After a year spent at the Pro level, the organisers of the women’s Giro d’Italia have made the changes necessary to earn the race’s promotion back to the World Tour. Rebranded the Giro Donne, we’ve been promised the biggest, most professional, and most watchable edition of the race yet. There will be two hours of live TV coverage per day, with every stage streamed live and on demand on discovery+, which ought to be sufficient to prevent you missing the most unmissable parts of each stage.
The long-term survival of the race depends on it as, for the first time, the race faces stiff competition from the new Grand Tour in town. There’s no overlap – the eight-stage Tour de France Femmes starts 13 days after the 10-day Giro Donne – but while a number of riders have decided to do the double, several big names are putting their eggs in the shiny new race’s basket.
The Women’s World Tour is not yet as big as the men’s, and few teams have the strength in-depth to field comparably strong squads for both races. Several have, however, stepped up. Trek-Segafredo, FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine, Canyon Sram and Team DSM have all announced six-rider sides more than capable of sustaining a GC challenge – with top-tier team leaders to boot.
Here are our five to watch.
Annemiek van Vleuten – Movistar
The only rider in the Women’s World Tour who can target the Giro Donne and the Tour de France Femmes with a reasonable and realistic chance of winning them both. The thinner spreading of the talent strengthens her favourite status – as does the retirement of reigning champion and compatriot Anna van der Breggen.
As a prologue specialist, Van Vleuten will be the favourite to take the maglia rosa on day one. If she does, it would be quite some feat for her to then take it all the way to Padova. Whether she would want to is perhaps a more pertinent question than whether or not she can. The time gaps may be small enough that she can temporarily divest herself – and her team – of the responsibility on the gentler terrain before taking it back in the second half of the race when the going gets tougher.
Van Vleuten has been missing in action for months, which ought to put the fear of god into her rivals. It means she’s been at altitude, building her body to peak at just this point in the season. It could be a sight to see.
Marta Cavalli – FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope
24 year-old Marta Cavalli has come of age this season. Breaking the tape at Amstel Gold Race and La Fleche Wallonne crowned her the new queen of the Ardennes. Victory on Mont Ventoux a fortnight ago proved she has not allowed that sublime form to fall away.
Though she has yet to hit the same dizzy heights over the duration of a multi-module event, it can only be a matter of time. Her time may be now.
And she will certainly have the support. For if there is a reason to doubt Cavalli, it is the experience she lacks as a leader in a race like this. Fortunately, she’ll have seasoned pros and proven winners, Cecilie Uttrup-Ludwig, Brodie Chapman, and Emilia Fahlin alongside her.
Not to mention Evita Muzic. Were it not for her homegrown team-mate, Muzic might well have found herself among the favourites in her own right. The French rider was third behind Cavalli on Ventoux, and second only to Juliette Labous (Team DSM) – who also features on this list – in the general classification at the Vuelta a Burgos. As it is she will be a powerful weapon at Cavalli’s disposal in the mountains.
There are several strong squads but if we had to name one above all others, FDJ would just edge it. That edge might carry Cavalli into pink.
Elise Chabbey – Canyon-SRAM Racing
If Canyon-Sram have rather let the grass grow under their feet in the last few years, allowing other teams to catch up and overtake them, Elise Chabbey has been the rider to get the strimmer out.
That the Swiss rider’s successes this season have come from mountains rather than general classifications supports, rather than refutes, the idea that she can deliver a GC result at the Giro Donne. Geneva-born, Chabbey will be at home in the highest hills in the second half of the race. As long as she’s still in touch by that point, she’s unlikely to fall as fast, or as far, from contention as others.
And even though she has yet to stand on the top step at the end of a stage race, Chabbey has been getting closer. The Giro Donne could bring the cigar.
Elisa Longo Borghini
Image credit: Getty Images
Elisa Longo-Borghini – Trek-Segafredo
Longo-Borghini has said she’ll be going for stage wins at the Giro Donne, saving her GC legs for the Tour de France Femmes. Though we don’t doubt her honesty, there are three good reasons why she might find her mind changing against her will.
This is her home Grand Tour, for one thing. With the fans behind her, ELB may be less inclined to let the necessary wheels go to give her the breathing room to go hunting for stages.
Secondly, her performance(s) at the Women’s Tour, which was a thing of strength and beauty. Wales’ black mountain may not be Passo Maniva, but it is not a speedbump either, and Longo-Borghini bossed it. The following day saw an act of racecraft from Longo-Borghini that will not be bettered anywhere, by anyone this season.
Finally, check out the team-mates she’ll have at her side, in front, and on her wheel. Trek-Segafredo are the big money outfit in the WWT, and it shows. Their line-up for the Giro Donne includes Lucinda Brand – winner of the recent Tour de Suisse – and newly crowned US Champion, Leah Thomas. Elisa Balsamo too. The World Champion will most definitely be there to win sprints, but is not the kind of rider to abandon her team-mate and namesake when there’s a job to be done. Maybe, just maybe.
Juliette Labous – Team DSM
Juliette Labous is another rider who intends to head to the Tour after the Giro. No surprises there, given her nationality. Few would blame her if she used the first race as a build-up for the second.
Still, the Giro Donne might be a more realistic target at this point in her career. Just 23 years old, there are few riders heading to Italy who she can’t beat. Or, indeed, hasn’t beaten. There will be more at the Tour de France.
Labous has the record of an all-rounder. The overall winner at the Vuelta a Burgos has no particular specialism, nor any obvious weakness. Which should give you some idea as to how she’ll approach the race. Expect Labous to get on with the job quietly for the first half, producing consistent performances and achieving solid results. Before anyone realises, she will be up there in the overall, by which point it may be too late to stop her.
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