It hadn’t been a good race for early breakaways at the Giro Rosa, with teams keen to keep a close rein on any escapees.
This changed, though, as first two riders went clear early on stage seven, Silvia Zanardi (BePink) and Ainara Elbusto (Cronos-Casa Dorada), who quickly built an advantage of just over four minutes. Alison Jackson (Team Sunweb), Maria Novolodskaya (Cogeas Mettler Look), and Aude Biannic (Movistar Team) attacked from the peloton to try and bridge over to the move and prompted some chase from the peloton, keeping the three chasers at less than 30 seconds for a long time and consequently reducing the gap to the front of the race to about two minutes.
Eventually, the peloton eased up, and the chasing trio bridged to the two leaders, forming a breakaway of five riders. With 36 kilometres to go, they were just over two minutes ahead.
On the climb to the Santuario San Michele Arcangelo, Novolodskaia attacked, trying to avenge her last attack which had ended in infamy after crashing when in the lead on Stage 6. Her former companions were caught after the descent, but the Russian still held a one-minute lead when she crossed the finish line to start the final lap.
The lone leader was the reeled in on the final ascent of the climb as attacks were launched over the top. The action saw a small select group go clear with both Van Vleuten, Spratt and the major climbers present as they raced towards the uphill drag to the finish line.
The group then swelled in size as the stage looked set for a reduced bunch sprint before disaster struck when a crash took Van Vleuten, Spratt and triple stage-winner Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) down with just over a kilometre remaining.
On the slightly uphill finishing straight, Kopecky came around the final corner in good position, and started her sprint very early and was a comfortable wnner on the line from Elizabeth Deignan (Trek-Segfredo) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM).
Van Vleuten, Vos, and the other crashed riders finished some way behind, but received the winner’s time as the crash happened within the final three kilometres. Though Van Vleuten keeps the pink jersey, it is not yet clear whether she will able to start stage 8.
Both Amanda Spratt and Annemiek van Vleuten were taken to hospital to have their injuries assessed. Van Vleuten was found to have fractured her wrist while Spratt had sustained a concussion and heavy bruising, ultimately causing both women to have to withdraw from the race.
“The stage was going well for us, the breakaway went away early before it eventually came back on the final lap,” said Andrew Smith, Mitchelton-Scott sports director. “There were some attacks over the last climb and we had Annemiek and Spratty in the small group off the front.
"Then, unfortunately, they both came down in a crash inside the final kilometre and have been taken to hospital for scans on their injuries."