|Abruzzo could have been made with cycling in mind.|
|Look for climbing ability when choosing|
your favourites for today. Having won
the Mountains classification in the Tour
du Grand Montréal in 2007, German 25-
year-old Claudia Häusler is a definite
Next comes a relatively flat section of 10km where the altitude hovers around the 1300m, then the day's main descent. Anyone who feels especially comfortable riding fast downhill and built up a small advantage coming out of Pescoconstanzo will have an opportunity to turn it into a big advantage here, because this descent is equally the equal of anything in the Tour de Suisse or even Tour de France - in fact, this could be one of the most exciting features of any race taking place today, and on a day like today that's really saying something. The route drops from 1300m to 400m in 24km to the poet Ovid's homecity Sulmona, also the home of confetti, the sweet sugared almonds which have become associated with the city and which the riders may find are passed to them by local fans turning out to see the race.
Big leads are not necessarily the same thing as safe leads in this race though, because any rider who has one and wishes to maintain it is going to need to be ready to endure the pain of a serious climb back out of the valley: it's back up to almost 1300m over the following 18km to reach the summit of Madonna Regina once the route has turned back into the Majella National Park, considered by many to be the most beautiful part of Abruzzo which is itself considered one of the most beautiful parts of Italy and where wolves and lynxes are still to be found, albeit in tiny numbers. Maybe a few'll give chase to help persuade any stragglers that riding fast up the mountain is a good idea. Another steep descent down to 900m follows before a climb back up to 1400m in 8km, giving an average gradient of 4.8km which, while not an especially steep hill, would test the thigh muscles of any rider at this late stage.
|Britain's Emma Pooley is small,|
light and very, very fit - which
may prove to give her a big
Who'll do well today? Marianne Vos will, because that's what she does - Scarlett Callovi said "Marianne Vos is unbeatable" after yesterday's stage. British champion Lizzie Armitstead may put in a good show too, because there are not so many climbers among female cyclists as there are among the men so her endurance racing skills may give her the tolerance for pain to keep going up the mountains when others need to slacken off the pace. Then there's Emma Pooley, who may be more of a Classics specialist but weighs just 50kg and is super fit, a combination which can count for a very great deal on this sort of terrain. But, with such an impressive starting list, nothing is certain at this time.