(Just over) the halfway point: the story of the Giro Donne after six stages

Can anyone challenge Annemiek van Vleuten as the race heads into the mountains?

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The Giro d’Italia Donne is just over half way through with six stages down and four to go. So far, we’ve seen a short time trial set riders up for GC challenges, three sprinter-friendly stages and a GC day that wasn’t supposed to be a GC day. With the race about to head into some mountainous terrain, let’s take stock of what’s happened so far.

The action so far

The 4.7km time trial – or was it a prologue? Nobody seems to be able to agree. For the sake of argument, we’ll go with the Giro Donne website which lists the prologue as stage 1 – saw something of a surprise victory for Kristen Faulkner of Team BikeExchange-Jayco, a rider not usually known for her time trialling. The short effort, around five minutes, suited a powerful rider such as those who originate from the track, hence, Faulkner’s teammate Georgia Baker, took second. 

The time trial also set third-place Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) up nicely to take the maglia rosa on the first road stage by winning the sprint into Tortolì. In her Giro debut, the world champion took her first stage and her first pink jersey (as well as the points jersey) in one fell swoop, beating none other than Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) in the process in a finish that must have given the Dutchwoman some unpleasant flashbacks to Leuven 2021

Charlotte Kool (DSM), used to being the right hand woman to Lorena Wiebes but with a free role at this race, sprinted to an impressive third. Meanwhile, her lead-out woman, 21-year-old Franziska Koch, moved into the lead of the young rider’s classification while her compatriot Franziska Brauße (Ceratizit-WNT) took over the mountains classification after a stint in the break.

Stage 3 promised more action for the sprinters and delivered just that. This time, Vos was on the hunt for her 31st Giro Donne stage victory and was not letting anyone get in her way – not even the world champion and race leader. Going long, the Jumbo-Visma rider carried her speed all the way to the slightly inclined finish with a switch-up of the same podium putting Kool in second and Balsamo in third. 

Balsamo spent two days in the pink jersey at her very first Giro Donne.

Sitting pretty in pink, Balsamo would have been forgiven for going into stage 4’s loop around Cesena expecting very little action in the GC. A hilly 120 km circuit awaited but the stage looked more suited to a chance breakaway than a GC battle. That was, until three of the biggest GC names, Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), and Mavi García (UAE Team ADQ) clipped off the front and eventually gained almost five minutes on a chasing group of seven favourites. 

García and Van Vleuten, 38 and 39 years old respectively, gapped the young Italian on a steep incline just before the finish and came to the line together with almost a minute’s advantage. Van Vleuten took the victory and the maglia rosa while García sat at 25 seconds back, Cavalli 57, and everyone else may as well be on the moon as far as GC is concerned. 

The climber’s outing saw García move into the QOM lead ahead of Canyon//SRAM’s Elise Chabbey, while SD Worx’s 21-year-old Kiwi climber Niamh Fisher Black took over the best young rider competition. 

Stage 5 was another one for the fast of muscle fibre and the question of whether Kool could finally pull it off loomed. A crash at the flamme rouge took Movistar’s sprinter Emma Norsgaard out with the Danish rider eventually crossing the line with a wounded expression and a floppy-looking arm (she was later taken to hospital and found not to have broken any bones and continued the race – as per finish of stage 6.) 

A 90-degree turn at around 100m before the line and a canny move by Balsamo was enough to put an end to Kool’s bid for a win. The Italian rounded the bend first and forced the DSM rider outside with Kool having much more work to do. It was another second for the 23-year-old who bashed her bars in frustration as she rolled over the line. In a repeat of the same podium, Vos took third. With Van Vleuten and co safely in the peloton, the GC and other classifications remained unchanged. 

Stage 6, and a Freewheeling favourite in the form of a circuit race. After letting breakaways go for the past few stages, the peloton were keeping a tight grip on any moves that tried to slip away. Van Vleuten and her Movistar squad were wise to the threat of her two (really only two) GC rivals – it’s easier to keep an eye on the situation when you only have two riders to look out for. 

Van Vleuten and García on the attack.

By the last of five laps of a 17.7km circuit, each including an ascent of the San Pantaleon climb, the peloton was shattered. Elise Chabbey had collected the points on offer at the top of each time over the climb and moved herself into the QOM lead. 

A miscalculated corner on the descent with 44km to go nearly cost Van Vleuten the race (it would not have been the first time the Dutch rider was forced to abandon the Giro whilst wearing pink) but the Movistar leader kept it upright.

A finish that replicated Il Lombardia followed which saw a late attack from Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and Vos on the cobbled climb, but with García joining them, the three had no chance of being given any slack, and Van Vleuten herself closed down the gap. With the bunch back together Vos took her 32nd victory from a reduced group, with Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) in second and an impressive ride from Valcar Travel & Service rider Silvia Persico to take third. 

Vos’s second win of the race saw her move into the points jersey with Chabbey claiming the QOM and the rest remaining the same. 

Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) celebrates stage 5 victory at the 2022 Giro d’Italia Donne.

What’s to come?

Going into stage 7’s summit finish García and Cavalli have their work cut out if they want to unseat Van Vleuten from the top spot. The tenacious Movistar leader revels in a tough race and excels in the mountains, so it will take some clever teamwork and a strong pair of legs to wear the Dutchwoman down and get a big enough gap. With two more mountainous stages to follow on stages 8 and 9 there will be multiple chances to catch Van Vleuten out, but with the two-time winner looking so strong, her most realistic challengers will need to bring their A games.

On the final day, if the sprinters have anything left in the tank after dragging themselves over the climbs, they will have another crack at the whip in Padua, where Charlotte Kool will be hoping to tame the shrew and emerge with a stage win at last. She will have to deal with a category three climb along the way as well as her usual adversaries, however.

It’s hard to imagine Van Vleuten not pulling on pink in Padua, but stranger things have happened and it takes just one off day to turn a GC ship around. With the race offering plenty of live coverage for the first time ever the fight between the three in contention on the stages to come will be well worth the watch.

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