Not one, but two stages of the Giro Donne to review for you today, and the race has exploded into life, providing cracking entertainment as it so often does, and prompting the perennial discussion on social media - why, oh why, is it scheduled in direct conflict with Le Tour de France.

As Lena discussed in our first Giro Donne Bulletin, there are various reasons why the situation is as it is, and we can only hope that the new organisers, RCS, look to moving the race to a more prominent and visible position in the calendar following their takeover in 2024. The women deserve to be seen by a wider audience and the Tour de France is too big a juggernaut not to eclipse any race - men's or women's - that's scheduled alongside it.

Back to the racing.

While stage 4 looked like a potential second consecutive opportunity for the sprinters on paper, the women's peloton went off-script and an opportunistic solo breakaway from EF Education-Tibco SVB's Veronica Ewers forced the maglia rosa Annemiek van Vleuten to defend her position, resulting in a situation that was too tricky for the sprinters' teams to control.

Stage 5 was the Queen stage of the race and it produced the action to match. There was a first pro win, some nail-biting crashes, and a statement of intent from Van Vleuten. More on that, and words from inside the peloton from Human Powered Health's Eri Yonamine, inside today's round-up.

Today in review

Peter Barnes takes a look back at the past two stages of the Giro Donne.

Stage Four

tattica (noun feminine) - tactics

The day started inauspiciously at first; many debated whether a breakaway would win, or perhaps some sprinters would make it to the finish, or maybe it would be a day for GC riders. All options were open to begin with and a break formed to make their strike for glory.

In the break were Ilse Pluimers from AG Insurance-Soudal QuickStep, Amalie Dideriksen of Uno-X and Silvia Zanardi representing BePink-Gold (a team that I’m still convinced is a K-Pop band). They had a small advantage of a couple of minutes but never anything that threatened to last until the finish. When the race hit the later climbs of the day the peloton started to break up with attacks from all and sundry.

After all was said and done there was an elite selection of riders: Elisa Longo-Borghini, Annemiek van Vleuten, who recovered well from a minor crash and Veronica Ewers (who had attacked early and been bridged up to by Elisa and Annemiek). Three riders at the front and that’s where tactics come into play, with even some basic game theory.

At the start of the day, there were 10 riders within one minute of Annemiek’s lead with a conceivable chance of overall victory. Due to this attack, van Vleuten put in another 40 seconds into everyone apart from her two companions. Instead of having to focus on 10 potential opponents, she has reduced the number of rivals to just two.

In terms of controlling a race this is better but still not perfect. If she can eliminate one of the two from contention then it is perfect gameplay from Annemiek and I would not have been surprised if she had attacked once more, as when the number of opponents is a single rider, it is much easier to ride defensively. So far the tactics have been impeccable.

It didn't work out in the end, with both Ewers and ELB sticking with her to the last, the Italian taking the win in her national tricolore jersey. But Annemiek remains in pink.

Stage Five

paura (noun feminine) - fear

Fear is a powerful motivator but can also paralyse thought and deed. Similarly a lack of fear can be both a sign of recklessness and bravery.

For example, it can be brave to attack on the first climb of the day if you’re already in the lead of the overall race. That did not deter Annemiek as she went early on, only followed by Gaia Realini. Those two were later joined by Elisa Longo Borghini and Niamh Fisher-Black. It was a risk but I felt it was a calculated risk because it meant Lidl-Trek had a numerical advantage and would be motivated to ride with Van Vleuten. Annemiek herself would be getting rid of Ewers as a challenger and thus reduce her immediate rivals to one - Longo Borghini.

It was therefore puzzling when the group of Ewers was allowed to catch up as the race approached the final climb. However it strikes me that Annemiek is not afraid of rivals at all, because although Veronica Ewers could get back, she would be dispatched again as Annemiek attacked and only Longo Borghini could go with her. These two would pursue Antonia Niedermaier who had struck out for the stage win ahead of them.

After the summit of the final classified climb was a descent and a small uphill to the finish. That’s when fear comes in again. Since the tragic events of the Tour de Suisse, I have been watching descents with fear, hoping that all the riders get down safely. I gasped as Annemiek misjudged a corner and did some impromptu cyclocross.

Those gasps were echoed moments later as Longo Borghini went straight on at a corner and over a small heap of dirt. Any downhill crash brings recent events back into sharp focus and there was huge relief when Elisa was able to get back on her bike. Her overall race ambitions gone, the most important thing is that she is safe and healthy.

That riders are able to descend so fearlessly has always mystified me and in general the fearlessness of riders is hugely commendable. The way Antonia Niedermaier (Canyon//SRAM) attacked, unafraid to make a move despite being in a group with the World Champion and race leader is amazing. No doubt she probably felt fearful that she would be caught on the ascent to the finish, with Annemiek metaphorically breathing down her neck. That fear of being caught could have paralysed her but she held off her illustrious opponent and in so doing took her first professional victory, and now finds herself second overall.

Speedy stage preview

After the drama of stage 5, stage 6 is a bit of an unknown quantity. It consists of a hilly circuit beginning and ending in the town of Canelli, and with three category 3 ascents en route it could be a day for the breakaway, unless the GC teams take control of the race and try to drop Annemiek van Vleuten in a do-or-die attempt to retrieve some of deficit - currently over two minutes. They'd have to tactical geniuses, or give Movistar the wrong parcours information, to make that work though.

Eri Yonamine's What3Words

Two day's worth of three-word reviews from our special guest, Human Powered Health's Japanese National Champion Eri Yonamine.

Stage 4

Stage 5

Thanks for reading, folks - join us for more tomorrow. Ciao!

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