Many thought it wouldn’t happen thanks to months of radio silence and confusion from the organisers, but the 34th edition of the Giro d'Italia Donne – the longest running stage race on the women’s WorldTour calendar – will get underway this Friday June 30, 2023. The final edition of the race before the men’s Giro d'Italia organisers, RCS, take over from 2024.
The route, which was only revealed a matter of weeks ago, sticks to the usual Giro Donne playbook, beginning with a short time trial (or prologue) of 4.4km and going on to traverse a combination of hilly and flat stages. Like last year, the race also heads to the island of Sardinia wherein a ‘rest’ day on July 7 incorporates a transfer of 680km from Alassio, in the north west of the mainland, to Nuoro in Sardinia.
Overall, the route lends itself much less to pure climbers than in previous years, with plenty of opportunities for sprinters or punchier riders. One such rider is Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), who will be looking to top up her impressive tally of 32 stage wins. Her compatriot, Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), will be searching for a fourth title, but even without her arch rival, Demi Vollering (SD Worx), competition will be fierce.
Here's all you need to know about the route, contenders and our GC winner prediction.
Giro d'Italia Donne 2023 route
Stage one: Chianciano - Chianciano (4.4km)
Stage one profile sourced via Giro d'Italia Donne website
The race kicks off with a 4.4km individual time trial around the spa town of Chianciano Terme. The roadbook describes the opening kilometres as “A slightly uphill/downhill road” before things get technical in the pedestrianised town centre. Riders then take a 90-degree left-hander before a descent, followed by a slight uphill finish to the line.
It is remarkably similar to the opening stage of the 2022 race, won by Kristen Faulkner (Jayco-Alula), and will likely favour a more powerful rider. The short distance and flat terrain mean that mechanicals or other mishaps aside, the stage will have little bearing on GC.
Stage two: Bagno a Ripoli - Marradi (102.1km)
Stage two profile sourced via Giro d'Italia Donne website
Stage two sees the first significant climb of the race. After a flat first 60km, the peloton will head towards the Passo Della Colla, which, at 16.1 km long, will undoubtedly create splits. But with an average gradient of just 4.5%, it is unlikely to give the fittest of the fast-finishers much trouble. That said, the GC contenders may want to use the climb as an early test of their rivals and could push the pace enough to shell the sprinters.
Anyone who loses contact, though, has a 16km descent to regain it before a flat finish.
Stage three: Formigine - Modena (118.2km)
Stage three profile sourced via Giro d'Italia Donne website
Any sprinters who found the previous stage too gruelling should have little to worry about going into stage three. With just one third category climb breaking up a rather flat 118.2km from Formigine to Modena, it looks likely to be a fast woman standing on the podium – likely clutching some balsamic vinegar – at the end of the stage.
Stage four: Fidenza - Borgo Val di Toro (134km)
Stage four profile sourced via Giro d'Italia Donne website
The longest day of the race, stage four still only comes in at 134km, which pales in comparison to the 170km stage raced by the peloton in 2020. It is also a relatively short distance in the context of women’s racing in 2023, which means that the three back-to-back third category climbs towards the end of the stage may not have too much of an affect on the riders, who will still be relatively fresh at this point in the race.
Punchy riders like Marianne Vos and Lizzie Deignan (Lidl-Trek) should have no trouble getting through the final 60km of this stage before the flat run-in to the line.
Stage five: Salassa - Ceres (105.7km)
Stage five profile sourced via Giro d'Italia Donne website
Stage five presents the first real GC test in the form of the Cima Coppi – the highest point of the race – the Passo del Lupo, which directly translates to ‘wolf pass’. Coming after just 8km of racing and at 10.1km long with a gruelling average gradient of 8.4%, we can expect the likes of Annemiek van Vleuten to unleash their inner beast. If the Dutch rider has finally found her usual form for this race, anyone who tries to follow will just be howling at the moon.
The only saving grace for any group caught out on the first climb is that the remaining 78.9km of the race will give them the opportunity to chase back up to the front. That’s if they have anything left after four days of racing and two categorised climbs before the uphill finish.
Stage six: Canelli - Canelli (104.4km)
Stage six profile sourced via Giro d'Italia Donne website
After a brutal start to stage five, the peloton can enjoy a more gentle, rolling opening to stage six’s loop around Canelli, a town known for its underground wine cellars. Some GC contenders may be left panicking about time gaps from the previous stage and may try to use the two third category climbs before the final categorised climb to the line to get the jump on the race leader.
Unless a sneaky breakaway can stay the course, stage six looks set to play out similarly to stage three and favour the punchy riders who can climb.
Stage seven: Albenga - Alassio (109.1km)
Stage seven profile sourced via Giro d'Italia Donne website
For their final stage on the mainland, the riders will contest a hilly 110km route starting and finishing on the Ligurian coastline. There’s little chance for the riders to take in the sea views, however, as the first climb of the day comes just 22km after the flag drop and is shortly followed by the next, a second category rise.
GC contenders will be looking to use this stage to take as much time as possible going into the rest/transfer day on Friday. The two earlier categorised climbs will be key to this, but attacks will likely fly on the penultimate climb of the day before the twisting finish through the streets of Alassio and the final kick to the line.
Not much time for a dip in the sea post-stage seven as the riders must start their 680km transfer to Nuoro, on the island of Sardinia for the start of the final two stages.
Stage eight: Nuoro - Sassari (125.7km)
Stage eight profile sourced via Giro d'Italia Donne website
How well riders have coped with the lengthy transfer will play a key role in the outcome of stage eight. There’s no easing back into the race either, as the peloton has a lumpy 125.7km ahead of them on their first day in Sardinia. With just one category three climb, there is nothing to test the GC contenders too much. However, expect those on might be on the back foot to race aggressively.
Stage nine: Sassari - Olbia (126.8km)
Stage nine profile sourced via Giro d'Italia Donne website
For the final stage, the peloton return to Olbia, which hosted the finish of stage three of the 2022 race. That particular stage ended in a bunch sprint won by Marianne Vos ahead of Charlotte Kool (Team dsm–firmenich) and Elisa Balsamo (Lidl-Trek). However, unless the rest day serves the sprinters remarkably well, we're unlikely to see a repeat this time around.
With each categorised climb presenting a last-ditch attempt for the GC contenders, they are likely to be racing too hard, even for the likes of Vos. Still, the downhill run-in towards the finish could present an opportunity for anyone who hasn’t been distanced too far from the front of the peloton.
Giro d'Italia Donne 2023 contenders
For defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten, there is only one real opportunity to stake her claim on the race. With few long, hard climbs, and no mountain top finishes, Van Vleuten and her Movistar team will either need to put in an unstoppable performance on stage five or get creative. If Van Vleuten fails to deliver on her preferred terrain, the team could do well if they hand over the reins to German national champion Liane Lippert, who should fare well on the punchier and rolling terrain.
Annemiek van Vleuten will be looking to defend her title from last year
The superteam of the season, SD Worx, have brought neither Van Vleuten’s main rival, Demi Vollering, nor Swiss juggernaut Marlen Reusser. They have, however, split the team into a GC squad around Kiwi climbing talent Niamh Fisher-Black, and a stage-hunting sprint squad around European Champion and prolific winner Lorena Wiebes.
This Giro will be Fisher-Black’s first real chance at GC leadership – a door the 22-year-old has been knocking on for a few years now – but, like Van Vleuten, the terrain may not feature enough climbing to let her truly shine. Still, with Wiebes’ name written all over at least two stages and talented young Hungarian Blanka Vas on the list, the SD Worx winning streak is likely to live on.
SD Worx will be looking to continue its 2023 winning streak at this year's Giro Donne
Trek-Segafredo, meanwhile, has thrown the kitchen sink at the Giro, bringing what is, currently, their A team to the race. Blighted by injuries and illness, and with their powerhouse domestique, Ellen van Dijk, on maternity leave, the American squad have been somewhat depleted thus far in 2023.
However, with newly-crowned Italian champion Elisa Longo Borghini, the evergreen champion Lizzie Deignan, Tour de France Femmes young rider winner Shirin van Anrooij, and impressive new edition Gaia Realini they will undoubtedly challenge SD Worx and Annemiek van Vleuten for GC. The only question will be, who is their leader?
Lizzie Deignan made her return to racing earlier this year after her maternity leave
Canyon//SRAM Racing also field one of the strongest squads in the race, led by 21-year-old Australian Neve Bradbury, who raced to 10th overall in 2022 and second behind Fisher-Black in the young rider classification. Elsewhere, they have one of the most reliable domestiques in the business in Tiffany Cromwell to support, as well as climbers Soraya Paladin and Pauliena Rooijakkers.
For FDJ-Suez, Danish climber Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig hasn’t enjoyed a great deal of success so far this season, and she will be looking to rectify that with the help of French duo Marie Le Net and Évita Muzic as all three riders look ahead to racing the Giro-Tour double.
For the punchier stages, newly-crowned US national champion Chloe Dygert has already gone head-to-head with the likes of Lizzie Deignan and Marianne Vos on such terrain so far this season with mixed results.
While the race may not lend itself too well to the pure climbers this year, look out for riders such as EF Education-Tibco-SVB's Veronica Ewers, as well as Team DSM’s Juliette Labous and AG Insurance-Soudal-Quick-Step’s Justine Ghekiere who, without Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, will be given freedom.
Pure out-and-out climber Veronica Ewers will be on this year's starting line
For stage hunters, Marianne Vos is an obvious pick. The Dutchwoman will be looking to add to her record-breaking tally of 32 stage wins and there are plenty of stages to suit her mission. Elsewhere, while Team DSM may not be fielding their top-tier sprinter, they do have former junior world champion Megan Jastrab, accompanied by Franziska Koch, who usually forms part of Kool’s leadout.
The more rolling stages have Jayco-Alula’s Ruby Roseman-Gannon’s name written all over them. However, her fellow Antipodean, Ally Wollaston of AG Insurance-Soudal-Quick-Step, will be battling her for the same finishes.
Ruby Rosman-Gannon and Ally Wollaston went head-to-head at the Santos Tour Down Under earlier this year
Finally, UAE Team ADQ’s Marta Bastianelli, in her final-ever race as a professional will be desperately hoping to round off her career in style with a stage win.
Giro d'Italia Donne 2023 prediction
We think Shirin van Anrooij of Lidl-Trek will take this year's title. With one of the strongest teams in the race around her comprising both experience and youthful talent, Van Anrooij – who has chosen to forego the Tour de France Femmes to focus on the Giro despite being the defending white jersey winner – has an excellent chance at taking the GC. The 21-year-old has proven her climbing capabilities both at the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift and at the Vuelta a Burgos earlier this year, where she raced to second overall, including an impressive fourth place finish on the gruelling Lagunas de Neila climb.
The U23 cyclocross world champion will have no problem on the fast-paced, punchier stages either, especially with such a strong team around her.
*Cover image by Getty Images