A look back at former Giro Donne winner Mara Abbott

Mara Abbott was the first American rider to win the Giro Donne in 2010. Then went out to repeat the victory in 2013. A natural climber, Abbott was able to put in huge amounts of time on the major climbs and hang on during the time trials. With Marianne Vos at the peak of her powers too, Abbott made the most of the serious climbing in the Giro Donne routes she won.

Mara Abbott was also the rider who’d attacked with and was chasing down Annemiek van Vleuten when the Dutch rider crashed hard at the Rio Olympics. She came agonisingly close to the Olympic gold. Getting caught and passed in the last 500 metres to finish 4th by just 4 seconds. The American was repeatedly out of the saddle on the flats. Desperately trying to pull out every ounce of strength before the finish line. At the time Mara Abbott was a Wiggle High5 rider and had 2 of her trade team riders chasing her down. Ultimately, none of the Wiggle High5 riders earned the gold with Anna van der Breggen of Rabo Liv finishing first.

Abbott retired from cycling in 2016 after the Olympics, whilst clearly one of the strongest riders. She’d finished 5th at that year’s Giro Donne, including a stage win that put her in the pink jersey one last time.

Despite those successes, it hasn’t been plain sailing for Mara Abbott. The year after winning her first Giro Rosa, she quit cycling whilst unhappy at the Diadora-Pasta Zara team and suffering from anorexia. Also then as now, money in women’s cycling was an issue. She says that she generally made $20-25k a year as a top-level cyclist across her career. Abbott often spent the off-season working three days a week on an organic farm and two days selling vegetables at the local farmers’ market. She mentioned this in an interview with The Guardian in 2016. Whilst also teaching yoga classes and interning at a local paper.

You would hope that if Abbott was in the current women’s peloton that she would be on a Women’s WorldTour team and at least able to focus solely on her cycling. It puts into perspective the achievements of many of the best women cyclists from previous generations. Almost all of them had to work alongside taking on the best in the world on a bike. In her cycling retirement, Mara Abbott now works for Ceres, a sustainability organisation based in Boston as a Communications Manager. Previously she worked as a journalist, reporting on energy and natural resources in Wyoming.

Mara Abbott 2010 Giro Donne Rosa

2010 Giro Donne

The opening 4 stages which saw 3 sprints and an individual time trial. It’s no surprise that Mara Abbott was 22nd and exactly 2 minutes down in GC already. The next day saw the first real climbs and Abbott was 4th and moved up to 8th in GC. Stage winner Marianne Vos moved into the race leader’s pink jersey, now 1’29” ahead of Abbott. Vos won again the next day and Abbott moved up 1 spot after fellow American Evelyn Stevens lost some time.

It worked in her favour the next day though, with Stevens winning a brutal stage that saw only the top 8 finish within 5 minutes. Abbott was one of those and continues to slowly move up the GC. Another climbing day followed and Mara Abbott claimed her first stage win of the 2010 Giro Donne, with her rivals at least 90 seconds behind her. Abbott took over the race lead and the pink jersey by 19 seconds from Judith Arndt. She strengthened her lead on the Stelvio the next day. Only Emma Pooley was close to her and Abbott had a commanding GC lead of over 2 minutes. With the final day a simple sprint, Mara Abbott had shown she was simply the best climber on the major mountain stages.

Mara Abbott 2013 Giro Donne Rosa

2013 Giro Donne

The 2013 Giro Donne started off in a similar fashion. A couple of sprint stages, with Abbott down in 65th place on GC having lost a handful of seconds. A rolling Stage 3 saw Marianne Vos take an expected victory and put some time into her rivals. Abbott finished the day in 9th, 1’32” behind Vos. Plus a few seconds behind climbers like Evelyn Stevens, Claudia Lichtenberg, Anna van der Breggen and multiple Giro Donne winner Fabiana Luperini.

Vos won again the next day. With Abbott losing a few more seconds to her rivals, still 9th but now 2’05” behind Vos. It was clearly all part of the plan though with Abbott winning Stage 5 on the summit finish to Monte Beigua. She was in imperious climbing form with only 3 other riders within 2 minutes of her. With that Abbott took the pink jersey with a comfortable lead. Another climbing day saw Abbott win again. This time the gaps a bit smaller but clearly putting handsome time into everyone else. Her lead over 2nd place Tatiana Guderzo was now 2’40”.

A small split in the peloton the following day saw a few seconds disappear. However she still had plenty of lead for the final day time trial. Not the longest TT at 16.7km, Guderzo was able to put a minute into Abbott but it wasn’t enough. Mara Abbott won her second Giro Donne by 1’33” over the Italian.

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