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The Giro d’Italia Donne is one of the most prestigious races on the women’s calendar — and one of the oldest — but its relationship with riders and fans can best be described as love/hate.
It seems perhaps fitting then that this year’s edition, the last under the current organization before RCS, has seen the race backslide into some of its worst habits, from a late route announcement, poor prize money, and a short route.
We’ll have to see if that carries into the television coverage when the race begins in a month.
After the race was demoted for the 2021 season, and the introduction of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift last season, it looked as though the race and its organizers were turning over a new leaf.
A new prize pot of €250,000 was announced with €50,000 reserved for the overall winner, two hours of TV coverage was promised (and actually happened, for the most part), and the route was unveiled in March — still quite late but way better than the riders had become accustomed to. The October reveal of the Tour de France Femmes route was now the new benchmark, and the Giro Donne organizer Starlight had made a small effort not to be left behind.
That has all changed with the news that RCS, which organizes the men’s Giro d’Italia, will take over the running of the race from 2024. The Giro d’Italia Donne is actually owned by the Italian cycling federation and its operation is put out to tender.
Starlight has run the last two editions, taking over during the 2021 edition, but RCS’s financial and people-power was too much to compete with when the tender went out late last year. With nothing left to prove, it feels as though Starlight has given up any pretense of effort.
It has no plans to go out with a bang, but rather a whimper.
This feels like an organizer going through the motions until it no longer has to care, disrespecting both riders and fans who have supported the race.
No press release, next to no prize pot … and TV coverage? TBC
Fast forward to this year and riders have only just been able to look at the Giro route in detail after it was announced last Thursday. It was done in a very half-hearted way, too, with a link to a Google drive placed on the race website with no fanfare at all.
The race’s social media accounts haven’t posted since last year, there was no press release, there are only route maps with no profiles, and the timing of each stage is anybody’s guess right now. The maps left in the drive indicate that RCS is already having some input with the graphics looking similar to the men’s Giro d’Italia route maps of the past.
Prize money for the overall winner has also fallen to just €2,000, less than even the €8,000 on offer for the 2021 race. It is just over the minimum mandated amount by the UCI, which is 20 percent of the total cumulative prize money for each stage — which would be about €1,300.
It’s not quite as bad as the days when the overall winner got just €500, which Giorgia Bronzini once said was enough to cover a few pizzas once split among the team, but it’s well below what should be expected of one of the biggest races on the calendar.
Live coverage of the race is still expected but just how much will be available is yet to be revealed. The lack of information available is evident when you look at the broadcast schedule for GCN+, which is currently advertising a broadcast on July 7, when the race is planning to have a rest day.
Time will tell if we get the two hours of coverage we had last year or if it’s the bare minimum 45 minutes that the UCI asks of all Women’s WorldTour events. Given the way in which the race has been treated this season, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if there was nothing at all.
A diluted and disjointed route
When it comes to the route itself, there has been some effort put in to give a mix of terrains that will allow a range of riders to take stage wins and split up the bunch to decide the GC. However, it still feels like a step back from previous seasons with just one climb going over 1,000 meters, which is in the opening half of stage 5.
Last year had a big summit finish that went over 1,740 meters and it featured four more ascents of over 1,000m.
The finale in Sardinia should provide some exciting action with the rolling roads an enticing opportunity to ride aggressively and potentially change up the GC result in the last two days. To get the race to Sardinia, a rest day has been slotted between stages 7 and 8, something that will certainly disrupt the rhythm of the race.
Compared to other big stages races, the average daily distance it pretty short at just over 100km and the drop to nine stages sees its overall distance come in shorter than what’s on offer at the eight-day Tour de France Femmes.
This year’s race will be the end of an era that saw the Giro d’Italia Donne (formerly Giro Rosa) run by a series of independent organizers. It has had its ups and downs, but it has created a special place for itself on the calendar, and a result there is a hugely prestigious thing to have on any palmarès.
With the women’s race calendar swiftly developing, the Giro Donne has to work hard to keep up with that momentum. The recent revival of the Tour de France Femmes and the big push from the Vuelta Femenina risks seeing the Giro pushed into the wings.
This year’s edition has shown off some of the race’s most frustrating aspects, which only serve to harm an event that is rich with history and importance.
When RCS takes over the race for next year, it has a low bar to reach to improve on, but it needs to set its sights far higher if it wants to keep the Giro d’Italia Donne at the forefront of women’s racing. If it can’t do that then it risks the race being left behind.