Top women for Giro | SASCOC - SASCOC

Top women for Giro

There are no South Africans competing in the gruelling 2011 Tour de France men’s cycle race. But there are four competing in the 2011 Giro Donne, the most prestigious stage race in professional women’s road cycling, which starts in Rome on Friday.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, Cherise Taylor, Marissa van der Merwe and Joanna van de Winkel, make up half of the Belgian-based Lotto Ladies professional team for the tough 10-day event, better known as the women’s version of the Giro d’Italia.

The four riders are members of Cycling South Africa’s 2012 Olympic squad and they will be out to score as many International Cycling Union (UCI) rankings points as possible during the race in order to help boost the number of South Africa’s London Games qualification starting places.

All of the world’s top Elite female racers will be competing for the coveted title, representing their various trade teams. Among the South Africans, Moolman Pasio, is only one that has competed in the Giro Donne before, finishing a very respectable 17th overall on her debut last year. The gifted climber, currently in superb form, has been identified as the best General Classification hope for the Lotto Ladies team this year and is expected to shine in the big mountain stages, which mostly come in the second half of the tour.

ÔÇ£I am thankful for my experience last year. I have learnt a lot since then too. Yes, the Giro is a very tough and demanding tour, but I have done the preparation! I am feeling strong and I will be taking the tour day by day,ÔÇØ said a quietly confident Moolman Pasio on Wednesday.

Cycling South Africa has been on a drive to develop Elite women’s racing over the past couple of years and having four South Africans in the sport’s most prestigious stage race is another benchmark achievement. This just five months after Carla Swart, South Africa’s top-ranked Elite women’s professional, was killed in a training accident.

Van der Merwe has been racing alongside Moolman Pasio in Europe for the past few weeks as the South African racing season takes a winter break. Van der Merwe is the current South African road champion and is expected to take on the role of domestique, along with Taylor and Van de Winkel, although they’ll be attentive to any opportunities that might arise in what has been described as the most brutal edition of the race yet.

ÔÇ£It’s in South Africa’s interests to score as many points as possible here and with Ashleigh being a top 10 contender, we will all, along with the other riders on the team, put aside any personal agendas and race completely in support of her,ÔÇØ said Taylor this week, just prior to her departure for Italy.

Australians Rochelle Gilmore and Vicki Whitelaw and Belgians Ludivine Henrion and Kathy Delfosse fill the remaining four places on the team. Gilmore is the team’s designated sprinter and will be looking for success on the flatter stages.

Van der Merwe and Taylor, who race for Team USN at home, both represented South Africa at the Beijing Olympic Games and have a reasonable level of international racing experience. Van de Winkel, who is one of Moolman Pasio’s Nashua Toyota teammates back home, has very little international experience, mostly because she only started cycling three years ago! But as a strong climber, she’s likely to relish the mountain stages and will provide support for Moolman Pasio when the road points skyward.

Stages Two, Three, Seven, Eight and Nine are the toughest, with a high percentage of climbing, while the final stage is a 16 kilometre individual time trial in San Francesco, where the tour finishes.

Giro Donne, 1-10 July:
Friday, July 1 ÔÇô Stage 1: Rome-Velletri, 86km
Saturday, July 2 ÔÇô Stage 2: Pescoconstanzo-Pescoconstanzo, 91km
Sunday, July 3 ÔÇô Stage 3: Potenza Picena-Fermo, 104.3km
Monday, July 4 ÔÇô Stage 4: Forlimpopoli-Forl├¼, 101km
Tuesday, July 5 ÔÇô Stage 5: Altedo-Verona, 129km
Wednesday, July 6 ÔÇô Stage 6: Fontanellato-Piacenza, 128km
Thursday, July 7 ÔÇô Stage 7: Rovato-Grosotto, 122km
Friday, July 8 ÔÇô Stage 8: Teglio-Valdidentro, 70km
Saturday, July 9 ÔÇô Stage 9: Agli├¿-Ceresole Reale, 114.8km
Sunday, July 10 ÔÇô Stage 10: San Francesco al Campo TT, 16km

Team Lotto Ladies: Ashleigh Moolman Pasio,  Joanna Van de Winkel, Marissa van der Merwe, Cherise Taylor (all SA), Ludivine Henrion, Kathy Delfosse (both BEL), Rochelle Gilmore, Vicki Whitelaw (both Aus).