Fatigue sets in. Rider's legs feel heavy and they struggle to find the mental drive to keep pushing themselves. For us 'normal' riders, these are the days when we need a longer warm-up. Sometimes it takes an hour. Sometimes it takes the entire ride. Our legs just don't want to wake up. So starting stage 7 with a category 2 climb must have been pure torture on these racers. The climb blew things up, leaving the top GC contenders in the front. Emma Pooley won the QOM points taking the green jersey from Scandolara who has held it steadily until this point. During the descent, riders were able to catch back up only to be hit with a second climb and shelled off the back once again. After that, it was a long, flat, stretch to the finish. Chase groups were organized in an attempt to get the stage win and by the end of the race nearly the entire peloton was back together. The race finished on a slight uphill into the wind with Marianne Vos taking the lead. Anyone who thinks climbers can sprint, and sprinters can't climb, Marianne Vos is here to prove that wrong.
At the end of this stage the GC ranks stay the same with Marianne Vos widening her gap. She is now has a 54" lead on her teammate, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, and 3'08" on last year's winner, Mara Abbot.
The big climb of the day. Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec) is the local heroine of today's stage. [Image: VeloFocus]
Rider's fall off the back. The group will be in pieces by the time they reach the top. [Image: VeloFocus]
Marianne Vos wins the stage. [Image: Giro Rosa Cycling]
If you're going to suffer through any of the garbled video footage of this race, this is the stage to do it. Stage 8 is the exact reverse of Stage 7; a fast, flat, start leading to one nasty, epic, climb to the finish. What transpires on that climb is exciting, nail-biting, and inspiring! If you want to skip straight to the good stuff, start at minute 30.
The action takes place during the last 6 kilometers when Megan Guarnier (Boles Dolmans), 5th on the GC leaderboard, makes a surprising attack. Just moments before, Mara Abbott had picked up the pace whittling the lead group from 11 to 7. Then Guarnier starts to loose contact bringing the lead group down to 6. But just when you think she's done, not only does she catch back on, but follows with an attack from the back of the group. Her burst of energy creates a gap big enough to make the leaders worried and that's when Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv) makes the quick decision to go with Guarnier. The two riders take off leaving the remaining 5 in the dust, including the big stars of the day - Vos, Pooley and Abbot.
Over the next kilometer the gap continues to grow and you start to realize this attack has the potential to stick. Seems the chase group thinks so as well. Pooley picks up the pace in an attempt to shut it down, meanwhile, van der Breggen pulls away from Guarnier and Guarnier quickly looses speed. She's not just swallowed up by the chase group, she shoots out the back. The chase group is now down to Abbott, Vos, Pooley and Ferrand-Prevot, and at the 3km mark van der Braggen's lead is holding.
Then another surprise. The invincible Marianne Vos starts to crack. She starts to loose contact, the wheel in front of her inching away little by little. You see her hunched over her bars, head starring straight down, doing everything she can to hang on but the pace is just a hair too fast. Vos is cooked. With over 2km left and only a 54" lead, Vos could lose the pink jersey to teammate Ferrand-Prevot who is still holding on in the lead group if she can't hang on.
At 2km the chase catches van der Breggen as Vos falls further and further back. The next casualty is Ferrand-Prevot who looses the group shortly before the 1km mark.
At 1km to go, the group is down to Abbott, Pooley and van der Breggan. The girls ratchet things up around a sharp switchback quickly dropping van der Breggan. Then, as Pooley and Abbott reach the summit, Pooley steps on the gas. Abbott gets out the saddle, trying to keep up, but can't find the last bit of power to bridge the gap. Pooley wins by mere seconds, Abbott second, van der Breggan is in 3rd, Ferrand-Prevot in 4th. Guarnier and Vos duke it out for 5th, Vos giving it everything but can't hold the wheel of Guarnier.
Lucky for Vos, this performance doesn't knock her off of 1st place on the leaderboard, however it does set the stage for an exciting final stage.
Pauline Ferrand-Prevot is only 16" behind Vos and Mara Abbott moves into 4th, closing the gap from 3'08" to 1'39". Pooley is still far down in the GC ranks, but that doesn't mean she won't go for a stage win.
Mara Abbott before the race. [Image: VeloFocus]
A view of today's epic climb. [Image: @mariannevosofficial]
Emma Pooley doesn't look back! Her final effort as she crosses the finish line. [Image: Giro Rosa Cycling]
Mara Abbott after crossing the finish line. [Image: VeloFocus]
Marianne Vos struggles for 5th, but finishes in 6th. [Image: Giro Rosa Cycling]
Agony replaced with pure joy during the podium ceremony. [Image: VeloFocus]
It's not always easy. Marianne Vos at the end of the stage. [Image: Wei Yuet Wong for Bicycle Magazine]