"It’s always very special in Italy to wear the pink jersey," said Van Vleuten. "I’m here with my team to go for it for a third time. There are so many days to come. I’m not thinking about pink. I’ll race, as I always do, and focus day by day because that’s really needed at this Giro d’Italia."Van Vleuten attacked on the main climb of the day, the Seggiano, only followed initially by Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle Futuroscope Aquitaine), before the world champion dropped the Danish star on the gravel section of the ascent.
Van Vleuten forged ahead, even overcoming a crash on a very rough section of gravel more often seen in mountain bike races, pushing her bike for a while before remounting and continuing on. The gap to Anna van der Breggen narrowed at this point, but van Vleuten was able to extend her lead out again on the run to the finish, crossing the line solo over a minute ahead of her pursuers.
"It’s always very special in Italy to wear the pink jersey," said Van Vleuten. "I’m here with my team to go for it for a third time. There are so many days to come. I’m not thinking about pink. I’ll race, as I always do, and focus day by day because that’s really needed at this Giro d’Italia."
Van Vleuten's victory would have been little surprise before the stage, but the manner in which she overcame her setback at the end of the stage and her long-range attack speak to the determination of the Mitchelton-Scott star.
"I think my face says it all," said Van Vleuten. "I went so deep because you never know what’s coming and you have to take every second, so I went from the bottom [of the Seggiano climb] to take as much time as possible because at this Giro we don’t have a big uphill finish so it can be a game of seconds in the end.
"Every second can be useful. It was a time trial from the start of the gravel section. I wanted to hit it as the first rider, and I did, and then I went."
There was no breakaway on the first half of the stage, though a 1,500-metre gravel section and the up and down nature of the race reduced the peloton well down, to approximately 50 riders.
Julie van de Velde (Lotto Soudal) attacked on a climb with 63 kilometres remaining in the race and managed to push out to a lead over the peloton of a minute, but she was brought back ahead of the decisive gravel climb to Seggiano began.
Van Vleuten went hard from the start of the climb, quickly dropping all her competitors, with Uttrup Ludwig able to follow initially, but dropping off as a haze of dust and dirt obscured the road. Once solo the world champion hit a particularly rough section where she fell and struggled to remount and clip back in. Van der Breggen came to within half a minute of van Vleuten at that stage, but that was the closest she would get as van Vleuten kicked clear again, inexorably increasing her lead all the way to the line.
Van Vleuten finished a minute and 16 seconds ahead of van der Breggen and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), and now leads the overall classification by one minute and 18 seconds over van der Breggen and a minute and 36 seconds over Niewiadoma.
Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) was Australia's best-placed finisher in eighth, just under four minutes in arrears of teammate van Vleuten.
SBS will have a daily highlights package from the Giro Rosa, broadcast daily from 4.30pm. You can also find the spoiler-free highlights here.