The Giro Donne gets underway in Rome tomorrow, with Emma Pooley aiming to stand on the top step of the podium when the ten-day race ends in San Francesco al Campo next Sunday.

Pooley, who has finished fourth and fifth here in the last two years, is one of six Brits riding, along with her Garmin-Cervélo team-mates Lucy Martin, Sharon Laws and Lizzie Armitstead.

Emma Trott (Nederland Bloeit) and former winner Nicole Cooke (MCipollini-Giambenini) complete the home-grown interest.

Half of Pooley’s team is British, and has been specifically put together to improve her chances of taking the victory.

Giro Donne 2011: The route

Friday’s curtain-raiser should be the first time Armitstead gets to wear the National Champion’s jersey which she won in Stamfordham on Sunday.With just one third-category climb along the route of stage one, the finish in Velletri could be perfect for her.

Infact, the first six stages should also suit Armitstead’s abilities, although with big rivals Ina-Yoko Teutenberg and Charlotte Becker (both HTC-Highroad Women), as well as Annemiek Van Vleuten and Emma Johansson all riding, she will need to transfer her impressive display in the Nationals to the top level if she wants to pick up her first stage victory in the race.

Pooley, whom Armitstead succeeded as National Champion, is surely the rider to watch on stage seven, which tackles the iconic Mortirolo mountain.

She has trained on the climb, notably focusing her efforts on the descent, which she believes will be crucial to the outcome of the race. Just 14km lie between the top of the pass and the finish in Grosotto, so any time lost on the ascent will have to be made up on the fast drop down off the mountain. It’s certainly the queen stage of the race, although it may not be the most decisive.

Stage eight, a short 79.5km stage that finishes at the top of the first-category Valdidentro ski resort, is likely to indicate who will win the Giro. Riders will tackle the slightly easier Le Motte climb, which sits just 25km from the finish, before hitting the 8km drag to the top of the mountain.

The third consecutive day in the hills will put the peloton through some 50km of solid climbing before reaching the top of another ski resort, this time the Borgata Capoluogo in Ceresola Reale. As it’s not particularly steep; the length of the climb is likely to be what thins the peloton out.

The race ends with a 16km individual time trial around San Francesco Al Campo which, although short and fairly flat, should give the GC one final shakeup.

Sharon Laws heads break, British road race national championships 2011



From Stamfordham to Italy: Pooley, Armitstead, Cooke and Laws (l-r) will all be riding the Giro

Giro Donne 2011: The favourites

Last year’s winner Mara Abbott (Diadora – Pasta Zara) will unsurprisingly start as one of the big favourites. Runner-up and Mountains classification winner in 2009, she took back-to-back stage wins at the backend of last year’s Giro to take the overall by over two minutes. She tore the race open in the mountains last year, notably gaining time on Pooley by dropping her on a mountain descent. She suffered concussion after a training crash at the start of June, but her preparation haven’t been badly disrupted by the fall.

Judith Arndt (HTC-Highroad Women) has had a slow start to the season, yet can never be discounted, and will still be smarting from crashing out in the 2009 Giro when she was lying second overall.

Pooley led the race two years ago, yet has never finished on the podium. After breaking her collarbone in the spring, she arrives here fresh and determined. The route should be good for her, as time gains should be made on the three hilly stages and the final day time trial. Pooley will need to at least match Abbott’s performances in the mountains if she has any hope of taking the race win.

Nicole Cooke won the 2004 Giro, but has struggled for form in the first part of 2011. She looked comfortable in last weekend’s Nationals, despite the Garmin team’s numerical advantage, and will hope that, like Pooley and Armitstead in particular, she takes that form into the race.

Giro Donne 2011: The stages

Stage one, Friday July 1

Roma – Velletri, 86km

Stage two, Saturday July 2

Pescocostanzo – Pescocostanze, 91km

Stage three, Sunday July 3

Potenza Piceana – Fermo, 104.3km

Stage four, Monday July 4

Forlimpopoli – Forli, 101km

Stage five, Tuesday July 5

Altedo – Verona, 129km

Stage six, Wednesday July 6

Fontanellato – Piacenza, 128km

Stage seven, Thursday July 7

Rovato – Grosotto, 122km

Stage eight, Friday July 8

Teglio – Valdidentro, 79.5km

Stage nine, Saturday July 9

Aglie’ – Ceresole Reale, 114.8km

Stage 10, Sunday July 10

San Francesco Al Campo, 16km ITT