Friday's sixth stage consisted of a tough ride of 113.4 kilometres from Cardano al Campo, not far from the Malpensa international airport, into Laveno Mombello near Varese - and near Cittiglio, host town of the tough one-day classic Trofeo Alfredo Binda of World Cup fame - with two first category climbs, the Sette Termini and the harder Cuvignone, "Cima Coppi" (highest peak of the damsel's Giro) at (just??) 1,036 metres above sea level. There was enough room for "Queen of the Climbs" Fabiana Luperini to make her definitive mrk on the race, and/or GC runner-up Edita Pucinskaite to launch her attack on the Tuscan mountain goat, and/or for Tatiana Guderzo to pull off a surprise and take advantage of the clash between the top two contenders above. But in the end none of them stamped her authority on the stage, and the spotlight was on another classy trio: Claudia Hausler, Amber Neben and Nicole Braendli, who snatched the top three spots in the stage in that same order.
Three-time race winner Braendli had a bad time on the Monte Serra slopes two days ago, while Luperini was enjoying victory taste on home roads. But the world-class girl from Switzerland is not the one to give up without a fight. And she showed her mettle again (if needed) today, first of all by sending her Team Bigla domestiques on the front of the peloton to make the race harder. Andrea Thurig and Naomi Cantele did an outstanding job in this sense. Earlier than this, Bigla got Monica Holler into a seven-strong breakaway group that featured also triple stage winner Ina Yoko Teutenberg (Columbia Women), Eva Lutz (Equipe Nurnberger Versicherung), Agne Bagdanoviciute (Lit - Team System Data) and Russian national title holder Julia Martissova (GS Gauss RDZ Ormu), just to name a few. Braendli didn't put up any attack on the first climb of the day though. A small group with basically all top-placed contenders remained out on the front there, with Hausler taking the points at the KOM sprint, Nicole in third place and another Swisswoman and Bigla CT athlete, Sereina Trachsel, in between. Luperini apparently had everything under control on Passo Sette Termini, her climbing legs being as good as usual.
But the battle broke out for real on the second and last uphill thing of the day, Passo del Cuvignone. While the weather got worse, with rain making its way back to the race, Braendli went on the attack again and opened up some gap on the others. Luperini drove the five-girl first chase group, getting help from fellow pursuers Guderzo (the Italian national IITT champion curiously performed worse than expected against the clock the day before, but is doing fine enough on the climbs), Amber Neben and race revelations Ana Sanchis Chafer of the Spanish NT and Hausler. Edita Pucinskaite wasn't with them: the Lithuanian had a bad day in the saddle and got dropped, staying with a small group further back, that contained also Marta Bastianelli and Estonia's Grete Trier.
The pursuit was fruitful and Braendli got caught in the second half of the climb, in the middle of a forest that, combined with the "murky" weather, made today's stage look like a night-time event. Drivers of the motorbikes following the race had to turn their lights on ... in order to help the riders see the route a little better.
It looked like we were going to have another "Luperini Day" but, as a surprise to many, the maglia rosa wearer started paying for her efforts and ended up losing contact to Neben - who attacked solo in the last portion of the climb and won the KOM sprint - Hausler and Guderzo. So did Sanchis and Braendli, but the Swiss made a spectacular comeback in the descent that followed, and stormed back to the front, resulting in a new lead trio with also Neben and Hausler, and three more girls (Luperini, Sanchis and Guderzo) as first chasers. The gap went rapidly up to 40 seconds, and over the minute a couple miles later. Guderzo had her hopes to pose a threat to Luperini's GC lead dashed by her poor performance on the descent; that's where she lost all of her maglia rosa hopes and ended up being forced to cooperate with her rival to each other's advantage.
Cooperation was strong also up front: Amber, Claudia and Nicole worked well together, such that they held on to a solid lead and became the only ones allowed to aim for stage honors. Braendli is not new to glory in this part of Italy, she has won the Trofeo Binda seven years ago. But today wasn't her day: efforts took toll on her legs in the final straight and she ended up losing two seconds to the stage winner: Claudia Hausler. Even if the way she rounded the last turn will never be taught in cycling schools (Trier the Estonian did even worse at that point, having an unpleasant meeting with the tarmac), the mighty German made the most out of her great condition and easily beat Neben to take her homeland's winning tally in this race up to four triumphs.
Luperini rode hard in the last few miles and managed to limit her losses to 56 seconds, retaining the race leadership even by a decent margin over Hausler and Braendli, both moving upwards on GC. Amber Neben also moved up one place into fifth while the big loser of the day, Pucinskaite, dramatically slipped four places into sixth. Her chances for a podium spot at Desio come Sunday are seemingly over. Today's superb ride put Claudia Hausler in the mountain's green jersey, as much as she's more leader than ever in the Best Young Rider classification. Her fellow German Ina Yoko Teutenberg reigns supreme in the Ciclamino realm.
The Giro is far from over instead, but Saturday's hilly ride, with no less than four uphill difficulties in the menu, and the mountain top finish at Montevecchia, is probably going to be the race decider.
Stage 6 (Cardano al Campo to Laveno, 113.4 km): Top 10 Places
1. HAUSLER, Claudia (Ger - NURNBERGER VERSICHERUNG) - 03h13'13"
2. NEBEN, Amber (USA - TEAM FLEXPOINT) - s.t.
3. BRANDLI, Nicole (Swi - BIGLA CYCLING TEAM) - 03h13'15"
4. GUDERZO, Tatiana (Ita - GS GAUSS RDZ ORMU) - 03h14'09"
5. LUPERINI, Fabiana (Ita - MENIKINI-SELLE ITALIA) - s.t.
6. SANCHIS CHAFER, Ana (Spa - SPANISH NT) - 03h14'12"
7. PUCINSKAITE, Edita (Lit - NURNBERGER VERSICHERUNG) - 03h16'14"
8. BASTIANELLI, Marta (Ita - TEAM CMAX DILA) - s.t.
9. POLIKEVICIUTE, Jolanta (Lit - CHIRIO FORNO D'ASOLO) - s.t.
10. ARNDT, Judith (Ger - COLUMBIA WOMEN) - 03h16'17"
19th Women's Tour of Italy - GC after Stage 6: Top 10 Places
1. LUPERINI, Fabiana (Ita - MENIKINI-SELLE ITALIA)
2. HAUSLER, Claudia (Ger - NURNBERGER VERSICHERUNG) - at 42""
3. BRAENDLI, Nicole (Swi - BIGLA CYCLING TEAM) - at 50"
4. GUDERZO, Tatiana (Ita - GS GAUSS RDZ ORMU) - at 01'16"
5. NEBEN, Amber (USA - TEAM FLEXPOINT) - at 02'08"
6. PUCINSKAITE, Edita (Lit - NURNBERGER VERSICHERUNG) - at 02'53"
7. SANCHIS CHAFER, Ana (Spa - SPANISH NT) - at 04'21"
8. POLIKEVICIUTE, Jolanta (Lit - CHIRIO-FORNO D'ASOLO) - at 05'57"
9. BASTIANELLI, Marta (Ita - TEAM CMAX DILA) - at 07'11"
10. ARNDT, Judith (Ger - COLUMBIA WOMEN) - at 07'45"
* Complete Stage Results and Overall Standings here (pdf file)
Points - Standings after Stage 6
1. TEUTENBERG, Ina Yoko (Ger - COLUMBIA WOMEN) - 45 p.
2. WILD, Kirsten (Hol - AA-DRINK CYCLING TEAM) - 33 p.
3. BRONZINI, Giorgia (Ita - TITANEDI-FREZZA-ACCA DUE O) - 26 p.
4. HAUSLER, Claudia (Ger - NURNBERGER VERSICHERUNG) - 23 p.
5. NEBEN, Amber (USA – TEAM FLEXPOINT) – 23 p.
Mountains - Standings after Stage 6
1. HAUSLER, Claudia (Ger - NURNBERGER VERSICHERUNG) - 35 p.
2. LUPERINI, Fabiana (Ita - MENIKINI-SELLE ITALIA) - 27 p.
3. GUDERZO, Tatiana (Ita - GS GAUSS RDZ-ORMU) - 19 p.
4. BRANDLI, Nicole (Swi - BIGLA CYCLING TEAM) - 17 p.
5. NEBEN, Amber (USA – TEAM FLEXPOINT) – 12 p.
Young Riders - Standings after Stage 6
1. HAUSLER, Claudia (Ger - NURNBERGER VERSICHERUNG) - 16h13'31"
2. SANCHIS CHAFER, Ana (Spa - SPANISH NT) - at 03'39"
3. BASTIANELLI, Marta (Ita - TEAM CMAX DILA) - at 06'29"
* 19th Women's Giro d'Italia: Prologue, Stage 1 & 2
* 19th Women's Giro d'Italia: Stage 3
* 19th Women's Giro d'Italia: Stage 4
* 19th Women's Giro d'Italia: Stage 5