The top women’s race of the year, the Giro Rosa in Italy, finished up on Sunday, July 13, atop the iconic Madonna del Ghisallo – one of the most legendary climbs of all cycling – Stage 9 went once more to the great British climber & time-trialer (& a former ITT World Champion) Emma Pooley (Lotto Belisol). But the race overall this year was about the near-complete dominance of a single team – Rabobank Liv – and it’s leader – a living icon in herself, the Olympic & World Champion Marianne Vos, who with the help of such strong teammates as Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Anna van der Breggen (who also finished 2nd & 3rd overall, respectively, completing a full GC-podium sweep for the Dutch team), survived the final 2 mountain-stages to claim her 3rd Giro victory.
Rabobank’s biggest obstacle to complete victory was, as expected, the great American climber (and 2-time Giro winner, including last year’s) Mara Abbott (UnitedHealthcare). Abbott has the power & drive on the big ascents to take the race by the horns as she did in 2013… but this year, the Rabo team pulled out all the stops and was able to control the race pretty much from start to finish. That being said, there is a little controversy going on in Twitter, YouTube & in several cycling-blogs since Sunday about a portion of the Stage 9 climb whereas the Dutch team is accused of “questionable tactics” when Vos, Ferrand-Prévot and van der Breggen were dueling up the mountain with Abbott, in some cases "checking" her line whenever she tried to attack… now all of a sudden the Rabo team (mainly Ferrand-Prévot, but Vos as well) is getting such a bad rap for being “unfair”, “dirty” ad nauseum…
I should also mention that the real purpose for Rabobank doing what it did was because the team had the top 3 GC-positions going into Stage 9 (Vos first, Ferrand-Prévot 2nd and van der Breggen 3rd). By controlling Abbott on the final climb they were able to preserve that GC-podium “sweep”.
Here’s a link to the RAI Sport 1-hr highlights-video if you want to see for yourself (the action starts about 25-30 min’s in)...
You see, this is what gets me about all this: even though I’ll admit the Rabo riders were a little too excessive at times with their tactics in their 3-to-1 duel w/Abbott on the climb, nonetheless there was a commissaries' car right behind them and the race-officials watching what was going down did not try to stop what was going on, I assume because no race-rules per se were being broken. So, whatever Rabo did, although it could be a little excessive at times, was perfectly legal. And… where were Abbott's teammates in all of this?? Should there be at least one or two (Hannah Barnes, Sharon Laws, for example) up there assisting Mara, counterattacking the Rabo riders? Is this something endemic of any American team to 'burn their matches' too quickly so that their 'protected' riders have no help whatsoever when it really counts? Like last year's World Championships in Florence, where Team USA worked their riders too hard too early so that Evelyn Stevens was hopelessly stranded on the final lap, surrounded by Dutchies & Italians?
Nonetheless whatever the Rabo trio did last Sunday heading up the Ghisallo, it had the effect of intimidating Abbott to the point where she could not launch the attack that could (she was 4th in GC at 1:36 behind Vos as of the Stage 9 start) potentially win the entire race all in one final swoop after Vos controlled the pink-jersey for nearly the entire race with 4 stage-victories & 7 overall-podium stage-finishes on top of both the GC and Points leads. So, the Rabo team respected & feared Abbott that much that they felt they had to implement whatever tactics that were used in order to assure the result they got, aggressively – yes – but in my humble opinion fairly & cleanly.
And this is certainly not the first time such tactics were used by a team on a single rider because they felt that rider was such a threat: take the 2009 UCI World Championships Elite Women's Road Race, for example. You had Vos (Netherlands) in a 3-to-1 (maybe 4-to-1) duel with the Italian team (Noemi Cantele, Marta Bastianelli and Tatiana Guderzo, possibly a 4th Italian rider as well) attacking and harassing Vos repeatedly until Guderzo was able to break away and win the rainbow-jersey (Vos finished 2nd, by the way). Apples & oranges when compared to Giro Stage 9, you say? Perhaps, but nothing new here....
Nonetheless, that didn’t stop a bunch of whiny, pissant little Twitter crybabies with their panties in a bunch, screaming for the WAAAAAAmbulance calling the Rabobank team a bunch of “unsportsmanlike” “dirty Euros” etc. etc. I should mention that a majority of these Twitter-clowns doing all the bitching & moaning about Rabo just happen to be American (little surprise, being that Abbott is an American rider with an American team), and never mind that American riders can sometimes employ the same tactics in a criterium-race (the US National champion, and Abbott’s teammate, Alison Powers even admitted just that yesterday in a tweet). So… nothing new, no matter if it’s done in Europe or in the U.S…. no big deal.
American "exceptionalism", at its most crass, now extends to women's cycling fandom on Twitter and the blogosphere... oh well!
Really, the sad thing of it all is... the riders themselves (Vos, Abbott, et al.) are very nice, congenial and professional athletes and personalities who really don't deserve to be subject to the "tender mercies" of immature cyber-bullies, directed either at themselves or their colleagues... and a credit to these athletes & their organizations as they look beyond the noise and continue to handle themselves in a courteous & professional manner despite the Internet static that surrounds them at times.
Have I made myself clear, Twitter-babies??