Annemiek van Vleuten dressed in pink leads the peloton over a climb

Giro d’Italia Women Contenders Preview: Will an Italian finally win their home tour?

The Giro d'Italia is about to enter a new Era.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 04.07.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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We’re entering a new age of the Giro d’Italia on Sunday. Not only is the race in the hands of RCS Sport – the organizers of the men’s Giro – for the first time, but we are also about to experience a Giro without Annemiek van Vleuten. The retirement of last year’s winner has left a gaping hole in the July stage race and it’s possible the race could be won by a non-Dutch, non-American rider for the first time since Germany’s Claudia Lichtenberg won in 2009.

Van Vleuten structured her summers around the Giro for years. She won four of the last six editions (she opted not to race in 2021 in preparation for the Olympic Games and crashed out of the 2020 edition while in pink). Now, without her in the peloton, it’s time to pass the torch. The first name that probably came to your mind was Demi Vollering but the Dutchwoman will not be present at this year’s Giro. Her goals remain later in the season, mainly in France. Does that mean it’s possible this could be Italy’s first GC win since Fabiana Luperini in 2008? It’s certainly looking possible.

Elisa Longo Borghini and Gaia Realini will headline Lidl-Trek’s team and both riders have the potential to pull on the pink jersey, but they will have to contend with a very strong Canyon-SRAM team, Kim Cadzow of EF Education-Oatly-Cannondale, and of course SD Worx-Protime, always strong even without Vollering. The race is wide open, with a challenging course that will test the riders daily, there’s no telling what can happen. Speaking of, here’s the stage-by-stage preview.

The Pride of Italy

Before last year’s Giro, many expected Gaia Realini to be the woman who would challenge Van Vleuten for pink, but it was actually her teammate Elisa Longo Borghini who came out swinging in the early stages. During the fourth stage, only the Italian champion could follow an attack by Van Vleuten, and Realini lost 40 seconds while Longo Borghini won the stage.

However, Longo Borghini’s hopeful start to the Giro ended in heartbreak when she crashed the next day, lost over seven minutes, and went home despite finishing the stage.

Elisa Longo Borghini in the peloton

By the end of the Giro, Realini rode well enough to finish third overall, 4:23 behind Van Vleuten and only 27 seconds off second. Her climbing abilities make her a frontrunner for this year’s final few stages, especially the queen stage, but Longo Borghini’s year overall has her as the clear leader for Lidl-Trek.

Longo Borghini has long been one of the most consistent riders in the women’s peloton and this year is no different. She had a slower start to the 2024 season, finishing seventh overall at the UAE Tour, a race she won last year, but she quietly racked up a ton of victories during the spring (including the Tour of Flanders) and then finished third overall at the Vuelta.

Gaia Realini descends the steps of the podium in red
Gaia Realini briefly wore the red leader’s jersey at the Vuelta but ultimately crashed out.

Her Vuelta performance was a steady one, and her weakest stages were possibly the hardest climbing days when Vollering looked nearly untouchable, but a third overall doesn’t lie. She recently finished third again at the Tour de Suisse, after another steady four days of racing.

Longo Borghini has never looked so good before a Giro d’Italia, and if it is the seventh stage that gets her, her teammate Realini will be right there to pick up the slack.

Options options options

As always SD Worx-Protime enters the race with a few cards to play. It’s their thing. They love it. But unlike in the spring one-days, their three possible GC contenders are all a step below the Italians on Lidl-Trek.

Lotte Kopecky raises her arms in victory
Lotte Kopecky opted for all-white to win the Belgian nationals recently.

It was clear in February at the UAE Tour that Lotte Kopecky had taken her results of the Tour de France Femmes last year and leaned into with them. She outclimbed some of the best climbers in the world to win the UAE’s queen stage, a feat no one saw coming, except maybe Kopecky. That ability may have been tamped down slightly with her preparation for the Olympic Games in Paris where she will be competing on the track alongside the road, so perhaps a GC result at the end of the Giro is a reach, but wearing the pink jersey at some point during the week is most definitely not.

In the other corner, the Dutch team has Marlen Reusser, who was clear earlier this year that the Giro overall was a goal. But Reusser hasn’t had the smoothest of seasons. A nasty crash at the Tour of Flanders put her out for a while, and the injuries suffered in the incident have set her back in performance. To make matters worse, she then got sick before her home tour in Switzerland and wasn’t able to defend her win there or at the National Championships. The opening time trial means that Reusser could pull on pink after just one stage, but whether or not she can hold it to the end is a whole other conversation. That being said, last year’s Reusser could maybe do it, and right now we’re just not sure what her form is. She may surprise us. Just remember, she will be team issue SD Worx-Protime kit this time.

Update: Reusser is not racing the Giro, after all. Possibly why SD Worx-Protime was the last team to announce its roster. A real blow not having her there, and hopefully, she will be recovered in time to put on a show at the Olympic ITT in a few weeks.

Marlen Reusser hight-fives fans as she rolls to the start of a race

The best climber on SD Worx-Protime’s team is Niamh Fisher-Black. The rider from New Zealand was their top contender in last year’s Giro, but it didn’t pan out the way they’d hoped. This year she has proved herself a better rider all around. She won a stage of Setmana Valenciana early in the year and finished top 10 at both Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Vuelta overall. Compared to the other two “favourites” on her team, Fisher-Black is the better climber, so it’s really only a matter of waiting to see how the race plays out before the seventh stage.

Canyon-SRAM is the other team with a number of exciting options. First, you’ve got Neve Bradbury, the recent winner of a stage of the Tour de Suisse. Bradbury has been enjoying her best season to date by far. She started the year with third overall at the Tour Down Under which was, at the time, her best result. Next, she got second overall at the UAE Tour behind Kopecky, going one better. Most recently she finished second overall at the Tour de Suisse and at both that and the UAE Tour she won the youth classification. Her climbing this year is superb and her racing skills have her at another level from 2023.

Neve smiles at the camera

Bradbury would be the clear favourite for Canyon-SRAM if not for the presence of Elise Chabbey, a long-time member of the team who has improved year after year. She’s known for her attacking style, being the queen of the Queen of the Mountains competition, and looking at the lineup for her team an argument could be made that she has earned a shot at leadership. Normally, she is designated as the last woman standing for Kasia Niewiadoma, but with Niewiadoma not racing, Chabbey’s seniority in the team is unmatched. That only counts for so much when Bradbury has been on such a run of form, but, you never know what Canyon-SRAM will have up their sleeve.

Adding to the team’s strength is Antonia Niedermaier. A Giro stage winner in her first year WorldTour, Niedermaier burst onto the scene last year and helped put Canyon-SRAM back on the map. She is less of a favourite than her teammates when it comes to the overall of the race, but absolutely a rider to keep an eye on. Niedermaier will only bring extra strength to a team that could make a massive impact on the Giro this year.

The rookie

Kim Cadzow has been clear that she is not going for the general classification at the Giro, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance she will find herself on the final podium.

An incredibly impressive few days at the Tour de Suisse that included third in the time trial has marked the young Kiwi as a rider to watch, especially in the later stages of the race. The fact that she’s never ridden an eight-stage race is in the favour of her competitors, but the EF Education-Oatly-Cannondale rider will be well-cared for by her team.

Everyone else

Liane Lippert hasn’t raced much this year. An off-season injury put her out for most of the spring and when she did return for the Vuelta in May it wasn’t the same rider we saw last year. After the Vuelta, she only raced one of the Spanish one-days, the Navarra Classic, and the Vuelta a Burgos. That was a slim calendar for the rider expected to take over for Van Vleuten at Movistar. But Lippert is a phenomenal racer. She won a stage of the Tour de France Femmes last year in commanding fashion and has shown her strength time and time again. She finished second at the German nationals in June, and now she will be turning up to the Giro with race days in her legs and more distance between her injury and her fitness now.

A closeup of Liane Lippert's face after a race
Lippert is another ride who will be dressed in normal team kit after just losing the German nationals.

Always one of the strongest climbers in the peloton, Mavi Garcia shows up in form to the Giro year after year, but while she’s had a few promising starts, she does eventually falter with the kilometres. The fact that the climbing is at the tail end of the race hurts her chances, but she is still one of the strongest climbers rocking up to the start line.

Ruth Edwards’ overall win at the LOTTO Thüringen Ladies Tour was the result of a well-timed and calculated attack on the first stage by the Human Powered Health rider, and a heck of a lot of hard work the rest of the week. Especially after the time trial where she finished fourth and pulled on the leader’s jersey, she was up against SD Worx-Protime’s Mischa Bredewold and Lidl-Trek’s Brodie Chapman to keep it. She kept a level head and was always exactly where she needed to be, and that is what it takes to win a stage race (on top of form, which she clearly has). Edwards’ two years out of the peloton might take their toll later in the race, but she has a heck of a lot of experience and some extra fire to go with it.

Last year’s runner-up to the pink jersey Juliette Labous (DSM Firmenich-PostNL) recently finished fourth overall at the Vuelta, third overall at Itzulia, and fifth overall at the Tour de Suisse. Her climbing is maybe not on the same level as it was last year, but she’s been chipping away at that form and is maybe the second-most consistent rider behind Longo Borghini. She’s won stages of the Giro before by jumping in the breakaway, but this year it would not be surprising to see her continue to make her mark on the general classification.

Juliette in focus while the riders around her are blurred

The lone sprint

There’s really only one sure-thing sprint stage, with another potential stage depending on the way the wind blows, metaphorically, but a few strong sprinters are still making their way to Italy.

Ruby Roseman-Gannon, winner of the final stage of the Tour of Britain, continues her buildup to the Olympic Games with eight days of racing in Italy. The Australian champion has been impressive this year, and with so few sprinters showing up to race the Giro, she has a clear shot at another WT victory.

Ruby just rolls past three SD Worx-Protime riders to win a stage of the Tour of Britain
Never forget.

Coming back from a horrendous crash at Vuelta a Burgos, Elisa Balsamo is a bit of an unknown. The Lidl-Trek rider had a decent first race back at the Italian nationals, finishing sixth, and she loves racing on “home” roads, so the Giro is the perfect place for her to get stuck back into it. The former world champion’s goals this year have revolved around the Olympic Games, and after her crash it was unclear when she would return to racing or if Paris was even still an option, so at the end of the day it will be really nice to see her back in the bunch.

Blanka Vas (SD Worx-Protime) is another one to watch in the fast finishes. The Hungarian national champion won a stage of the Giro last year, plus a stage of the Tour de Suisse. This year she’s managed second on a stage of the Vuelta, but she’s another one who will be building form and confidence for the Olympics and using the Giro to do so.

Stage hunters

I mentioned Kopecky as a maybe GC rider, but in reality, the world champion might just stumble into that role. There is little doubt she can and will win at least one stage.

After a fantastic run of form in Thüringen, Lucinda Brand and Brodie Chapman both could take home stage wins this year for Lidl-Trek.

Grace Brown rides alone ahead of the peloton

FDJ-Suez is starting the race without their star climber Evita Muzic, who is targeting the Tour in August, but they do have an on-form Grace Brown who will be Reusser’s biggest competition for the first stage, and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig who is another rider making her way back from injury. Normally, Uttrup would be a two-star favourite for the GC, but this year to see the Dane get a stage would be a major victory. She started the year strong with a win at the Tour Down Under, but after a crash at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, she’s not been in the form she would have liked. Let’s hope we get to see the Cecilie we all know and love at this Giro d’Italia.

The team for Visma-Lease a Bike is made up mostly of young Dutch women. It’s a full Dutch squad they’ve brought to the Giro, sans Marianne Vos, unfortunately. Of the lot Fem van Empel stands out as a rider who could definitely win a stage of the race, and maybe land herself in the GC conversation before the seventh stage.

Young riders

Liv AlUla Jayco’s Ella Wyllie won the Youth Classification at Itzulia Women after a solid performance in the third and final stage. Recently she won a stage of the Vuelta Andalucia, a race completely dominated by her team. The Australian team also has Ingvild Gåskjenn who was awesome at the Vuelta earlier this year.

Ingvild Gaskjenn pours water on herself after a hot stage of the Giro in 2023.
Ingvild Gaskjenn cools down after a hot Giro stage in 2023.

Nienke Vinke is pretty new to the road scene but already she’s turned heads. In January she won the Youth Classification at the Tour Down Under after finishing second overall behind Sarah Gigante. Her performances in Europe have been a steady build but she just finished fifteenth overall at the Tour de Suisse. She will be a huge help to her DSM-Firmenich PostNL teammate Labous.

Winner of the Youth Classification at the Tour de France last year Cédrine Kerbaol of Ceratizit-WNT is coming into the race their strongest rider. She won Durango Durango in May with a staggering attack and finished sixth overall recently at the Volta Catalunya.

The Escape Collective star ratings:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: Elisa Longo Borghini, Gaia Realini
⭐⭐⭐⭐: Neve Bradbury
⭐⭐⭐: Liane Lippert, Marlen Reusser, Kim Cadzow
⭐⭐: Juliette Labous, Elise Chabbey
⭐: Mavi Garcia, Niamh Fisher-Black

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