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Giro Rosa: Coming into form after racing’s shutdown

What will this year's Giro Rosa tell us about the form of the peloton after racing's shutdown? We checked in with the riders.

In a non-COVID year, the Giro Rosa falls in early to mid-July, after the women’s peloton has a good five months of racing behind it. This year, the abridged nine-day stage race comes after only half a dozen races following four months of the sport’s shutdown due to the pandemic.

So, what can form at the 2020 Giro Rosa tell us about the season to come?

“Probably still too early to tell,” Trek-Segafredo’s Lizzie Deignan told VeloNews. “I think we’ll know when the classics arrive whether people have already peaked or not. It’s really difficult to manage your form in a season like this. It’s not like we went flying and ready in February or March. We’d already peaked. I think everyone handled it differently and also where they lived and how much training they could do.”

How riders spent those scary and uncertain four months without racing varies wildly from continent to continent and rider to rider. Current GC leader Annemiek van Vleuten rode outdoors in her native Netherlands while Kasia Niewiadoma, who sits in second, was confined to the rollers in Girona for six weeks.

While the racing in the first five stages of the Giro Rosa confirms that the overall health of the peloton is robust, teasing out exactly how the race stoppage has affected individual riders might take more time. Lizzy Banks, stage four’s winner, agreed with Deignan that the Giro may be too early for the subtleties to manifest.

“Coming into the Giro Rosa after an unusual season with COVID stopping all racing is quite interesting, she said. “I think that COVID hasn’t affected how races are being played out but it has affected some riders. We’ve seen that some riders have come out of the break with better or worse form than we’ve expected. I do think that there will be some cases where some people have really overtrained.”

Even during a normal season, some riders say that they find their form during the Giro. Deignan said that her form is taking shape as it would in a normal season. Across both the men’s and women’s pelotons, athletes have shown that there wasn’t one tried-and-true formula for training during the lockdown.

Nevertheless, the one variable that no one could be prepared for was how to deal with the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic. Given that riders are still subject to the constant reminder of COVID-19 in their midst, this variable could have more of an effect than we think.

“It still feels super creepy,” said Trek-Segafredo’s Tayler Wiles “It still doesn’t feel safe, we’re constantly washing hands, I’ve used bottles of hand sanitizer. There’s still that nervousness, even though I’ve spent way more time around people than in the three months prior.”

For Team Sunweb’s Leah Kirchmann, even the stress of international travel has left lingering effects.

“From the perspective of a North American rider I found returning to Europe and heading into the unknown of this season to be stressful,” she said. “I’m sure a lot of riders are still feeling the emotional stress of living through these uncertain times.”

Regardless of the unprecedented nature of the 2020 Giro Rosa, the women’s peloton has again proven itself resilient in the face of challenges. Team play has been strong in every stage despite the fact that some teams were only just able to train together ahead of the race. On Monday, women raced a longer distance than any other race in the Women’s World Tour. Deignan says she’s not surprised to see form – and spirits – high at the marquee event of the year.

“I think it’s understandable that everyone came back firing.” Deignan said. “I haven’t seen anyone who it’s like, ‘Oh they had a nice holiday.’ I think everyone kept their form high. I think at Paris-Roubaix we’ll see a lot of tired people.”