We were spoiled all spring and early summer with non-stop racing, but after a few quiet weeks due to the cancellation of the Women’s Tour everyone is ready to get stuck into racing again, and what better way to restart the season than nine days straight of action (well, seven and then two) at the Giro Donne? Now that we know the race will indeed take place, we can start guessing who will be wearing pink in about two weeks’ time.
Traditionally the most mountainous race on the women’s calendar, this year’s Giro is relatively tame. There’s only one high mountain stage, very few lengthy climbs, but still a whole lot of drama from the organizers. Also traditionally a ten-day event, the women will race only nine stages this year, with the final two stages taking place on the island of Sardinia after a transfer/rest day.
With the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift quickly becoming the most prestigious race on the women’s calendar, it should come as no surprise that some teams are opting to save their stars for later in July, but defending Giro Donne winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) built her season to focus on the three longest stage races of the year. She already claimed the red jersey at La Vuelta Femenina by Carrefour.es in May, and now she’s set her sights on pink. Her main rivals will come from the FDJ-Suez and Lidl-Trek (that name will take some getting used to …) teams.
This year’s edition will also be the last promoted by Starlight; given recent events we’re happy to see the race go off, but sceptical about what the week has in store. For 2024, RCS, which has run the men’s Giro for pretty much ever, will take over, although whether that means a change in date or other adjustments remains to be seen.
Race organizer politics aside, there are some questions we all want answers to before the Tour de France Femmes, and the Giro Donne will provide some if not total, insight, so let’s get into what you need to know ahead of the longest race of the season for the women.
The 34th Women’s Giro d’Italia starts Friday June 30 with a 4.4 km individual time trial in Chianciano, just south of Florence. Over the next week, the women tackle nine total stages, with much of the fight for the general classification loaded into the second half of the race. Like any stage race, there’s a bit for everyone with a few stages geared towards sprinter types and some opportunities for pink jersey hopefuls.
When it comes to the general classification, everyone will be eyes on the defending champion Van Vleuten, especially with SD Worx leaving her chief rival Demi Vollering at home to prepare for the Tour de France Femmes.
Live coverage time varies. At the moment GCN+ has 14.00 to 16.00 CEST blocked out, but given the drama leading up to the race, those times may change closer to the event.
A very short time trial in Tuscany will open the race and get the legs turning over before the women head closer to Florence. Then it’s on to Emilia-Romagna, Modena, Borgo Val di Taro, the Alps near Ceres, and finally the Ligurian coast before jumping across the Tyrrhenian Sea to Sardinia. (Note: the organizer’s stage listings and altimetry profiles aren’t always in agreement on total stage distance; where there’s a disagreement, we’ve used the distance from the stage listings.)
Stage 1 (ITT): Friday, 30 June – Chianciano (4.4 km)
Up first, because it wasn’t debated enough after the 2022 opening stage, is it a time trial or is it a prologue? At 4.4 km long the first stage could be 400 meters too long to be considered a prologue, but it’s hardly long enough to impact the general classification drastically.
Because it’s on the shorter side look to a sprinter-type to carry the first pink jersey into stage 2. To gauge the effort; Kristen Faulkner of Jayco-AlUla won the 4.7 km “prologue” time trial that kicked off the 2022 Giro in just under six minutes. The stage is flat as a pancake, with a few twists and turns but nothing insane.
Stage 2: Saturday, 1 July – Bagno a Ripoli to Marradi (102.1 km)
The second stage starting in Bagno a Ripoli is short, both for a road stage and for the Giro (it’s a theme this year): only 102.1 km, but contains a bit of climbing. The only categorized climb of the stage is about 15 km from the finish in Marradi.
The Category 2 climb up Passo della Colla is deceptively hard, 16.1 km long and an average of 4.5%. It’s perhaps not hard enough for Van Vleuten to take pink but it will definitely challenge the sprinters who think they can get the lead with bonus seconds like Elisa Balsamo did in 2022.
The G.O.A.T. Marianne Vos returns to racing after almost two months away. Along with her Jumbo-Visma team, Vos won the opening team time trial at La Vuelta and won two stages back to back to take the overall points classification. Since May she has only raced in the Dutch national championship road race where she came third.
If her form is on, and surely it is, Vos will have her team control the pace to suit her on the climb, a pace that will likely shell other sprinters before the finale.
Stage 3: Sunday, 2 July – Formigine – Modena (118.2 km)
The third stage from Formigine to Modena is a sprinter day, with only one Category 3 climb in the first 50 km it’s not hard enough to be a general classification day. The only challengers to the sprinters will be the breakaway opportunists.
That’s right, the third stage has breakaway written all over it. There’s also not a ton of sprinters in the peloton, with the notable absence of Balsamo who crashed at RideLondon Classique and sustained some nasty injuries. Last year Trek-Segafredo worked hard for their Italian champ to take two stages, but this year the American team is more geared towards the general classification. It will be up to the likes of SD Worx, UAE Team ADQ, and others to pull back any serious moves.
Stage 4: Monday, 3 July – Fidenza to Borgo Val di Taro (134.1 km)
Another will-they-won’t-they stage for the breakaway vs. the sprinters. Although the stage doesn’t contain any categorized climbs, the back half is lumpy.
Stage 4 is a classic Giro Donne stage in that while it looks like a good day for a reduced bunch sprint, since the profile is far from flat, when the stage is done the Twitter discourse will be about how they should have been categorized. At 134 km stage 4 is also the longest stage of the race, which is not saying much as this race once gave us a 165 km stage in 2020 from Assisi to Tivoli.
Stage 5: Tuesday, 4 July – Salassa to Ceres (103.1 km)
Stage 5 ending in Ceres is the first test of the general classification contenders, with three climbs, a Category 1 and two Category 3s. Normally it would look like a good day for the break, but we said the same thing of the fourth stage in last year’s Giro and that was the day Van Vleuten decided she wanted to start the race for pink.
The first climb up Passo del Lupo is 8.6 km long with an average of 6.2% and grades of up to 16.5%. The steepest section is in the beginning and the climb levels off near the top, so if there are going to be fireworks they’ll be at the bottom. That means the GC teams have their work cut out for them to guide their leaders into the climb safely.
Anyone who has watched bike racing in the last eight years knows that Van Vleuten loves a climb, and it doesn’t matter how far from the finish, she’s going to use it to test her rivals. Maybe she can’t get away or she takes only two, like she did in 2022, but you’re dreaming if you think she isn’t going to be eyeing this stage as her first victory of the week.
Stage 6: Wednesday, 5 July – Canelli to Canelli (104.4 km)
The sixth stage starting and finishing in Canelli is the first of two “mountaintop” finishes of the race. It’s not high mountains like we’re accustomed to, but the three Category 3 climbs throughout the 104.4 km stage will make for a fun day.
The finale isn’t exactly Monte Zoncolan but it is uphill so it should be exciting.
Stage 7: Thursday, 6 July – Albenga to Alassio (109.1 km)
Stage 7 from Alberta to Agassio is the final stage in mainland Italy and a good day for some shakeups in the general classification. There are four categorized climbs in total; two Cat. 3s and two Cat. 2s. The final two climbs are hardly two climbs; on profile they look a lot more like one long ascent with a plateau in the middle.
The seventh stage has the most climbing kilometres and is probably the hardest stage of the race, but it’s still not as challenging as other editions. The big question is will Van Vleuten be able to get away from her rivals? Is the climb hard enough? It’s more likely a small group comes to the line together and we see the closest GC battle since Marianne Vos took the victory from teammate Pauline Ferrand-Prévot by 15 seconds in 2014.
If the GC is close keep an eye on Elisa Longo Borghini. The newly re-crowned Italian national champion has been honing her sprinting skills and getting better and better. She might be the best climber with a good punch at the end of a hard race, if she’s not all in for Gaia Realini. Their Italian rival Silvia Persico is another good one to watch out for, should a group hold together.
With limited opportunities it’s even more likely Van Vleuten tries something earlier in the race, either on stage 5 or this stage on that first categorized climb.
Rest Day: Friday, 7 July
Uncharacteristically, there is a day off between stages 7 and 8 for the race to travel from the mainland to Sardinia for the final two days.
Stage 8: Saturday, 8 July – Nuoro to Sassari (125.7 km)
The first of two stages on the island of Sardinia is lumpy, like a knife’s edge, which when it comes to the Giro is slightly terrifying. It will be a hard stage, one of the longest of the race (albeit still not long compared to previous editions), and will end with an uphill push to the line.
If it comes down to seconds there might be a lot going on during the eighth stage.
Stage 9: Sunday, 9 July – Sassari to Olbia (126.8 km)
The final stage from Sassari to Olbia is another kind of hard, but not insanely challenging day for the women’s peloton. There are two Category 3 climbs, with the final one topping out 48 km from the finish.
It’s another day that might not look like much but should we have a close race at this point the first climb, which basically starts right out of the gate, could shatter some teams. If she’s desperate for time Van Vleuten can definitely try something on the second categorized climb, especially as the course continues to pitch and roll until it descends to the line with about 25 km to go.
Riders to watch
The general classification might seem like Van Vleuten’s to lose, but with limited climbing, it’s actually a lot more open than we would have expected. A rider like Longo Borghini, who is an excellent climber but only for a short time, has a better chance of taking this pink jersey than any other in her 11 years of racing the Giro Donne.
An interesting impact on the line-up is the Tour de France Femmes, which starts only a few weeks after the Giro. Some riders who have previously targeted the Italian race opted to skip it in favour of better legs at the Tour, like Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, while other outfits brought their A Team to Italy.
Each stage also offers plenty of opportunities for non-general classification hopefuls, and there are surprisingly few chances for sprinters which makes the attendance of Vos a treat.
After her dominant performance in all three of the key stage races on the women’s calendar in 2022, Annemiek van Vleuten will line up at the Giro the top favourite to win a fourth overall title. Van Vleuten will want to add a pink jersey to the red jersey she already took home in May, although that win wasn’t as convincing as her victories last year.
Van Vleuten may be going into the race as the top favourite, but it’s definitely not over yet. Her recent vulnerabilities, especially on climbs where she used to be unbeatable, have opened the doors to other riders with dreams of wearing pink. The growing strength of the peloton in every aspect is partially thanks to Van Vleuten, who over the years has set the bar too high for anyone else to reach. Now, there are a handful of women coming to take her top step, and the ones who benefit are the fans.
Van Vleuten also has her new teammate Liane Lippert to pick up the slack should she not be able to challenge for the overall. The German national champion is poised to take over as Movistar’s leader when Van Vleuten hangs up her wheels at the end of this year.
One rider hot on Van Vleuten’s heels is Gaia Realini. The young Italian on Lidl-Trek exploded onto the scene this year when she moved to the American team and is quickly becoming one of the best climbers in the world. She will be guided through the race by her older, more experienced teammate Elisa Longo Borghini. While the team might have a good chance with Realini, as mentioned above this might be Longo Borghini’s best shot ever to win a Giro Donne title. It remains to be seen who the team will ride for come stage 7.
Lidl-Trek’s third potential option, depending on how the race goes, is Dutch young gun Shirin van Anrooij, who impressed earlier this season in the Spring Classics when she won Trofeo Alfredo Binda.
Speaking of Italians, Silvia Persico has continued her ascent to the top ranks of the sport with some solid results in the Spring, fourth overall at the Vuelta a Burgos and second recently at the Italian National Championship road race. The Italian has a strong team around her, with Marta Bastianelli leading the charge and Erica Magnaldi and Mikayla Harvey to help out on the climby stages.
Juliette Labous, who won the mountain top stage in last year’s Giro Donne as well as the overall at Vuelta a Burgos, will be the leader for Team DSM-Firmenich. Without Charlotte Kool, the team can focus fully on Labous’s GC bid, with a good bit of stage hunting thrown in. Like Longo Borghini, Labous will benefit from the tamer course.
In her fresh new USA national champion kit, Chloe Dygert isn’t just an outside favourite for the overall. The American won both the road race and time trial on home soil last weekend and has taken Canyon-SRAM’s only WorldTour win in four years at the RideLondon Classique, where she finished second overall to Kool. In her 12 race days this year, she’s only finished outside the top five on five occasions. It would be an upset if she doesn’t win the opening time trial on Friday, and the way she’s been climbing it’s entirely possible she takes pink on stage 1 and holds it until the end.
SD Worx, the team of the Spring, will be racing without their two GC favourites. Both Vollering and Marlen Reusser have their sights set on France, but that doesn’t mean the Dutch team isn’t in the running for a victory. Winner of multiple Youth Classification jerseys Niamh Fisher-Black will be, for the first time, a leader in the general classification for her team. Along with Blanka Vas and Anna Shackley, who is working her way back from injury, the three symbolize a changing of the guard in cycling and a new generation starts to shape.
Another rider who might be wishing there were some longer climbs is the up-and-coming talent on EF Education-TIBCO-SVB Veronica Ewers. The American has been targeting the Giro, so keep an eye out for her on the hillier stages. A general classification podium is definitely within reach, although the top step would take some serious guts to get. Ewers will likely share leadership with the veteran American on her team Lauren Stephens.
FDJ-Suez, who finished third overall in 2022 with Marta Cavalli, return with a strong team to attempt a one-step jump. Cavalli is back after winning a stage of the Tour Féminin Pyrénées and she is joined by Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. Last year, Uttrup worked for Cavalli at the Giro and the two swapped roles for the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. Unfortunately, Cavalli was taken out of the race on stage 2 but Uttrup went on to win a stage, the biggest achievement of her career so far. FDJ-Suez hasn’t been able to back up their results from 2022 yet, but the Giro offers the perfect opportunity for them to try.
Lastly, Mavi García will start with her Liv Racing Teqfind team. García finished third overall in 2022 after a strong performance on stage 4 but struggled in the latter stages of the race.
Marianne Vos will be on the hunt for her 33rd stage win at the Giro. In 2022 she took two stages but didn’t finish the race in order to prepare for the Tour de France Femmes (where she also won three stages). The lack of pure sprinter stages in this year’s route shouldn’t be a big hindrance for Vos, who can climb decently well and will relish a bit of an uphill kick to the line. Her Jumbo-Visma teammates are well-versed in getting the three-time former world champion where she needs to be, but she can also do it on her own if that’s what it takes.
SD Worx was one of the last teams to announce their roster and wouldn’t you know it they threw a massive wrench in Vos’s plans to take home a few stages by adding Lorena Wiebes to the line-up. The European champion is pretty much completely unstoppable in a fast finish, often winning by full bike lengths. Look to her to take a stage or two.
It will be Marta Bastianelli‘s final race of her career, and the Italian will be keen to raise her arms in the air one final time on home roads. Bastianelli announced her retirement for the end of the 2022 season but ultimately decided to keep racing through one last Giro Donne. Stage 3 will be Bastianelli’s best bet for a stage win, and UAE Team ADQ will definitely be behind her all the way … or in front … because that’s how lead-outs work.
Jayco-AlUla has two solid sprinty-type options in Ruby Roseman-Gannon and Georgia Baker. The Australian duo riders work super well together – something the other sprinters in the race don’t have – and can swap roles depending on who has better legs on the day or how the race plays out. With not many sprinters lining up for the Giro they have a clearer road to a stage win. Baker will also be eyeing the first stage time trial after she finished second behind Faulkner in the 2022 edition of the Giro.
Megan Jastrab will make her sprinting debut for DSM-Firmenich. The young American showed promise when she finished second at Gent-Wevelgem earlier in the year and with her track background, this Giro is the perfect opportunity for her to throw her hat in the ring for some results.
Another young talent ready to take her first WorldTour victory is Ally Wollaston of AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step. The 22-year-old from New Zealand won the second stage and overall at Ceratizit Festival Elsy Jacobs earlier in the year as well as both the ITT and road titles at the New Zealand National Championships. She’s just knocking on the door of a major victory and there’s a few chances she will get it in Italy.
Other riders you should know
After her ride at the Tour de Suisse, it’s clear Urška Žgart is continuing to progress as a rider to watch. The Slovenian climber spent a good chunk of time solo on stage 3, missing out on her first WorldTour win by an agonizing 50 meters. The next stage she held onto a group of favourites for most of the stage, another strong ride. Heading into the Giro that defeat will be in the back of her mind and might propel her to new heights.
Esmée Peperkamp, the Dutch rider on DSM-Firmenich, is a really strong climber. She displayed her ability at the UAE Tour where she rode to fourth on the queen stage. Since then she’s been quietly building form and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her trying something on a stage or two of the Giro.
Not really a climber or a sprinter, but excellent at both, Soraya Paladin will be a huge asset to Dygert but could also take a stage of her own. The Italian on Canyon-SRAM was a super team player at RideLondon while also finishing third on stage 2. She was second on a stage of Itzulia as well, behind Demi Vollering, and had a handful of top tens in the Spring Classics. It’s high time she takes a WorldTour win.
Just a year out from giving birth, Elinor Barker is stronger than ever. The decorated British track rider on Uno-X continues to impress and evolve on the road. She recently had a strong performance at the British National Championships where she finished third in the time trial and fourth in the road race. She will be one of Uno-X’s strongest riders regardless of the terrain.
A full startlist can be found on FirstCycling.com.
Escape Collective Star Ratings
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Annemiek Van Vleuten, Elisa Longo Borghini
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Gaia Realini, Chloe Dygert, Marta Cavalli
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Liane Lippert, Niamh Fisher-Black, Silvia Persico
⭐️⭐️: Juliette Labous, Veronica Ewers, Mavi García, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
⭐️: Shirin van Anrooij, Blanka Vas
Conversations with the Wheel Talk Podcast
Abby Mickey: Looking at the route, I would say this race doesn’t favour Van Vleuten as much as previous editions. What do you guys think?
Gracie Elvin: Yeah, I’d say it’s probably true. There aren’t the same big mountains that we’ve seen in the past. And while there are some climbs, there aren’t as many opportunities for her to make a big difference. And the time trial is super short, so hard to see her gain any time on big rivals.
Abby: I originally thought the time trial wasn’t going to make much of an impact in the race but, spoiler alert for when you scroll down in like a second, I feel like Tilda’s pick of Chloe Dygert is actually really solid, because she could take the pink jersey in the time trial and then hold it all the way to the end.
Gracie: I was looking through the profiles today. And there’s just no major stage. And even on the bigger climbs, they’re in kind of strange parts of some of those stages, where you would see someone like Annemiek be able to take that advantage and hold it to the finish or have it as a hilltop finish.
And I think you’re right, Abby. Dygert could be a big upset and take the jersey early. We’ve been waiting and waiting to see Annemiek be dominant this year and she just hasn’t really shown that. At the nationals time trial as well, you know, to be that far off the money [3rd; 1:13 down to winner Reijanne Markus] was quite interesting. And a shorter time trial doesn’t really suit her, anyway. Also, I would classify this as a prologue, not a time trial. It’s certainly a high-power rider/track-type rider and Dygert ticks all those boxes.
I’m keen to see how Georgia Baker can stack up against Dygert. I think that’s going to be a really cool matchup to see.
Matt de Neef: What Gracie said about the prologue is spot on; it’s almost exactly the length of a pursuit effort, which we know Dygert is exceptional at. I think we’ll see the first real challenge for her on stage 2. There’s a 10 km climb that tops out about 15 km from the finish. I think if she gets over that in the lead group, with a chance to defend the lead – because I think her not winning the first stage will be a shock – if she gets over that climb at the end of the second stage, then we’ll know she’s got pretty good legs.
But the thing I did want to point out is I’m not sure if she would ever have done a stage race this long, right? So we don’t really know how she’s going to go on something this long.
Abby: She dropped out of La Vuelta early in order to kind of redirect her focus for the rest of the season. But that means that the longest stage race she’s ever done is I think five stages. So to add on four more stages is a lot. And I think it’s kind of a toss-up what the rest/travel day on Friday will do for the riders. They’re travelling to Sardinia for the final two stages, they’ve got the Friday off but that travel can do a number on you and sometimes riders actually come worse out of a rest day. So I think that will be really interesting.
Gracie: And that pain that we saw her in at RideLondon, I think that’s also going to be a factor in how she can recover for that many days in a row. So I think that was a good point, can we see her back up for nine days straight?
Abby: I just think it’s really interesting that like, a year ago, going into this race, we would have said, okay, it’s Van Vleuten’s race to lose. And I think looking at the profiles and looking at the competition, it might not even be the best of the best that are showing up to this race, but I just don’t think Annemiek has a massive leg up on everybody. I think that she’s going to have to fight really hard and be quite sneaky if she’s going to take the overall.
Matt: Which we saw her do at La Vuelta, right? In some ways, she was kind of fortunate to have won La Vuelta. If she wins the Giro, she might have to do something similar. Again, having said all that, would not be a shock at all, if she did manage to win. We know that she’s been focusing on these three “Grand Tours” this season, and she’s coming into this block now of the Giro and the Tour [de France Femmes], she’s been at altitude, she’s put everything into this particular block of the season. So even though she’s had an off-season by her highest standards, I don’t think anybody would be shocked to see her go up another level and find a way somehow to win this race again.
Gracie: That’s something we’ve mentioned nearly every time Annemiek races; don’t count her out. She’s a super classy rider, and she knows how to prepare for races. What I’m wondering, even though I’ve picked her as my favourite, is, does this open some opportunities for Liane Lippert? Is this a really good race for her to be somewhat supported by Annemiek, maybe playing off each other to capitalize on the strength as a team and not just go solely for Annemiek? Maybe she would prefer to win the Tour de France Femmes over the Giro.
Abby: I think that’s a great point, Gracie. And it’s also a great segue into another huge talking point going into the Giro, which is this changing of the guard. Without Demi in the race and without Van Vleuten on her best form (that we know of) it means that we’re going into this race with a lot more favourites than I think I would have picked even two months ago. And it also means that with this being Annemiek’s last year, it’s the last time we’re going to have Annemiek or Anna van der Breggen going into this race as the out-and-out favourites. I think it also means that there are a lot of really exciting younger riders who could kind of burst onto the scene in the next week.
Gracie: Yeah, some really great opportunities there. And if you look at the stages over the course of the nine days is really an opportunist’s tour. Of course, there are going to be some GC riders there, but there are so many great opportunities for some really dynamic day-to-day racing for stage wins. So I think we’re going to be treated to hopefully some really good racing to watch not just defensive racing.
Matt: Yep, totally agree with that.
Wheel Talk Podcast Picks
Picks below are listed in the order in which they were made, no repeats are allowed. We picked one favourite for the general classification as well as a rider we think you should know.
Abby: Elisa Longo Borghini. RYSK: Antonia Niedermaier
Matt de Neef: Gaia Realini. RYSK: Neve Bradbury
Gracie Elvin: Annemiek van Vleuten. RYSK: Paula Patino
Tilda Price: Chloe Dygert (out of left field!). RYSK: Petra Stiasny
Guest WTP host for the Giro Donne Hannah Barnes!: Marianne Vos. RYSK: Ally Wollaston
When to tune in
GCN+ currently has live coverage listed from 14:00 to 16:00 CEST for every stage, however, it’s unlikely that is the actual time coverage will be on. It will usually change from day to day so it’s advised to check GCN+, closer to the start of the race. This preview will also be updated when more information becomes available.
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