The second stage of the 2023 Giro Donne didn’t look like a general classification day at first glance, but when Annemiek van Vleuten is on the hunt for her final pink jersey before retirement, anything is fair game. The reigning world champion didn’t need to wait for a more challenging stage to take significant time on her rivals; instead she set off and took her 100th UCI-rated race victory.
Rain impacted the start of the race, cancelling stage 1, so the first pink jersey was handed out on Saturday’s second stage instead. With the last climb topping out 15 km from the finish, in any other year it wouldn’t have been a day for the GC hunters. At only a 4.5% average gradient it was a climb a reduced peloton could have made it over, had the race gone that way. But take into consideration there are next to no climbing stages in the coming week – at best only two days that might play into the hands of the GC riders – and Van Vleuten clearly saw an opportunity to get a head start, and took it.
Before the race, questions flew about Van Vleuten’s form, mostly based on her performance in the Dutch National Championships time trial where the former ITT world champion finished third. She hadn’t had the best season in general up to the start of the Giro Donne. Yes, she won La Vuelta Femenina, but barely, and not on the climbs. Instead, her team took advantage of a crosswind section and let Van Vleuten do her thing; a long-range attack.
Also taking into account that the world champion is retiring at the end of the year and that this is her final chance to win a pink jersey, it makes sense she would want to take it early and defend it, rather than sit back and wait to fight for it down the road.
In reality, there are only a few riders who will be able to challenge Van Vleuten’s hold on the pink jersey in the coming week. Lidl-Trek has two riders in the mix with Elisa Longo Borghini and Gaia Realini, the two that spurred Van Vleuten’s attack on stage 2. But the team with numbers still in the game is FDJ-Suez. The French team had three riders finish in the chasing group with Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig taking second on the stage and Marta Cavalli and Évita Muzic on the same time.
Juliette Labous of DSM-Firmenich, Ane Santesteban of Jayco-AlUla, Mavi García of Liv Racing TeqFind, and Veronica Ewers of EF Education-TIBCO-SVB all sit within a minute of the pink jersey, but the question remains: where will they find that time?
SD Worx, the only team that has proven a thorn in the side of Van Vleuten over the past year, is out of the game. The most dominant team of the season were nowhere to be seen in the closing kilometres, their first finisher being Niamh Fisher-Black, almost three minutes down.
There will be limited opportunities for Van Vleuten to be dethroned over the next week. Stage 4 looks like the stage Van Vleuten took the pink jersey on in 2022, another day that is not technically a GC day on paper but clearly, the Dutchwoman doesn’t care about tradition.
On the first real stage of the Giro Donne the Queen of stage racing put all the neysayers in their place and ran away with the win. There’s a good chance the general classification battle is over, but it’s still the Giro and we still have a little over a week to go.
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