Friday 1 July 2011

Giro Donne set to be as good as le Tour

Can't wait for the action to get under way at the Tour de France? So excited you feel like you've just eaten a box of pills you found in Willy Voet's car glovebox? Friends and family already annoyed by your obsession?

Well, you can satisfy the craving simply enough, because there are actually two Grand Tour cycle races starting this week, and one of them starts this morning. It's the Giro Donne, also known as the Giro d'Italia Femminile, and today's stage features 86km of high-speed action from the stunning Italian countryside between Rome and Velletri where vineyards cover the rolling hills and castles are plentiful. Along the way, riders will pass through Castel Gandolfo which has been voted one of Italy's most beautiful towns and is the location of the pope's summer residence. Catholic riders may be hoping his presence will attract some divine assistance, because to get there they need to complete a steep climb to 425m.

Emma Pooley, one of the fastest women in cycling
There are a number of British entries in the race, some of them among the favourites to stand on the top step of the podium in San Francesco del Campo on the 10th of July. Among them are Emma Pooley who won the women's Flèche Wallonne last year and who will be accompanied by a crack Garmin-Cervelo team assembled from the best female cyclists in British racing, put together purely to help her win this race. Team members include Sharon Laws, Lucy Martin and Lizzie Armitstead who, so far this year, has been crowned British Road Race champion and won the Tour of Chongming Island. Pooley has stated that she considers this race to be the most prestigious in women's cycling and will be giving it everything she's got - and as anyone who has seen her race knows, she has a lot packed into her petite frame.

...and she'll need to be too, since Marianne Vos and Nicole Cooke are also after the top spot on the podium .
US National champion Shelley Olds is also taking part, as are ex-UCI World Champion Marianne Vos who will be many people's favourite for the general classification win and Nicole Cooke, the Welsh nine-time British champion and twice Tour de France Feminin winner who has been battling to regain the form that saw her take first place here in 2004. With a field made up of these seven, along with 119 women at the very pinnacle of modern competitive cycling and some challenging stages - 2,3 and 8 (with a summit finish at around 1,750m) all look like killers - the Giro Donne is set to be every bit as interesting as the Tour.

In fact, while it's often said that the race is overshadowed by the Tour and largely forgotten as a result, the sheer quality of women's racing at the moment may well see the Giro taking attention from her French brother for the next ten days.

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