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Stage four of the Giro Rosa was defined by its length. Coming in at 170 km plus a 10 km neutral zone, the stage, from Assisi to Tivoli, exceeded the UCI’s upper limit for women’s races by 10km. It was the longest day in the saddle to ever feature on a Women’s WorldTour Race.
The long stage was met by mixed reviews from riders. Some expressed appreciation for the challenging day, while others saw it as unnecessarily long and having no place in women’s racing.
Women’s cycling is defined by its entertaining nature, with shorter stages making for explosive racing where the lack of respite for the peloton means there’s never a dull moment. The introduction of longer stages can stymie that characterisation, giving way to a formulaic racing style more common to men’s racing. While there is unanimous agreement that the riders are physically capable of covering longer distances, the women’s peloton is certainly not united on the question of whether they should do so.
Before the race even began, the pros expressed their views. One of the biggest proponents of the extended distance was Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitane), who was vocal when the route came out about the need for more stages like today. “Finally, we’re being taken seriously, and they don’t think our uteruses will fall out if we ride long stages,” she said before the Giro began. Uttrup Ludwig finished 7th on the stage.
Uttrup Ludwig’s teammate Brodie Chapman agreed. “It’s awesome, it’s a cool challenge,” she said after the stage. “I mean we’re not doing it all the time and it just mixes things up, gives people something else to be excited for. I really enjoyed it, I personally really like long days on the bike.”
Many, however, were less pleased they had to take the long transfer from Assisi to Tivoli by bike. On the morning of the stage, Leah Kirchman of Team Sunweb posted on her Instagram: “We are of course fully capable of racing these distances, but I don’t believe longer races are any more exciting. A true sign of progress for the sport would be extensive live media coverage of our races.”
Ironically, the winner on the day, Lizzy Banks of Equipe Paule Ka, was of the same opinion when it came to the 170km stage. Banks was unequivocal on her standpoint regarding the peloton’s big day out, saying, “my opinion is that we don’t need longer stages to further women’s cycling.”
“I don’t want to ride 180km, I want exciting races,” she said, “I’m pretty sure in the bunch today it was quite boring.”
Those following the race pondered how the organisers had managed to flout yet another UCI rule, after also disregarding the requirement for at least an hour of live coverage of all Women’s World Tour races, and the British rider suggested instead that the organisers would better serve the race by adding live coverage.
“We don’t need 180km (including neutral) stages, we need the people to be able to follow us and if people can’t watch us live then how are they supposed to invest in the sport? And unless they invest in the sport, we’re not going to have the sponsors, and if we don’t have the sponsors we don’t have the teams and we can’t move forward,” she said.
Second-place rider Eugenia Bujak (Ale-BTC City Lubjana) echoed the sentiments of her breakaway companion.
“For me, it was the longest race of my life,” the Slovenian rider said, “I’m not really sure that we need such a long stage in this kind of stage race, in the Giro Rosa we have to climb a lot and I think it’s not really necessary to put such a long day.”
Canyon//SRAM’s Elena Cecchini didn’t point to the distance on stage 4, but rather the difficulty of a trio of opening stages as the potential cause of a change in race style.
“In my opinion, the kilometres are not the mirror of good or bad races,” she said. “In the end, we had only 10-15 minutes extra compared to the three stages before. So I think we need to consider the three long and really hard days in a row, rather than focusing on the 170km of today.”
Some believed the effect of the long stage was minimal. South African national champion Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (CCC-Liv), who currently sits seventh on GC at 4:34, said that she didn’t notice much of a difference when it came to actually racing over the longer distance. “If I’m totally honest it didn’t feel very different,” she said.
The 34-year-old expressed no doubt as to her colleagues’ capabilities across 180km. “We all train hard enough and long enough to be able to race these distances and to be able to still keep the racing relatively exciting,” she said. She also warned that such distances would not serve the women’s peloton were they to become a regular occurrence. “It’s a fine line because if one starts to race these longer distances too often then it can, of course, become boring.”
Moolman-Pasio’s view is that equality in the sport does not necessarily involve mirroring men’s racing.
“Women’s cycling shouldn’t imitate men’s cycling because I think men’s cycling has its own issues and they’re looking for ways to make the racing more exciting,” she said.
She did concede that such distances perhaps might have a place in one-day races.
“I think it’s okay to have these longer races, especially one-day racing,” she said. “It’s good because it makes it more demanding which I think is good for women’s cycling. In a tour, I don’t know that it really adds much value, but I definitely think that this is the maximum.”