Into the aggressive glare of the southern Mediterranean, it was an Alaskan who shone brightest on stage one of the Giro Donne. Kristen Faulkner (BikeExchange - Jayco) was the only rider to go faster than 49kph across the 4.75km Cagliari course, stopping the clock at 5’45”.
As well as the stage victory, Faulkner became the first maglia rosa of this year’s race. Georgia Baker made it a one-two for Team BikeExchange - Jayco finishing four seconds back with Elisa Balsamo in third a further two seconds slower.
With strong winds forecast for later in the race, and the mercury rising above 30 degrees, the choice of several of the favourites to go out early proved to be a sensible one. Lotte Kopecky (Team SD Worx) was the only rider with a later start to break into the top five. The Belgian national champion may find herself wondering what she could have managed had she rolled down the ramp half an hour or so sooner.
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The 16th rider to start was the first to get comfortable in the hotseat. Australian Georgia Baker (BikeExchange Jayco) took advantage of the somewhat settled conditions, maintaining plenty of speed through the corners as she powered along the short Sardinian course.
Firm favourite for the overall title, Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) rolled down the ramp five minutes later. The Olympic TT champion put in a solid but not spectacular performance, six seconds in arrears. In the end she finished just outside the top five. After months spent at altitude, Van Vleuten will expect to gain time in later stages, when the Giro reaches the mountains on the mainland.
Another rider expected to challenge for the overall title, Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), started her own ride two minutes later. The Women’s Tour winner came close to Baker’s time but 4.5 seconds separated her from the virtual race lead.
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Faulkner was the 64th rider to start, shortly before the live TV coverage began. That meant few were able to see how well she rode but no-one missed the shots of her smiling from the hotseat for the next hour and a half. After Faulkner displaced team-mate Georgia Baker by 3.6 seconds, that was how it stayed for the duration of the session. Only Kopecky was able to break into the top five from the later starters.
The American Faulkner was delighted to have backed up her recent time trial win at the Tour de Suisse with an impressive showing to take the maglia rosa.
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"I feel happy,” she said afterwards. "I feel really proud of all the work my team-mates and I, and my coach, have put in. I’m just really happy that I could bring home the pink jersey on the first day for the team.”
Looking forward, Faulkner predicted that the next two days would be for the sprinters - with the subtext that she would expect to hold onto the race lead - while stage 4’s punchy climbs” should make it one where "you won’t be able to win the Giro, but you might be able to lose it.”
With the retirement of Anna van der Breggen, the field is open at the 33rd running of the Giro Donne. This year's race will run just over 1000km through five regions of Italy, finishing in Padua.
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Every stage of the Giro Donne can be streamed live and on-demand on discovery+.
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