In His Own Words: DS Martin Barras on Toscana Stage Three

Sat 14 Sep 2013

Emma Johansson sprinted to second place in Capannori on the third stage of the Giro della Toscana. The Swede was part of a six rider escape group that formed following the first ascent of the Valgiana. Race leader Marianne Vos (Rabobank Liv/Giant) took the stage win, her third over four days of racing, as Johansson jumped up to second overall, 31” behind Vos. In his own words, Sport Director Martin Barras describes the eventful day of racing.

The Giro della Toscana is organised by Brunello Fanini to honour the memory of his daughter, Michela Fanini (winner of the 1991 Giro d'Italia and Italian Champion) who was killed in a car crash in 1991. Today was Michela's day. The start was held in the Fanini family village, Segromigno, and the stage started with a memorial mass followed by a short procession to the village's cemetery, where Michela is interred and a statue in her memory has been erected.

The start village is on the Piazza Michela Fanini and is a mixture of race procedures and village fiesta. From there the race passes the Fanini's shop for a few sprints and then finishes through the hills and out to the village of Cappanori.

Before you ask, the traffic problems were minor today compared with the rest of the week and, yes, the mozzarella was viciously good!

The course was made up of four local laps around Segromigno and then two laps up the Valgiana climb. We knew that this was the stage to make a move and planned accordingly. Tiff took it upon herself to use an internet based mapping software to get as much info as possible on the two climbs of the day.

I have made myself infamous with the Australian Team girls for using the same software and proclaiming : "I have checked our ride on Myridingsotfware and it's flat!" before dragging the girls to their climbing death. So it is not without a fair bit of cheek that I can report that in her own enthusiastic way, Tiff mapped the course BACKWARDS. You reckon I will ever let her live this down?

Back to racing, we knew we wanted to use both Tiff and Emma over the last two climbs (Valgiana) and see if we could improve our position. A logical order was to use Tiff first and then Emma, but knowing we wanted to be assertive, we were happy to let racing dictate in which order things would get done.  An important premise to this was to attempt to get either Amy [Cure] or Jess [MacLean] up the road before the final circuit, so we could afford to sit pretty on anything that moved afterwards and could possibly have more ammo at the front if need be.

The race started with a disappointment: not only was the first circuit really flat and fast but the Segromigno climb (Yes, that's the one that Tiff mapped backwards!!!) was about as difficult as a visit to your mother in law: unpleasant but manageable! Nevertheless, a group of 10 riders did manage to get away on the fourth lap and with 10km to go to the foot of the Valgiana climb, it was touch and go if the time gap would grow enough to allow the break to stay up over the climb. Jessie made this break and Amy nearly got across as well. All was well!

The gap immediately went to 30” but then the bunch began a controlled chase and kept it stable all the way to the climb. This condemned the break riders and their day would soon be over. The approach to the climb (In Tiff's analysis, this was a technical descent!) was narrow and soon all the major contenders went to the front. The pace was very solid but without any major attacks. This allowed a group of 30 to crest together.

The descent is where the business was done. It was twisty and technical as it slid down the ancient olive groves for which Toscana is so famous. The front group started breaking up due to the technical nature of the descent. By the bottom, it had shed seven riders and the transition to the flat saw an attack that separated six riders from the chasing 17 that were left.  Marianne Vos (Rabobank Liv/Giant), Rossella Ratto (Hitec Products UCK), Anna Van der Breggen (Sengers Ladies), Tatiana Antoshina (MCipollini Giordana), Claudia Häusler (Team TIBCO) and our own Emma made the selection. As six different teams were represented in both the break and chase group, the impetus of the chase died down immediately, and we were set for a grand finale.

Remembering that whoever wins Toscana will feature at the Worlds, it is not far fetched to say that the potential winner of this year's World Championship is to be found in that group of six. The break rode solidly until it returned to the bottom of the Valgiana climb, and with over two minutes in hand, it was now left to racing and racing only.

Vos has looked a bit vulnerable (by her own stratospheric level ) on the climbs and so immediately went to the front to set the pace. This lasted for 1 km and then Ratto did what she does best: attack. The immediate response from Vos was to shut it down but it also shaped things to come. Antoshina immediately went on defensive mode and would spend the rest of the climb desperately hanging on. Häusler immediately had a go but this also proved her undoing as she spent the rest of the climb in the hurt box. Van der Breggen took over and three times she attacked and three times Vos went for the chase.

This left Emma with a decision: do I show my cards or do I continue to play the Worlds game? Ultimately, she went for the game and the climb concluded with all six riders cresting together.

But the race was not over. The descent again proved crucial, as Vos and Emma tore down the hill. Antoshina and Van der Breggen immediately lost contact and Häusler lasted a little longer before giving way. Once down, we had two groups of three : Vos, Ratto and Emma with a 20 “ advantage on hard chasing Antoshina, Van der Breggen and Häusler. As the three leading riders were also the best placed GC riders from the break, they had no reason to drive hard and with 1.5km to go, the six regrouped and showed up for the sprint.

A very technical finish saw Vos win the stage from Emma and Van der Breggen. The finish bonus now moves Emma in second place, 32” behind the ever dominant Vos, with Ratto in third overall at 34”. Tiff started the day in third overall but dropped down to seventh place at 4’02 after missing the front group.

The titillating prospect here is that due to Emma's gaming, we all think we know what we are looking at for the Worlds, but no one is so sure. I plan on losing many nights of sleep over this. Tomorrow's stage should prove less eventful: it's a flattish affair with a strategically placed climb less than 10 km from the finish. Unfortunately, traffic should make a return for it!

Until then.