After ten days of full gas racing in Italy, the maglia rosa once again leaves Italy on the shoulders of Dutchwoman Annemiek van Vleuten, the third time the Movistar rider has taken the title. With just two weeks remaining until the second of the season’s major stage races begins, what lessons did we learn from the action at the Giro Donne?
Too close for comfort
The scheduling of the Women’s WorldTour has come under a great deal of scrutiny this season, with a slew of new races being added to the calendar, and there have been a number of criticisms levelled at the UCI and race organisers as teams try to ensure they can field their best possible teams at all the top events.
The Giro Donne finishing just two weeks before the start of the Tour de Frances Femmes is a key point of contention. Riders are being forced to choose which race to target, or to go for both but risk incident, accident, or fatigue in doing so.
The Giro missed the likes of Demi Vollering, Lorena Wiebes, Ellen van Dijk and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, who opt to focus their energies on one goal.
Moving the Giro earlier in the season would not only enable teams to select their best squads for these two prestigious stage races, but it would also provide Giro Donne with the exposure it needs and deserves, discrete from the men’s Tour de France.
Fast women deliver
Despite the absence of Wiebes, there was a world class field of sprinters at the Giro Donne, and they fought for the spoils on four flat stages and one punchier one, with world champion Elisa Balsamo and Dutch legend Marianne Vos taking two wins apiece, with Chiara Consonni (Valcar-Travel & Service) a surprise winner on stage 10 ahead of Rachele Barbieri (Liv Racing Xstra).
Wiebes’ absence allowed her young compatriot Charlotte Kool her own chances. Kool was there or thereabouts at every opportunity, accruing two second places and one third as she knocked at the door of a top-level victory.
It was all about Balsamo and Vos though. The two women replayed the final stages of the 2021 World Championships on stages two, three, and five, with the Italian claiming two wins and Vos one. Vos then went on to win the reduced bunch sprint on the lumpy stage in Bergamo.
Headlong into battle
While the race route had been planned to try and avoid the early moves that saw the GC all but decided on stage two last year, it didn’t prevent decisive moves being launched at the earliest possible opportunity.
Stage four was touted as one for the breakaway, and it was in the end, yet that breakaway consisted of Annemiek Van Vleuten, Marta Cavalli and Mavi García – a trio who would fight amongst themselves for the GC spoils the entire week.
With just 10 stages with which to make an impact, there is no hanging around in the women’s peloton – an impression must be made whenever the opportunity arises.
Veterans in form
Just prior to the beginning of the Giro Donne, Annemiek Van Vleuten announced her retirement. She would cease racing her bike at the end of the 2023 season, just before her 41st birthday.
It would be fair – albeit entirely incorrect – to assume that this heralded a tailing off in form for the decorated Dutch rider, especially given her mixed fortunes in the Spring Classics, but Van Vleuten knows a thing or two about timing her form, and she was once again imperious in Italy this season.
Van Vleuten struck a blow to her rivals the moment she had the opportunity, launching a furious attack on stage 4 to drop all but Marta Cavalli and Mavi García. She won the stage and took control of the maglia rosa – control which she did not relinquish from that moment on, despite a crash and some nail-biting moments on some of the long descents.
She wasn’t alone in representing the old guard at the race.
Marianne Vos is queen of stage wins at the Giro and she bagged numbers 31 and 32 to add to her already incredible palmarès and continue her amazing record at the race.
Thirty-eight-year-old Spanish national champion Mavi García took the fight to Van Vleuten on stage four, holding her wheel all the way to the line to prove that she’s in the form of her life and really giving Van Vleuten something to think about in the process.
While Vos and Van Vleuten boast almost 350 wins on the road between them, the future of women’s cycling was also well represented at the Giro Donne. Twenty-four-year-old Marta Cavalli of FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine-Futuroscope led the charge of the youth, continuing her strong season with second place on GC, as she rode her way into the race, positioning herself ideally for a tilt at the Tour de France Femmes.
SD Worx won the young rider classification through New Zealand’s Niamh Fisher Black. The 21-year-old climber was consistent throughout the race and achieved a seriously impressive 5th place in the overall classification on her way to winning the white jersey.
One of the standout riders of the latter stages was Gaia Realini, riding for the Italian continental team Isolmant-Premac-Vittoria. Realini had a breakout year in 2021, finishing 5th in the U23 category at the World Championship road race, and this is the second year running that she’s shown herself at the Giro Donne, putting in brilliant rides on stages 7 and 9 in particular as she climbed with the world’s best.
A World Tour contract awaits – the rider has reportedly signed a contract for the 2023 season, and on this evidence, she will fit right in.
A positive outlook
The Giro Donne has provided yet more evidence of the rapid improvements being made across women’s cycling, with greater strength in depth through many of the squads leading to more exciting racing and less predictable outcomes. While the likes of SD Worx and Trek Segafredo have long dominated, the establishment of new teams and the gradual improvement of others offers the prospect of mouth-watering contests in increasingly packed seasons.
FDJ’s rise to the fore during the Spring Classics was a prime example of this, and the performance of Team BikeExchange-Jayco’s Kristen Faulkner, who may have challenged for the win on GC if she had not suffered from dehydration early in the race, reflects some of the best success for the Australian team, who continue to build and improve. UAE Team ADQ are the newest team to make an impact at the top level, with Mavi García challenging throughout the week as she enjoys the best form of her career.
The future looks bright and it promises a truly thrilling spectacle at the Tour de France Femmes in a couple of weeks’ time, with the outcome anything but predictable.