10 riders to watch at the Giro d’Italia Donne

There is something for everyone at the Giro Donne - here are 11 key riders to watch across the next eleven days.

Photo: Getty Images

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The first of a double-header of big stage races on the women’s calendar kicks off this week with the 33rd edition of the Giro d’Italia Donne.

After a demotion to the ProSeries in 2021, the race is back in the Women’s WorldTour this year and is set to crown a new winner as defending champion Anna van der Breggen takes her place in the team car instead of on the bike.

As the longest race on the women’s calendar, the Giro Donne is one of the most challenging and also most prestigious races of the season and promises an exciting ten days of racing and a motivated peloton of riders.

Despite the inaugural Tour de France Femmes threatening to steal some attention from the Giro, there seems to have been little effect on the strength of the field with many strong climbers and candidates for the general classification heading to the start line in Sardinia. With sprint stages, lumpy days and big mountainous challenges to contend with, there is something for everyone at the Giro Donne — here are ten key riders to watch across the next 11 days.

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Annemiek van Vleuten (Team Movistar)

This may be a list of ten riders to watch, but when it comes to the overall, all eyes are on just one rider: Annemiek van Vleuten. After skipping the race in 2021 to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics, van Vleuten is back at the Giro to chase a third overall victory, and possibly tick off the first part of what would be an historic Giro-Tour double.

Despite the huge goal van Vleuten is aiming at this summer, she has not had the ideal run-in to July: she fractured her wrist at the end of April and skipped the block of Spanish races, which she had intended to race. As a rider who often favors hard training over racing in preparation for big goals, the lack of racing shouldn’t be a significant issue for van Vleuten form-wise, but does mean she has missed some of the GC battles and narratives that have been developing so far this season.

The fact remains that van Vleuten is arguably the best climber in the peloton, especially on back-to-back big days. With two Giro wins to her name already, multiple dominant performances in cycling’s hardest and most prestigious races, and no Anna van der Breggen to battle against, Van Vleuten is the undeniable favorite to bring home the maglia rosa this July.

Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope)

Not many riders have beaten Annemiek van Vleuten this season, but Marta Cavalli is one of them. The Amstel Gold Race and Fleche Wallonne winner took a short break in May after doing well at Itzulia Women but crashing out of the Vuelta a Burgos, and came back to racing with a bang by winning the first edition of the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge. Beating the likes of Pauliena Rooijakkers (Canyon-SRAM) and Clara Koppenburg atop the hallowed mountain, it’s clear Cavalli’s climbing legs are there ahead of the Giro.

Cavalli’s teammate Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig is also part of the FDJ team heading to Italy, but with the newly-crowned Danish champion focusing on the Tour de France, she is expected to use this race as fine-tuning rather than a GC goal. As such, the Giro could be a chance for Cavalli to take leadership in the team at her home race. She will be a rider to keep a very close eye on as the race heads to the mountains, and if given the support from her team, the young Italian could be a real contender for the overall.

Niamh Fisher-Black (SD Worx)

LAGUNAS DE NEILA, SPAIN - MAY 22: Niamh Fisher-Black of New Zealand and Team SD Worx during the team presentation prior to the 7th Vuelta a Burgos Feminas 2022 - Stage 4 a 125,1km stage from Covarrubias to Lagunas de Neila 1867m / #VueltaBurgos / #BurgosFem / #UCIWWT / on May 22, 2022 in Lagunas de Neila, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
LAGUNAS DE NEILA, SPAIN – MAY 22: Niamh Fisher-Black of New Zealand and Team SD Worx during the team presentation prior to the 7th Vuelta a Burgos Feminas 2022 – Stage 4 a 125,1km stage from Covarrubias to Lagunas de Neila 1867m / #VueltaBurgos / #BurgosFem / #UCIWWT / on May 22, 2022 in Lagunas de Neila, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images) (Photo: Getty Images)

With Demi Vollering and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio going all-in for the Tour de France Femmes, SD Worx has a slightly limited pool of riders on which to pin their GC hopes, but the defending Giro champions look set to give Niamh Fisher-Black her first major chance at leadership this summer.

Though it was somewhat overshadowed by her teammates completing a whitewash of the podium, the then-20-year-old Fisher-Black rode to 9th overall at last year’s Giro, an impressive result for such a young rider who was far from being a protected rider in the team. She has climbed well so far this season, taking multiple top-10s across the Spanish climbing block, and has recently completed an altitude camp alongside Demi Vollering. How she will compete when given the chance to lead remains to be seen, but her performances in a support role in previous stage races seem promising.

The New Zealand native will have a young but strong group of domestiques around her at this year’s Giro, and will likely be able to focus on her own GC ambitions. Kata Blanka Vas and Anna Shackley are expected to be her key help in the mountains, plus the experienced Lotte Kopecky will bring her expertise to the team.

With Kopecky on the hunt for stage wins, SD Worx may not be as fully dedicated to the overall battle as they were in 2021, and the win may be too much to ask from Fisher-Black, but this race looks like a chance for the team to really develop and give an opportunity to their next generation of overall contenders.

Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM)

Like SD Worx, Canyon-SRAM are another team who are without some of their key general classification riders as Kasia Niewiadoma and Pauliena Rooijakkers prepare for the Tour de France Femmes. Their absence, however, opens the door for Elise Chabbey, the Swiss all-rounder who has been going from strength to strength for the last few seasons. Seemingly a rider who can do it all, 29-year-old Chabbey finished fourth at Paris Roubaix this year, before taking the mountains classification at both Itzulia and the Women’s Tour, and most recently climbed to 6th atop Mont Ventoux earlier this month.

Though not always thought of as a pure climber, Chabbey is certainly not a rider who struggles in the mountains, and her ability across the race in 2021 earnt her 10th overall, so there is certainly space for the more all-round type riders in the general classification battle. Part of Chabbey’s strength is also her aggression, always making her way into key moves, and if she gets up the road on the right day, the other GC teams may have a challenge to stop her taking useful time. She will have good support in the form of experienced Alena Amialiusik, Soraya Paladin and Sarah Roy, and if she continues the good form she has been showing this season, Chabbey could certainly secure another top-10 finish on GC and perhaps a maiden stage win.

Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo)

WEVELGEM, BELGIUM – MARCH 27: Elisa Balsamo of Italy and Team Trek – Segafredo celebrates winning after the 11th Gent-Wevelgem In Flanders Fields 2022 – Women’s Elite a 159km one day race from Ypres to Wevelgem / #GWEwomen / #UCIWWT / on March 27, 2022 in Wevelgem, Belgium. (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images) (Photo: Getty Images)

The general classification may be decided on the climbs, but with ten varied stages between Sicily and Padova, there are plenty of interests for other riders, too. The sprint field is headlined by Elisa Balsamo, who will be looking for not only her first Giro stage win, but the chance to do it in the rainbow bands. Flat days don’t always mean sprint days at the Giro Donne with breakaways prone to upsetting the plan, but if there’s one team that can bring things back together for the outcome they want, it’s Trek-Segafredo.

Having skipped the sprint-heavy Women’s Tour in favor of the more challenging Tour de Suisse, Balsamo has clearly been keen to test her legs on tougher terrain ahead of the Giro, and looks well-placed to be there on not only the sprint days, but the harder days too. She can certainly make it through a hilly day and will not be a rider others will want to take to the line if the finish is anything other than a major climb. With a very strong team lining up around her, including a lead-out from former world champion Amalie Dideriksen, Balsamo will not be thinking about if she can win a stage, but which one — or ones — it will be.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo)

If Balsamo is their rider for the flatter days, Trek-Segafredo will look to another Elisa for the Giro’s tougher stages as Elisa Longo Borghini lines up for her 11th start at her home tour. Coming off the back of overall victory at the Women’s Tour, the Paris-Roubaix winner has transitioned her Classics form into stage racing form ahead of racing both the Giro and the Tour.

Surprisingly, Longo Borghini has only ever won one individual stage at the Giro, a hilly day in 2020. She has been part of two team time trial wins and has won both the youth classification and the mountains jersey, but would be keen to add another stage victory to her tally. She may not be on the climbing level of van Vleuten and Cavalli, but looks to be in good form heading into Italy.

Along with Tour de Suisse winner Lucinda Brand, Longo Borghini is expected to mainly chase stage wins for Trek but could also put together a good overall result if she can limit her losses on the really big climbs. It’s unclear how much Brand and Longo Borghini’s overall victories at the Tour de Suisse and Women’s Tour respectively might translate to the tougher, longer Giro, but with no obvious GC rider in the Trek team, the pair may be surprise inclusions in the overall.

Juliette Labous (Team DSM)

LAGUNAS DE NEILA, SPAIN - MAY 22: (L-R) Liane Lippert of Germany and final race overall winner Juliette Labous of France and Team DSM celebrate after the 7th Vuelta a Burgos Feminas 2022 - Stage 4 a 125,1km stage from Covarrubias to Lagunas de Neila 1867m / #VueltaBurgos / #BurgosFem / #UCIWWT / on May 22, 2022 in Lagunas de Neila, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
LAGUNAS DE NEILA, SPAIN – MAY 22: (L-R) Liane Lippert of Germany and final race overall winner Juliette Labous of France and Team DSM celebrate after the 7th Vuelta a Burgos Feminas 2022 – Stage 4 a 125,1km stage from Covarrubias to Lagunas de Neila 1867m / #VueltaBurgos / #BurgosFem / #UCIWWT / on May 22, 2022 in Lagunas de Neila, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images) (Photo: Getty Images)

A team that is likely to have its sights set firmly on the overall is Team DSM, who will line up with Vuelta a Burgos winner Juliette Labous. With Lorena Wiebes skipping the Giro in favor of the Tour, Labous will have the full support of her DSM teammates and will be hoping to improve on her 7th place overall from last year. Labous has been slowly revealing her talents over the last three seasons with strong results in the hilly Classics and stage races, but really proved herself at Burgos in May where she was able to climb with the likes of Demi Vollering and Évita Muzic.

As perhaps not quite the purest of climbers, the big test for Labous will come when the race heads into the really high mountains, but her form in the run-up to the Giro has looked promising. The French rider is expected to race the Tour de France Femmes at the end of July too, but with the team also looking after the sprint interests of Wiebes at that race, the Giro will be a chance for Labous to take full advantage of what has proved to be one of the best support squads in the peloton.

Mavi García (UAE Team ADQ)

In the absence of the all-SD Worx podium and Lizzie Deignan, Mavi García will start this Giro as the highest-placed rider from last year’s overall after she finished fifth in 2021. The Spaniard recently took her first-ever WorldTour win, outsprinting Évita Muzic on a hilly stage of the Vuelta a Burgos. She faded on the final stage, losing the race lead, and headed into a break from racing, but returned with a bang, taking the road race and time trial double at the Spanish national championships last weekend.

Though García’s kick — or lack of — has been what has let her down in the hunt for wins before, her strengths lend themselves well to GC racing. She may not always have the final bit of power to win from a group, but she is a good climber and time trialist, with the ability to ride well over long climbs and across back-to-back hard days. In a ten-day race like the Giro, being consistently up there is what will reward you with a good position on GC, and it would be no surprise to see García match if not better her top 5 result in Italy.

Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma)

When it comes to the Giro, if Marianne Vos is on the start list, she will always be a rider to watch at the race she’s won overall three times.

Like van Vleuten, Vos is coming into this Giro as the first part of an ambitious Giro-Tour double this July. While van Vleuten is targeting the overall, Vos will no doubt have her eye on being a founding member of the club of stage winners at both the Giro and the Tour. She already has a remarkable 30 Giro stage wins, and is certainly capable of adding more this year.

These days, Vos’s sprint may not quite be on par with the top sprinters, so she will be looking at the slightly tougher stages as day’s to take her chance. Stage 6’s world championship-style course from Sarnico to Bergamo could be the perfect ground for the Dutchwoman’s Classics-suited strengths, and there’s also nothing to stop her being up there on stage 1’s short, powerful time trial. Like several riders in this list, Vos has not raced much in the run-up to July — in fact, between training and having Covid, she only has six race days so far this season. But, the multiple-time world champion is always a rider who steps up to the occasion.

Clara Koppenburg (Cofidis)

Coming into the Giro on a good run of form, Cofidis’ German climber Clara Koppenburg could be a dark horse on the race’s tougher days. With all 14 WorldTour teams lining up at the Giro, it’s set to be a hotly-contested and challenging race for the smaller teams, but Cofidis are one of a few squads who could be in real contention for a stage win if not also a good overall placing. As a pure climber, Koppenburg will be one to pay attention to over the back-to-back-to-back climbing days at the end of the race.

After impressing with a second place at the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge, Koppenburg backed up a successful start to the summer season with 7th overall at the Tour de Suisse, finishing in the top 10 in three of the four stages (the time trial being the outlier). She was in the winning attack with Lucinda Brand on stage 1, and then climbed to 6th on the summit finish on stage 4. The German is really coming back to prominence in 2022 after a string of very strong results in 2019 and 2020 but an admittedly quiet 2021. She seems to have found her place and her confidence at Cofidis after bouncing between teams and if her form continues in this upwards trajectory, she’s set to have a good Giro.

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