I’m always fascinated to find out how the Giro Rosa was for riders – so I asked some of the riders from this year’s race. Big thanks to stage winners Leah Kirchmann and Thalita de Jong, Best Young Rider Kasia Niewiadoma, and super-domestiques Elena Cecchini and Audrey Cordon-Ragot for answering my questions.
Kirchmann is a Canadian rider who’s having a fantastic 2016 with Liv-Plantur, and part of that has been racing the Giro, where she came 8th overall after winning the Prologue – all the more impressive when we think it’s her first ever Giro!
ProWomensCycling: You won the first stage of your your first ever Giro! How did that feel?
Leah Kirchmann: It was an incredible feeling to win the first stage of my first ever Giro! I had high expectations for the race, but I didn’t necessarily expect it to start off so well.
PWC: What had you been told about the Giro before you started? And how was it different in real life?
Kirchmann: I was told that the racing was crazy and fast, it was probably going to be hot, there would be long transfers, I could expect a lot of pasta… A lot of these things were true, but you can’t fully comprehend what it’s like to race for 10 days straight in Italy until you experience it yourself.
PWC: Can you tell us the best bits – and the worst – of the race?
Kirchmann: Best: Getting to experience the beautiful lakes and mountains of Italy! There are so many areas that I now want to explore in the future. I loved that the race featured such a wide variety of routes and scenery.
Worst: Crashing – thankfully I didn’t end up with any serious injuries, but crashing is never fun and hurts your recovery during such a long stage race.
The heat was also a challenge to deal with while racing this year. One thing I don’t understand in Europe is how difficult it is to find ice and air conditioning, two things that are very common in North America!
PWC: What advice would you give any riders who want to race the Giro for the first time? Both in terms of pre-race preparation, and any tips to help you get through the race
Kirchmann: It pays off to do your course homework, but still be prepared for changes within the race. It became a bit of a joke this year when comparing the race bible elevation charts to reality. What looked like a sprinter stage could actually feature a mountain top finish!
Be prepared to eat a lot of chicken and pasta! This might start to get old after a few days, but definitely keep on top of your nutrition before, during and after the stages to optimize recovery for the upcoming days.
The best strategy is to take the race day by day, don’t be discouraged by one off day because you might feel amazing for the next stage. There are always new opportunities over the course of a 10 day race.
PWC: You’ve had a great 2016 – do you know what’s made the difference that’s helped you step up?
Kirchmann: I think the biggest difference for 2016 is that I’m racing with more confidence, especially on the European race scene. I’m really happy working within the Liv-Plantur team structure. The team does a great job making sure that I feel prepared on the start line with the necessary course knowledge, clear tactics, appropriate equipment, and strong and dedicated teammates to back me up.
PWC: Is it very different racing with a European team, after racing for USA-based teams?
Kirchmann: I think every team is going to be unique, and I’ve enjoyed racing for both US-based and now a European based team.
One of the biggest challenges I found with being based in North America, but still trying to master racing in Europe, was constantly changing between time zones and racing styles. There is a huge learning curve when you first come to Europe, and being based here full time has certainly helped speed up my progression.
PWC: What are your ambitions for the rest of the season?
Kirchmann: I almost have too many ambitions for the rest of the season! I would love to win one of the upcoming World Tour races, La Course especially. The Olympics and Worlds are also a major focus.
While Kirchmann won the first stage, De Jong won the last one, making it a really great year for the young Dutchwoman, who started 2016 winning the Cyclocross World Championships – and was unusually, the only Dutch – and Rabo-liv – rider to win a stage in this year’s Giro.
ProWomensCycling: You started the Giro coming second on the Prologue – how was that day?
Thalita de Jong: The first rider started the Prologue at 19:00 o’clock. Before I did a recon on the 2 km lap on the TT bike, and after that I ate something and changed my clothing: put my TT suit on and pinned the number on it. I did a small warm-up on the rollers (Tacx) and went to the start. My start time: 19:33 hr.
At the finish line they said to me that I had the fastest time and had to go to the ‘hotseat’. I changed my wet clothing for some dry ones and went to the ‘hotseat’. I was thinking: a good time, but still a lot of riders to go. The last one, Anna van der Breggen, had to start at 20:44 hr.
I saw every rider crossing the finishline with a less good time than me. Then the last 20 riders. Okay! For sure now, someone is beating me….. Still not. But then, Leah Kirchman crossed the finish line with a better time than me. She was less than 1 second (!!!) faster than me (0.700 of a second). So than I was hoping that I could still have a spot on the podium. And it was! I came second behind Leah Kirchman with Anna van der Breggen in third place.
So cool! I knew that Prologues suits me, but that I became 2nd in the Giro-Rosa……!!
So cool. We had the ceremony and after that we left to the hotel.
PWC: And then you ended winning your first Giro stage – how did that feel? Did you expect it?
TdJ: Sunday was the last stage in the Giro-Rosa. I had already had some good stages helping the leaders, attacks, jumping to attacks, closing gaps and had ridden a good time trial. But when I woke up that morning I wasn’t feeling that well. I didn’t had a good sleep that night. We went by bike to the start from the hotel (just 1 km). Then I felt my legs: terrible I thought! What a shit legs….. And you have to know that the stage would be a tough race. 3 small climbs of 2.3 km in the local laps and then a climb of 5 km in the final.
From the beginning I tried to be in a breakaway again. And after 21 km (on the first small climb) a group got away, including me. There were 9 of us, and we were riding really fast and worked well together. We got a maximum gap of 5 minutes on the peloton.
In the breakaway I felt quite good. My legs became better and I was thinking: the others also have shit legs after 9 days…
On the final climb I attacked and no one could follow me. As first on the top and the into the downhill. I was looking behind me, but didn’t see anyone.
With 2 km to go I realised that I was going to win a Giro-Rosa stage!! Feels so great to win here, on the last day. Also the only win of the team in the Giro-Rosa!
PWC: We think of you as more of a sprinter, but that last climb on Stage 9 was HARD! How was it to ride? And do you see yourself developing into more of a climber?
TdJ: I knew that the climbs in Flanders are perfect for me. Steep, hard and short. But I can also handle the longer climbs more and more. Not going with the best riders, but for sure the riders ‘just under the world top’. For me the difficulty is still the attacking on the climbs, speeding and slowing down, etc. I need one speed. But I’m working on that 😊
PWC: This was your second Giro – how was it different from last year?
TdJ: Last year I knew that is was hard, 10 days, and I hadn’t done that before. But it was a good one. This year, only with 6 riders, you know that you have to do more work and it will be harder. But also the stages were, in my opinion, harder than last year. Especially the Mortirolo stage, but for sure the day after the Mortirolo with the 4 x 11 km climbs. And then the ITT. For me it was harder than last year.
PWC: What advice would you give any riders before they ride their first Giro? Did you bring anything that made it easier?
TdJ: I think that is important to have already some experience in stage races (Thüringen-Rundfarth, Bretagne, Krasna Lipa, Limousin, etc.). Then you know how it will feel 10 days racing behind each other. The week before the Giro: don’t do too much. Have some rest and do just 2 or 3 short and easy rides. In the Giro you will suffer a lot.
PwC: What are your plans for the rest of the season?
TdJ: Difficult: thinking about races on the road, but also thinking of races in cyclocross.
I will do for sure a lot of races on the road, but now I also have to decide when I start with cyclocross, when I take a rest period before the cyclocross, etc.
Will I race the World Championships Qatar on the road and TTT or not? European Championships Pontchateau Cyclocross or not? Planning😉
Follow Thalita de Jong through her season on her twitter and instagram – and find out more about her on the supporters’ website for her and her sister Demi. There are more videos from her Stage 9 win in this post, and you can see her win the 2016 Cyclocross Championships here.
De Jong’s Rabo-liv team mate Kasia Niewiadoma won the Best Young Rider jersey, and although she didn’t have the race she’d hoped for, with a bad day on the first climbing stage, where the peloton hit the Mortirolo, that didn’t stop her attacking the next day.
ProWomensCycling: This is your third Giro finishing in the Best Young Rider jersey – congratulations! How did it feel?
Kasia Niewiadoma: Yes it was my third time and again I can say that I got extra experience from this race! As always I had great time with my team who helped me to stay positive through the whole race, even after my bad day on Mortirolo they did not stop believing in me!
The White jersey is always an honour to wear!
PWC: How did this Giro compare to the previous ones?
Niewiadoma: Every Giro is special! It all depends on how your shape is at certain moment of the race. For me this Giro was really hard, maybe because I don’t remember how was in previous years any more😊 but good thing was the fact that we did not have to travel so long after stages!
PWC: You had a bad day on the Mortirolo – what happened?
Niewiadoma: Yes! I had a really!!!! Bad day on Mortirolo! Some problems that I don’t want to talk about.
PWC: It must have felt really bad to have had the bad Stage 5, but you came back fighting on Stage 6 to attack – how do you get over having a bad day in the middle of a stage race?
Niewiadoma: My Team and my Sport Director were there for me. Family support and strong mentality have helped me through it. One bad day may finished my fight for GC, but for sure not my fighting spirit.
PWC: On Stage 9, when Thalita won, how did that feel? And what happened in your chase group, because that looked really exciting too!
Niewiadoma: That was fantastic day for us – we wanted a stage victory and thanks to Thalita we got it! On the last climb Mara Abbot started to make pace but then Megan Guarnier took over and we continued to climb, and afterwards Elisa has attacked on downhill and we tried to follow her! 🙂
PWC: You’re one of the riders I’m definitely watching out for at Rio – do you feel pressure about that? How will you prepare?
Niewiadoma: No pressure at all! I will go there to fight for victory, do my best and just be sure that I gave all what I have in my legs. The results will show where my place is, but I don’t want to make myself nervous before the race, because for sure that will not help me.
I am now in Livigno, to rest after the Giro and then I’ll start preparing for Rio! Meanwhile I will ride La Course😊
Follow Kasia Niewiadoma on twitter – and check out this great video profile on her from InCycle in April:
One of the Italian riders we saw a lot of in the Giro was Elena Cecchini, the current Italian National Champion, who attacked and worked for her team-mates in Canyon-SRAM.
ProWomensCycling: This was your second Giro – how different was it to the first?
Elena Cecchini: Yes, it was my 2nd Giro, but the emotions and the focus were the same as last year: for me, the Giro is something absolutely special and unique, of course it is an hard race, with lots of climbs and hot weather, but the people who along the road was there cheering for me paid off all the efforts! and, if I think about it, there was something different from last year – a lot more people asked me for a picture or an autograph and this year on the climbs fans cheered for me calling me “Elena” or “Cecchini” not “Italian Champion” like last year! Big step forward!!!!!
PWC: You pulled out of the Giro early – are you OK? Or was that always part of the plan?
Cecchini: Because my Team Canyon SRAM and my national team told me to, I pulled out two stages before the end. It was an hard decision for me because I wanted to honour the Giro until the very last kilometer, but I must race Thüringen Rundfahrt, and it could have been too much for me to finish the Giro. The Giro and Thüringen are both long and hard stage races, so I needed two more days to recover in order to be fresh for the German race.
PWC: What was the best part of this Giro?
Cecchini: The best part of this Giro, for me, of course was having a stage on my home soil for Stage 2. That day my village was all out cheering for me, and even if the course didn’t suit me 100%, I did my best to try to win. However, was an absolutely amazing day, and having my parents, my dog, my grandparents and my favorite people along the road is something that don’t happen really often, so I enjoyed it A LOT!!!
PWC: And were there any less good parts?
Cecchini: There were not really any ‘down’ parts in this Giro, but of course the hot weather and some long transfers (especially the one from Mortirolo to Liguria) were really hard, both for us cyclists and for our staff. You have to be really a team in that moments, work together and enjoy also the tiring parts!
PWC: You became the Italian National Champion for the third year in a row this year – how does that feel? I know you love the tricolore jersey, but did you think you’d be able to keep it?
Cecchini: Honestly, I love my Italian Jersey. Every year, one month before Nationals I start thinking “Oh no, just 30 days and I will lose this beautiful jersey”… and I always hope that the new Italian champion could be a worthy one, someone who can show the tricolore with class and grit.
Well, I really didn’t think that I could keep it for three years in a row. For me it is something very important and special, but in the same time, especially this year, I started my national championships really relaxed as I said to myself, “Elena, you have nothing to lose, you have to be proud of your last two years with your tricolore, so just race and have fun”. In the end, I had fun but also pain I have to admit 🙂
Cecchini: My season with Canyon SRAM is going awesome. In the first part of my season I found it hard to be on top form because last winter I had to sacrifice a lot of my road training for my track activity, but now I’m feeling much better and I’m going how I want.
My team is a super professional one, we girls are treated as princesses, we are supported by amazing and great sponsors, and our staff work so hard for us. We just have to pedal, and when the atmosphere is like this, it’s easier to be a cyclist, and we can always give 110%. I love being part of this team and I have already learned a lot from more experienced girls like for example Lisa Brennauer and our super Trixi Worrack, especially about stage races and TT. One thing above all: recovery is as important as training.
PWC: You’re about to race Thüringen – for people who don’t know much about this race, how would you describe it?
Cecchini: I only raced Thüringen in 2012, and I was really young – it was one of my first experiences in the pro peloton. I really loved racing this race. One day, I really would like to win it as it suits me: everyday is an up and down course, no time to recover, no long climbs but mostly steep and short. I would compare Thüringen to the Aviva Women’s Tour. It will be an hard and challenging race this year as a lot of riders will use it as a test for the Rio Olympics.
PWC: What are your goals for the rest of the season?
Cecchini: I want to win with my team. It doesn’t matter what, but I really want to be on the top step of the podium, doesn’t matter who from Canyon SRAM, we deserve big results and I’m sure we can have some fun. Personally, I really would like to have a great race in Rio and the GP Plouay. Let’s see what this summer brings me!!!
PWC: Finally, you’ve been selected for the Italian team at the Rio Olympics – how does that feel?
Cecchini: Oh Sarah, what can I say? I still have to realise that I will be an Olympian. it’s something huge and I’ve thought about every day since London 2012.
The Olympics are a goal every professional sports people aim for – now It’s all about Rio, and every detail will count from now to 7th of August. I will do my best, enjoying every part of it. I’m sure it will be something unforgettable.
Wiggle High5 were the team with the most stage wins in this year’s Giro – two for Giorgia Bronzini in Stage 1 and Stage 8 and one each for Chloe Hosking, her first victory here, on Stage 3 and Mara Abbott‘s Mortirolo Stage 5. Working her heart out to support all of these – and getting into breaks herself – was French super-domestique, Audrey Cordon-Ragot.
ProWomensCycling: Wiggle High5 had an amazing Giro Rosa – winning the most number of stages of any team – how does that feel?
Audrey Cordon-Ragot: It feels like being part of a big engine and I feel really proud.
PWC: You’re a domestique, so while you’re working for your team-mate’s wins, you don’t get to have the podium-prosecco moment – is that a strange thing?
Cordon-Ragot: I always thought that it’s better to be a perfect teammate instead of a bad leader. I’m doing my job, but I don’t forget my goals, and I targeted some races where I have my chance and most of the time I don’t fail the D.Day.
PWC: Which were your best moments in this year’s Giro?
Cordon-Ragot: It’s a mix of everything… The signatures everyday, the moment you’re on the line and the stress grows, the post race sandwich or the post race massage! The Giro is another life during 10 days.
PWC: And which were the worse?
Cordon-Ragot: The only thing hard is to be away from my husband for so long… The rest is just happiness, I enjoy each moment of this amazing experience.
PWC: It seemed like you were frustrated with some other riders at moments, in the Giro, from your twitter account – can you tell us a bit more about that?
Cordon-Ragot: I’m someone who fights against injustice a lot, and when I see people going against the rules it makes me angry.
Holding onto a car on a climb when you’re dropped by yourself iss not fair, that’s it.
I’ve also been upset by the fact that some teams prefer to defend an 11th place on the GC instead of trying to win a stage, I always thought that people remember more a stage win than a place in the top 15! These are my thoughts, and I always say things directly – I’m not someone talking behind backs.
PWC: It seems like it’s been a hard 2016 for you, with illness and injury – how are you feeling now?
Cordon-Ragot: I don’t consider 2016 has an hard season. Ok, I was injured in February and I missed the Classics season because I was out of shape, but really I’ve been victim of so many mechanical problems each races I targeted (Flèche Wallonne, Philly Classic…) and I feel really frustrated because I have never been so strong in my career, this year, and I didn’t have the opportunity to show it in the results.
PWC: You’re on the French team for the Rio Olympics – congratulations! How will you be preparing for that?
Cordon-Ragot: I’ve been preparing for it since after London, it was my dream for four years now. I left France to grow up and learn to race alongside top riders and DS.
Now I’m just preparing myself to be competitive and comparing to all I achieved up to now, it’s nothing. The dice are thrown!
Big thanks to all five riders who answered my questions – and to my Patreon supporters, who fund me to do this kind of work! Catch up with the 2016 Giro Rosa posts on the site through the tag – such a wonderful race!