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In the words of Johan Cruyff, “attack is the best defence.” Annemiek van Vleuten apparently agrees.
Full credit to Amy Jones, who predicted in her Giro Donne preview that stage 4 of the Giro Donne was one for the general classification riders. The stage featured the Colle del Barbotto with 40 km to go, and although on the profile it didn’t look decisive, only three came over the top at the head of the race.
After the fourth stage, with five stages remaining, Van Vleuten and Mavi García may be the only two in the GC conversation, with Marta Cavalli close behind. The two finished stage 4 over four minutes ahead of a group of other race favourites including Elisa Longo Borghini, stage 1 winner Kristen Faulkner, and Cavalli’s teammate Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. Cavalli was only distanced from García and Van Vleuten on an uncategorized climb within the final 12 km and finished nearly a minute behind.
The stage was the first on mainland Italy after three stages on the island of Sardinia and was not necessarily billed as a decisive day for the overall. Van Vleuten herself said at the finish that she hadn’t originally seen the stage as a day for her but when she saw how difficult the descents were she readjusted her plans for the day.
“Before when the stages were announced today was not a day that I thought I’d go for it but then yesterday when I reconned it I saw the crazy descents two times,” Van Vleuten explained.
“I thought it would be more easy if I attack and then I can go on the descents easy,” Van Vleuten said. “So to be active to stay safe and out of trouble today.”
What started as a way to stay safe on the descent turned into a stage victory when Van Vleuten realized she and her two companions had dropped the rest of their competitors.
“When I saw I had a gap, for sure you want to go for it,” Van Vleuten said at the finish with a smile.
The pink jersey Van Vleuten pulled on at the end of the stage is her first since crashing on stage 7 in 2020. The Dutchwoman opted to skip the Giro Donne in 2021 in favour of an altitude camp ahead of the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“Last year it was with pain in my heart that I was not riding the Giro because I knew for the Olympics, for the time trial, I wanted to do my specific training in Livigno,” Van Vleuten said. “It was hard to miss out last year and I’m happy to be back.”
Van Vleuten explained before the race that the Giro Donne was going to be an important learning experience for her Movistar team. Since she missed the Giro Donne last year, the 2022 edition marks the first time Van Vleuten has targeted a major stage race with the Spanish team.
“It’s a new challenge,” Van Vleuten said after stage 4. “The last times I was always with my Australian team and it’s a super new challenge for us to do it together with my Spanish team.”
Despite being back in the pink jersey after the fourth stage Van Vleuten isn’t getting too excited about a potential overall victory in Padova.
“I take it day by day, that is the lesson I learned in my first Giro. I lost it in an echelon stage,” Van Vleuten said when asked about the stages to come. “Also tomorrow with wind, everything can happen, I need to take it day by day.”
After starting stage 4 with a 20-second advantage on García, Van Vleuten leads the Giro Donne by 25 seconds ahead of stage 5. The fifth stage is likely one for the sprinters, while stage 6 ends in a long climb that could see Van Vleuten further extend her advantage in the fight for pink.