Friday's uphill ITT into Blatten basically cleared all doubts. Barring a catastrophe, the 2005 Women's Tour of Italy belongs to Nicole Braendli
. The young superstar from Switzerland dominated the race against the clock held on her home soil (even more than she did in the ITT prologue one week earlier, when she grabbed the Maglia Rosa she's likely to keep all the way to the Milan podium) and scored her third stage victory in this race, extending her lead over closest "challenger" Joanne Somarriba of Spain to well over a minute. Team Bigla's Braendli rode so fast that 32 out of 115 starters finished outside time limit and are now out of contention.
The "race of the truth" (which really lived up to such a nickname in this case), covering 7.6 kms from Naters to Blatten, in the "homeland" of Phonak's Alexander Moos and 1980s pro rider Robert Dill-Bundi, and averaging a gradient of about 9%, got underway at 0130 PM local time, with Hungarian red lantern Gabriella Palotai (team Fanini Velo) as first starter. Unsurprisingly there were many changes atop the leaderboard in the early part of the stage, until American Grace Fleury established the excellent time of 30'10"42, and retained the lead for close to fifty minutes, before another English-speaking contender, Australian Lorian Graham, crossed the line and bettered her time by about 22 seconds. But her joy didn't last long, as Denmark's Lise Horslund Christensen (team Bianchi-Aliverti) came and set a time of 29'31"30. Later on it was the turn of Italian Barbara Lancioni (Team Lazio Ciclismo), the top finisher from the host country, to steal the top spot with a good 29'13"62.
Needless to say, as the stage progressed and the top-placed riders overall made it to the line, the times got better and better. Kiwi Sarah Ulmer (team SATS) didn't have room for putting in one of the attacks she got us accustomed to, but nonetheless found the way to hit the headlines with a great time of 28'10"25. But she had her hopes for victory dashed once more, as Russian Swetlana Bubnenkova (Team PMB Fenixs) crossed the line in a sensational 27'10'81. "Bouba" stayed atop the stage ranking until Maribel Moreno bettered her time, but also Spain's Elite national road champion had to give up her hopes as California's Amber Naben (first) and Edita Pucinskaite of the Lithuanian Armada (later) got to the finishing line, the latter in a time of 25'54"60.
Neither previous stage winner Mirjam Melchers (Mrs. Van Poppel had quite a lousy performance, setting a time of 27'57"52 and dropping to eighth overall) nor Joanne Somarriba (26'03"56) could do better than Edita. But Nicole definitely could: Braendli clocked a stellar time of 25'01"80 and moved one step closer to her third GC victory in the women's Corsa Rosa, after her wins in the 2001 and 2003 editions, and after another Nicole (Brtitain's Cooke, not attending the current Giro) clinched the 2004 title.
Also Giorgia Bronzini, Swetlana Boubnenkova and young Belarusian Volha Hayeva are one step closer to vcitory in the "lesser" classifications. But we'll get to know more at the end of Saturday's short but tough journey back onto Italian soil, featuring the Cat. 1 Passo Sempione (Simplon Pass), followed by a difficult descent of 20 km. into the line at Domodossola. You can bet more serious gaps will be made in Saturday's penultimate stage.
Stage 7 (Naters to Blatten - ITT, 7.6 km) - Top 3 Places
1. Nicole Braendli (Swi - Team Bigla) - 25'01"80
2. Edita Pucinskaite (Lit - Nobili Rub.-Menikini-Cogeas) - 25'54"60
3. Joane Somarriba (Spa - Team Bizkaia Panda Software) - 26'03"56
16th Women's Tour of Italy: GC after Stage 7 - Top 3 Places
1. Nicole Braendli (Swi - Team Bigla)
2. Joane Somarriba (Spa - Team Bizkaia-Panda S.) - at 01'10"
3. Edita Pucinskaite (Lit - Nobili Rub.-Menikini-Cogeas) - at 01"39"
1. Giorgia Bronzini (Ita - Chirio Forno d'Asolo)
1. Swetlana Boubnenkova (Rus - PMB Fenixs)
1. Volha Hayeva (Blr - Team Fanini Velo)
16th Womens Tour of Italy - Links
Prologue Results and Report
Stage 1 & Stage 2 Results and Report
Stage 3 Results and Report
Stage 4 Results and Report
Stage 5 Results and Report
Stage 6 Results and Report