up into the territory that I love is the best thing you can do when you’re racing your bike.”
Despite a strong host of American riders at this year’s Giro, including two potential winners, all eyes will be on defending champion Marianne Vos and her top-ranked Rabobank team. The Dutch squad is the home to 2012 U.S. road champion Megan Guarnier, whose experience in Italy has led her to several successful finishes, including a GC win at the Giro della Toscana in 2011. While capable of winning races in her own right, the tactically savvy Guarnier will be working as a valued lieutenant, protecting her team captain Vos, throughout the hectic Italian finishes and climbs.
“Going into the race, you need to consider which teams will be going for stage wins, and which teams will be going for general classification, or points jerseys and climbers jerseys for that matter,” Guarnier wrote to Velonews on Wednesday. “The dynamics of stage races are always so fluid, and you really have to be on top of which riders are on which teams and what their motives are.”
Stevens hopes to upset Rabobank’s hold on power next week and will look to show her sponsors’ colors on television.
“Racing the Giro is always really special, and it is great how the Italian TV covers the race each day,” said Stevens. “So, if you happen to be in Italy, you can watch an hour-long segment after each stage!”
If you don’t happen to be in Italy, follow Stevens, Abbott, and the rest of the Americans through the Giro Rosa at VeloNews.com.
2013 Giro Rosa
June 30, Stage 1: Giovinazzo to Margherita di Savoia (124.3km)
July 1, Stage 2: Pontecagnano Faiano to Pontecagnano Faiano (99.6km)
July 2, Stage 3: Cerro al Volturno to Cerro al Volturno (111.6km)
July 3, Stage 4: Monte San Vito to Castel Fidardo (137.2km)
July 4, Stage 5: Varazze to Monte Beigua (73.3km)
July 5, Stage 6: Terme di Premia to San Domenico (121km)
July 6, Stage 7: Corbetta to Corbetta (120km)
July 7, Stage 8: Cremona ITT (13.3km)