Varazze – Monte Beigua (73.3km)

Mara Abbott (USA National Team) took an emphatic solo win on top of Monte Beigua on none other than Independence day itself, a fitting win for the American winner of the 2010 Giro. The young Italian Francesca Cauz (Top Girls Fassa Bortolo) climbed into 2nd as the veteran and also former Giro winner Fabiana Luperini (Faren Kuota) claimed 3rd. As expected there was a massive shake up in the overall classification with Abbott now taking the pink leaders jersey from Marianne Vos.

Today’s was the shortest stage of the tour, if you don’t include the final individual time trial, but it was one of the hardest. Heading inland off of the coast it was up and down all day through the surrounding hills before coming back down towards the coast and onto the 15km ascent up to Monte Beigua that sits at 1,274m above sea level.

Today and tomorrow are the most important days for the overall classification and the stages that will more or less shape the final podium. Our team’s plan for today was to look after Shara and myself as best possible, keeping us in good position right up until the final climb. Then it was up to us to see what we could do.

After the first GPM there was a good opportunity for a break to potentially form so the plan was for Gracie or Spratty to try and make something happen to give us extra numbers at the front later in the race. The other girls were there to look after Shara and myself as much as possible before the climb.

We started the day in the picturesque Marina di Varazze on the Cote d’Azur amongst the yachts. It was ‘arrivederci’ to the sparkling blue waters as we rolled slowly out of town under neutral and headed inland for the climbs. I thought it was quite nice of the race director pointing out Monte Beigua from the lead car while we were under neutral just so we were aware of what we were facing later in the race.

As soon as the flag was dropped the racing was on. And it was back to the harsh starts as we were climbing for more or less the first 16km of the race up to the first GPM (QOM) of the day.

There were a few early attacks, mainly from Boels-Dolmans who were trying to get an early move up the road to get ahead of the race for the climbs that awaited us. The pace was too high for a break to form as various teams controlled the front as the road twisted its way up the climb.

girorosastage5

As I was sitting one point off the lead in the GPM competition heading into the stage I tried to gain maximum points on the first Cat II climb. Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini Giordana) rolled me over the top and I claimed second putting me into the virtual lead with a Cat I climb still awaiting us at the finish.

After the climb the attacks began — it was hard, fast and aggressive and as we had planned both Gracie and Spratty put themselves on the front foot until finally a group was formed with Spratty in there for us. It was quite a big group with a couple of small threats for the overall so they were never allowed a huge advantage but we were happy with the move for the time being.

There were some interesting tactics being played, mainly by the USA national team. They had a rider in the front yet they kept trying to get another rider across. Rabobank were happy with the move, controlling the front of the peloton but every time another rider tried to go across the pace from behind would increase to cover the move. This caused a lot of fluctuations with the time gap and the break never got more than 50 seconds advantage.

We knew a crucial point for positioning was at the 47km point where we made a right-hand turn onto the fast, technical descent back down the valley into the final climb. Everyone was a little bit more alert after stage 3 on the descents. It was a battle between the climbers who struggle with descents who were making sure they were at the front, versus the girls who knew they could use their descending skills to take advantage of this weakness.

It was Claudia Hausler (Team Tibco) who went on the attack into the descent followed by Lucinda Brand and Vos (Rabobank). I managed to get out just in time to follow their wheels for some more edge-of-your-seat, hope-for-the-best descending madness. With our pace we caught the breakaway and were stuck behind some of the motos and then other girls, losing the small advantage we had made on the rest of the peloton which was completely strung out behind.

With a small rise before the final part of the descent into the climb Specialized-Lululemon came to the front with Trixi Worrack to shepherd Evie Stevens from the front. Evie has been known to struggle on the descents at times. The bottom part was quite narrow and very technical so it was hard to pass once you were in position. The pace wasn’t quite as crazy and Vos was never able to unleash her amazing skills on the front this time around.

There was no chance to recover as directly off of the descent we turned left and immediately started climbing with a solid gradient the entire way up. Trixi continued to push the pace for the first part of the climb and as she swung off, finishing her job, the attacks began and groups formed.

Megan Guarnier and Marianne Vos (Team Rabobank Liv Giant) cross the line just ahead of TIff Cromwell.

Megan Guarnier and Marianne Vos (Team Rabobank Liv Giant) cross the line in the same group as TIff Cromwell.

I didn’t have the legs to go with the attacks because when I go into the red early on a long climb I need to be able to come back down or else I will completely blow up. Shara was left to fly the flag for Orica-AIS and she put in a very strong showing on the climb, finishing 5th on the stage.

I wasn’t able to see what happened up front but from what I heard it was Abbott and Stevens battling it out for the first few kilometers before Abbott left Stevens with around 9km remaining. Abbott then powered on to victory 1:30 ahead of Cauz and Luperini.

It was a hot and hard climb that seemed to go on forever but if you had a chance to take in the views it was a very picturesque climb … not that I was able to enjoy it. I found my rhythm eventually, slowly reeling back girls one by one and finishing the stage alongside Vos, her teammate Megan Guarnier and Rosella Ratto (Hitec Products), 5:30 down.

The reward for the day was that I finished in the GPM leaders jersey, earning myself a trip to the podium. It is still a close battle but with only one cat I climb remaining — situated at the end of tomorrow’s stage — it is possible for me to hold onto the jersey, depending on what happens at the finish.

Shara is now our highest rider on the overall classification, sitting in 6th, so we will fight to try and move her higher up.

Giro Rosa stage-5

Our hotel is situated at 1,800m above sea level tonight — a nice bit of altitude training but perhaps not the best for recovery. Another mountain top finish is in store for us tomorrow, just in case we didn’t suffer enough today.

If anything it should be beautiful.

Tiff finished 17th on stage 5 and now sits 13th overall, 5:48 behind the overall leader Mara Abbott. With her 6th place on GC, Shara Gillow is currently the highest placed Australian. Follow the link for full results from stage 5 of the 2013 Giro Rosa.

Click here to see Tiff’s report from stage 1, click here for her report from stage 2, here for her report from stage 3, and here for her report from stage 4. Tiff’s teammate Gracie Elvin is also blogging about the Giro Rosa and you can read her great reports here.