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Giro d'Italia Femminile - 2.1 (W)

Italy, July 5-13, 2008

Pucinskaite bids for Corsa Rosa hat trick

By Ben Atkins

Edita Pucinskaite (Nurnberger Versicherung) won the 2007 edition
Photo ©: Nicola Ianuale
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While the men's peloton starts the biggest race of its season up in the northwest corner of France, the women head south to Italy to take on one of their main events: the Giro d'Italia donne. The race will consist of a prologue and eight stages, adding up to a total of 809.6km in nine days by the time it reaches the town of Desio, north of Milano.

Winner for the last two years Edita Pucinskaite (Nürnberger Versicherung) returns to defend her maglia rosa this weekend. She was in pink for all but one stage last year, and the Giro is one of her and the team's big targets for this year. The Lithuanian former World champion will have the full support of the German super-team, including German duo Trixi Worrack and Claudia Hausler will lead the support of Pucinskaite's cause, but either is capable of stepping into the breach if the Lithuanian falters.

The race begins with a 1.2 kilometre evening prologue in the city of Mantova, and is followed by three predominantly flat stages in the southern part of the Veneto region. After passing close to the area south of Venice, the race crosses the country – via a stage around Ferrara in the Bologna province – to Toscana and the area around Pisa, where the terrain will become decidedly hillier. The stage will climb the first category Prato a Ceragiola after 71km and finishes with an ascent to the top of the second category Monte Serra.

The race then turns north once again for its final phase. A 9.3 km individual time trial in Novara is followed by two hilly stages around the Lombardia countryside to the north and west of Milano. The first of these takes in two first category climbs – the Passo Sette Termini and the Passo del Cuvignone – before descending to the finish at Laveno Mombello, on the banks of Lago Maggiore. The second features the second of the race's summit finishes and will be the queen stage of the Giro. The course will ascend the Colle Brianza, the Giovenzana – known as the Piccolo Stelvio and features sections of up to 20% - and the Sirtori before climbing to the finish at Montevecchia. The final day sees a flat, sprinters' stage in Desio, which finishes with 7 laps of a 13 km circuit.

Nicole Brändli (Bigla), runner-up in the last two editions and winner in 2001, 2003 and 2005, will be one of the chief rivals to Pucinskaite. The Swiss' challenge will, as usual, be alongside that of Italian team-mate Noemi Cantele, who will also be hunting stage victories especially when the race passes close to her home town of Varese. The two of them will be ably supported by their powerful team, which includes Kazakh powerhouse Zulfia Zabirova, and newly crowned Swiss champion Jennifer Hohl.

Susanne Ljungskog (Team Flexpoint) has declared this race as her season's big target on the way to challenging for the Olympic title. The former two-time World champion has been on stellar form this season with wins in the Tour de Bern World Cup and Tour de l'Aude. Just a few weeks ago she made the jump from Menikini-Selle Italia to Flexpoint and can count on the support of American Amber Neben and Dutchwoman Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel.

Team Columbia (formerly known as High Road) brings its usual powerful team, led by German former World champion Judith Arndt. Arndt comes to the race on the back of victory in both the Montreal World Cup and Tour du Grand Montreal and will be looking to carry that form to a place one better than her second behind Ljungskog at the Tour de l'Aude. The rest of the Columbia team – including Australians Oenone Wood and Kate Bates and American Kim Anderson – will as normal be entirely united behind their leader, but also free to chase personal glory. Über-sprinter Ina-Yoko Teutenberg has proved almost unbeatable in bunch gallops this year, but has also been picking up victories in breakaways.

World Champion Marta Bastianelli changed teams in last month's transfer window just so that she could ride this race. The Safi-Pasta Zara Manhattan is too closely associated with Titanedi-Freza-Acca 2 O or the UCI to allow them to appear at the same races so she has joined CMax Dilà Monticello Guerciotti. Her new team may not be as all powerful as the one that she has just left, but the classy campionessa will be super-motivated to show off the maglia iridata in her home Tour.

Menikini-Selle Italia includes newly re-crowned Italian champion Fabiana Luperini with four earlier Giro wins. Australian sprinter Rochelle Gilmore, whose proposed mid-season move to Flexpoint fell through last month, will be hunting stage victories.

The DSB Bank team will be without newly crowned Dutch champion Marianne Vos – who has been so dominant this year – as she is opting to go to Mallorca for a training camp instead. The team is not without options though, with Angela Brodtka in the sprints and Tina Leibig in the hills. Classy rouleurs like Sharon Van Essen and Adrie Visser should mean that the team should be represented in most of the quality breakaways.

Adding a bit of anglophone flavour to the race is the national team from Australia. Based as it is in Varese, the team will be looking to do well, particularly in the latter stages where the roads will be familiar. Once again Lorian Graham and Nikki Egyed will be released from their Vrieden van het Platteland team to ride for their country and should be joined by Carla Ryan, who recently signed for Cervelo-Lifeforce.