Road

Niewiadoma poised to strike for Giro Rosa podium

Katarzyna Niewiadoma has the Giro Rosa's podium squarely in her sights. Landing on the podium would mark a career-best for the young Polish rider.

Katarzyna Niewiadoma has the Giro Rosa’s podium in her sights — and after two stages, that goal seems very attainable for the young Polish rider.

Following Saturday’s brutal stage 2 — which featured steep climbs and long sections of rough gravel roads — Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) sits in third place in GC, 1:33 behind leader Annemiek van Vleuten.

“I’m happy that I didn’t give up in my head and I managed to get third, and I feel like it is the success of the entire team,” Niewiadoma said, following the 124-kilometer stage from Paganico to Arcidosso.

Niewiadoma fought on as the race exploded under pressure from reigning world champion Annmiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), who attacked the front group with 15 kilometers to go. As van Vleuten pushed on ahead on the gravel rods, Niewiadoma and the other riders were forced to ride their own respective races.

Niewiadoma rode alongside Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) before surging away at the finale. At that point, only van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) remained up the road.

The Polish rider then put in a huge burst of energy inside the final kilometer to catch van der Breggen at the base of the final climb. Niewiadoma attacked van der Breggen and looked to have second place in her clutches, only to see van der Breggen rebound and pass her just before the line.

“Annemiek was out of range. I caught Anna with 300 meters to go, and I should have sat on her wheel instead of sprint immediately,” Niewiadoma said. “I’m happy and pleased and maybe a little in shock.”

Niewiadoma has steadily closed in on the Giro Rosa’s podium since making her debut at the Italian grand tour in 2014. She’s finished inside the top-10 in every edition she’s raced since 2015, and in 2019 finished 5th place overall, tying her highest ranking.

A place on the podium seems like a logical next step for Niewiadoma, who is one of the top climbers in the women’s peloton.

“Personally, I’m aiming for the greatest Giro Rosa of my career,” Niewiadoma said before the race. “I want to do my best, finish it with no regrets, and no energy left in my body.”

The 2020 edition could cater to her strengths. In recent years Giro organizers have packed in at least one marquee summit finish from the men’s Giro d’Italia, such as the Monte Zoncolan or Passo dello Stelvio. Those long climbs have led to huge gaps in the overall, and they have catered to the strengths of van Vleuten, who won the race in 2018 and 2019.

For 2020 organizers have ditched the soaring summit finishes and instead created a route with punchy uphills and hilly, unpredictable stages. That type of terrain caters to Niewiadoma’s strengths. She’s won big races in hilly terrain, most notably Amstel Gold Race and the Trofeo Alfredo Binda.

Saturday’s stage was one of the hardest of the 2020 edition. And now that she’s passed that test, Niewiadoma has a very decent opportunity to reach the podium seven stages from now.

“It can be the hardest stage of the entire Giro as it’s a great opportunity for many climbers to show their strength,” Niewiadoma said about Saturday’s stage. “It’s at the start, everyone will be fresh and will try their chances. There are a lot of opportunities for breakaways on that course too. It’s hard to predict now, so we need to and will be, prepared for every scenario.”