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After a brief stint in the UCI’s naughty corner for failing to deliver live coverage in 2020, the Giro d’Italia Donne is back on the Women’s World Tour calendar – and promises to be better than ever.
The race has a chequered history when it comes to delivering a well-put-together event worthy of the highest level of women’s racing. The longest stage race on the calendar, after comfortably sitting on the top spot for over 30 years when it came to prestige and length the advent of the Tour de France Femmes has prompted the Giro to up its game.
New organisers, PMG Starlight, took over the race in 2021 while it was relegated to .Pro status for the failings of previous organisers. The 2021 edition only partially met live coverage requirements with variable amounts of TV images ranging from 10km to 30km including no coverage of the queen stage due to signal failures. On the whole, however, it appeared to be an improvement on previous editions – albeit with a low bar.
This year, the race is promising even bigger things including two hours of TV coverage per stage, and matching the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift’s prize pot of €250,000, of which €50,000 will go to the GC winner.
The route also looks to be an improvement on 2021 wherein the course design meant that Anna van der Breggen was able to gain a comfortable margin on the second mountainous stage which she then held for the rest of the race.
The island of Sardinia will play host to the first three stages of the 2022 edition of the Giro d’Italia Donne. For the first time, the riders will have a rest day as they travel from the island to the mainland between stages three and four before the race continues in the northeast of the country. The stages are relatively short this year, with the longest coming in at just 126.1km, in contrast with the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift which includes a stage of over 170km.
Stage 1: 30th June – Cagliari – Cagliari, individual time trial 4.75km
The race gets underway in Sardinia’s capital, Cagliari, with an individual time trial. This is a departure from the usual team time trial which has been a first-stage staple since 2017. The course is short, at just 4.7km and pan flat (although Giro profiles have been known to be deceptive in the past) which could see some of the more powerful riders get up there on GC early on.
Stage 2: Friday 1st July – Villasimius to Tortolì, 106.5km
Stage two sees the peloton head towards the east of the island and then traverse northwards along a rolling route to Tortolì. This could be a day for a breakaway, meaning the peloton will have to be wary of whether those who attempt to go up the road have a chance at GC or are simply hunting for a stage. If the race comes to the line all together then it could be a day for any fast finishing riders who have survived the climbs to get an early stage win.
Stage 3: Saturday 2nd July – Cala Gonone to Olbia, 113.4km
If the sprinters missed out on stage two then stage three looks more likely to provide them with an opportunity. Starting with a descent into Orosei, the stage doesn’t present too many challenges when it comes to climbs.
Stage 4: Monday 4th July – Cesena – Cesena, 120.9km
The first day that might present a GC challenge comes after the ‘rest’ day wherein the race transfers from the island to the mainland. In a loop around Cesena in the Emilia Romagna region, the riders will have a flat run-in to a series of categorised climbs, two of which present steep gradients, before heading into a lumpy finish which culminates in a rise to the line.
Stage 5: Tuesday 5th July – Carpi to Reggio Emilia, 126.1km
After a more testing stage the day before, it’s back to sprinter territory on stage five. With a few slopes in the latter part of the stage, the day is not completely pan flat and sprint teams will have to be wary of any late attempts to break away threatening their chance to line up a win for their sprinter.
Stage 6: Wednesday 6th July – Sarnico to Bergamo, 114.7km
As the race enters the Lombardy region the peloton will tackle a circuit near lake Iseo before heading towards Bergamo Alta and into the town of Bergamo itself. The riders will complete five 17.7km circuits incorporating a category three climb which carries GPM points at the top each time. Although the climb is not particularly long or steep if it is raced hard then the multiple ascents could zap some legs.
Stage 7: Thursday 7th July – Prevalle to Passo Maniva, 112.9km
The difficulty really ramps up on stage seven, along with the gradients. The peloton has a rolling run-in of 70km before the road starts to drag upwards towards the bottom of the Passo Maniva, a 9.7 km first category climb with an average gradient of 7.8% and a maximum incline of 13.5%. This could be the first day we see significant time gaps among the GC contenders.
Stage 8: Friday 8th July – Rovereto to Aldeno, 104.7km
Stage eight may be one of the shorter days of the race but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. After a tough mountaintop finish the day before, the climbs keep coming over the next few days with stage eight presenting two challenges in the form of a pair of category two climbs, the Passo Bordola and the climb to Lago de Cei. The backloaded climbing in this year’s race means the GC battle will really heat up in these final stages.
Stage 9: Saturday 9th July – San Michele All’Adige to San Lorenzo Dorsino, 112.8km
Stage 9 presents the final opportunity for GC riders to try their luck for time gaps. If the overall is tight at this point then those who are on the back foot will want to take their chances on the day that incorporates the cima coppi (highest point) of the race in the form of the Passo Daone (1,291m).
Stage 10: Sunday 10th July – Abano Terme to Padova, 90.5km
The 10th and final stage of the race brings a final opportunity for the sprinters. After three gruelling days in the mountains, the final stage is a mostly flat affair with a few lumps and bumps along the way including one last GPM as the peloton heads towards Padova where the pink jersey will be awarded to the GC winner.
Riders to watch
The defending champion of the Giro d’Italia Donne, Anna van der Breggen, will not be at the race this year, at least not on the start line, after retiring at the end of 2021 to take up a DS role at SD Worx. The team dominated the race in 202, not only with Van der Breggen but also Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, who took second overall, and with Demi Vollering who rounded out the podium for third. Vollering, who has very much taken up Van der Breggen’s mantle as leader of the team, has already stated that her focus this year will be the Tour de France.
With no Vollering or Van der Breggen at the race, leadership could be given over to Moolman Pasio if she lines up in Sardinia. If not, SD Worx will build a team around Tour of Flanders champion Lotte Kopecky, who won a stage in 2020, supported by Giro debutants Anna Shackley and Blanka Vas among others.
With the race finishing just two weeks before the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift begins, some riders are choosing to prioritise racing in France this year. Others, especially Italian riders, are making the Giro a priority while some are racing both ‘grand tours’.
One rider who is targeting the GC at both races is Annemiek van Vleuten. The two-time Giro champion has not raced since breaking her wrist while mountain biking just before she was due to take part in the Spanish racing block in May. It wasn’t long before the former world champion was back in the saddle, however, and has since been spending a lot of time at altitude preparing for her Giro-Tour double attempt. The Dutch rider sat out the Giro in 2021 opting to prepare for the Tokyo Olympic Games instead (where she won the gold medal in the time trial) and in 2020 her race came to an abrupt end on stage seven when she crashed out whilst leading the GC.
This year, then, Van Vleuten will be more determined than ever to reclaim the Giro title.
Widely regarded as the GOAT, Marianne Vos has a staggering 34 Giro stage wins to her name and will be looking to add to her tally this year. The multi-disciplinary Jumbo-Visma leader had something of a false start to her road season in 2022 after winning the cyclocross world title over winter. A bout of Covid saw her sit out what would have been her first Paris Roubaix Femmes but the decorated Dutchwoman has been training at altitude and will no doubt come into the race in fine form with an eye to more stages and building towards the Tour de France Femmes.
Italian riders always have a strong presence at the Giro and this year will be no different. With some of the strongest riders in the women’s peloton right now hailing from Italy – including the current world champion, Elisa Balsamo, – the lure of a home race with a home crowd will be sure to draw out the best of the best.
Paris Roubaix Femmes champion Elisa Longo Borghini is not a pure climber but if her recent performances, including snagging the win at The Women’s Tour by a hair’s breadth in a sprint finish, are anything to go by then she will be a strong option for the team for the GC. Also climbing incredibly well is former cyclocross world champion Lucinda Brand, who forced a gap on a descent and then showed her strong climbing form at the recent Tour de Suisse where she won the GC.
Trek-Segafredo are also armed with Italy’s very own world champion, Elisa Balsamo, who will be racing her first Giro Donne and searching for a stage win or two on the sprint days. Balsamo may be one of the fastest finishers in the women’s peloton but she can also climb as she demonstrated when she won her title as well as this season at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Tour de Suisse.
French squad FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope will undoubtedly be channelling the majority of their considerable might into the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. However, one of their strongest riders, Italian Marta Cavalli, will be lining up at the Giro d’Italia Donne. Cavalli had a breakthrough spring that saw her win two of the Ardennes classics, Amstel Gold Race and La Fleche Wallonne. Her form did not carry through entirely into the block of Spanish races that followed but after a big training block, the 24-year-old came back in June to win the Mont Ventoux Challenge – showing her current climbing form ahead of a mountainous Giro. With riders like Brodie Chapman riding in support Cavalli is a major threat to the GC in the latter, hilly stages.
Cavalli will be joined by another Australian, time trial champion Grace Brown, who recently showed herself to be in great form at The Women’s Tour where she narrowly missed out on the GC win. Brown will be a strong option for the team for stage wins, if she is able to sneak up the road then the 29-year-old will be hard to reel in.
Also representing the home nation will be former world champion Marta Bastianelli. The UAE Team ADQ rider is incredibly consistent and a force to be reckoned with when it comes to a tough race with a fast finish. The 35-year-old was recently forced to abandon the Tour de Suisse due to knee problems but if she can rectify the issue ahead of the 10-day race she will be one to watch for a stage win or two.
If Bastianelli does struggle, however, her teammate, talented climber and fellow Italian Erica Magnaldi is well-placed to take up leadership.
Canyon//SRAM’s leader Kasia Niewiadoma will likely be skipping the Giro Donne to focus on the Tour de France Femmes as will the second in command, Pauliena Rooijakkers. That leaves Italian Soraya Paladin free to potentially take up leadership for the Giro with riders like Elise Chabbey and Alena Amialusik riding in support.
The team have yet to confirm their squad for the race but any combination of Valcar Travel & Service riders will undoubtedly animate the race. The Italian team have become a talent factory in recent years with the current world champion among the long list of decorated exports. This year’s line-up includes some talented up-and-coming sprinters and climbers in the form of Chiara Consonni, Silvia Persico, Olivia Baril, and Eleonora Gasparrini.
Away from Italy, DSM’s French climber Juliette Labous will be looking to back up a series of impressive stage race results in the early part of the season including a win at the WWT Vuelta a Burgos Feminas which she cemented by taking an impressive second place behind Demi Vollering on the final stage’s mountaintop finish. Labous is currently set to race both the Giro and the Tour de France Femmes for which targeting GC at both would be a tall order for any rider.
Elsewhere, EF Education First TIBCO showed themselves to be a strong team in hilly stage races at the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas with the likes of Veronica Ewers and Krista Dobel Hicock. Team BikeExchange Jayco could also bring some heft to the race especially if Amanda Spratt has improved again since her performances in the spring on her way back to form after iliac artery surgery. Clara Koppenburg of Cofidis showed her climbing prowess in the Tour de Suisse and could be a name to look out for in the latter stages of the race, as could Uno-X’s former world hour record holder Joscelin Lowden who is a strong climber.
CyclingTips star ratings
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Annemiek van Vleuten, Marta Cavalli
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️:Elisa Longo Borghini, Juliette Labous
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Lucinda Brand, Erica Magnaldi
⭐️⭐️: Lotte Kopecky, Niamh Fisher Black
⭐️: Soraya Paladin
How to watch
Stages will be broadcast live daily on Eurosport/GCN+