It was meant to be a sprint stage at the Giro Rosa on Monday, but Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team disregarded that memo. Instead when road captain Lizzie Deignan sensed that wind conditions were strong enough for echelons to take shape, she suggested a new tactic: split the bunch in an attempt to upend the general classification.
It was mission accomplished in Occhiobello. Deignan's plan saw Anna van der Breggen extend her lead in the maglia rosa while defending champion Megan Guarnier gained an all-important spot overall, moving up from fourth to third.
“The girls gave it everything to create that split,”said sport director Danny Stam, immediately after the race. “It was an awesome team effort. I’m so proud of all of them.”
“It takes confidence in each other and a real commitment from everyone to pull off something like what we did today,” said Deignan. “I am always proud of the team, but today even more so when really it would have been nice to have taken an easy day ahead of what is coming. The effort was totally worth it.”
The effort came 50 kilometres from the final after a relatively snoozy start saw the peloton largely stick together over the flat roads that characterised stage four.
In the opening hour of the race, Deignan took to the radio to suggest she and her teammates use the wind to shatter the bunch.
“Danny came back over the radio and said we would change direction at 76 kilometres and that we’d have crosswind there,” Deignan explained. “We saved our efforts.”
When the peloton hit the crosswinds, Boels-Dolmans massed on the front.
“It was the entire team,” said Deignan. “And we didn’t look back.”
Deignan was right. The wind was strong enough to split the peloton. Annemiek van Vleuten (ORCIA-SCOTT), who had started the day in second place, 18-seconds behind Van der Breggen, missed out. Van Vleuten’s loss was Boels-Dolmans’ gain. Any gaps would further Van der Breggen’s overall lead and if the gap stretched toward the two-minute mark, it would move Guarnier onto the overall podium.
As the distance between the first two groups on the road widened, Deignan made the call that Van der Breggen, Guarner and world champion Amalie Dideriksen, who could contend the sprint, should stop working.
“I had them stay in the wheels, and it was down to the rest of us to push as hard as we could for as long as we could,” Deignan said.
Their efforts were handsomely rewarded. Van der Breggen now leads by 26-seconds, an extra eight-second buffer, over Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5). Guarnier is in third place at 1:56 while Van Vleuten slipped down to fourth place at 2:17.
“We’re in a really strong position now,” said Deignan. “As a team we are really confident heading into the second half of the race. Every rider is strong and motivated. That makes us hard to beat.”