Those who have been following the women’s version of the Giro d’Italia in its various iterations have been on some journey. While it is women’s cycling’s longest stage race and longest running ‘Grand Tour’, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the Italian event. Each year, the race organisers seem to fall short on their promises, be that surrounding live coverage, safety or the most basic of requirements such as suitable accommodation for competing riders.
Last year, after months of radio silence from the organisers, there were rumours of the Giro d’Italia Donne (as it was then named) being cancelled altogether, though it did eventually take place and was won in dominant fashion by Annemiek van Vleuten. To the relief of many, the race will be taken over by RCS Sport in 2024, the same organisation that runs the men’s Giro d’Italia, and it already appears as if the level of professionalism in the race has been raised with this change in management. Firstly, the route has already been announced (more than seven months before the race, rather than a few weeks as it was last year) and it looks to be bigger and bolder than ever. While it still remains to be seen how the event itself will unfold, now in its 35th year, the Giro d’Italia Women finally seems to be getting the attention it deserves.
The race’s headline stage will undoubtedly be the mythical Blockhaus climax on the final weekend. Blockhaus was last used in the men’s Giro in 2022 when Jai Hindley took the stage victory in a virtual photo finish with Romain Bardet and Richard Carapaz after a brutal day of racing. Blockhaus is known to be one of the hardest climbs in Italy and as challenging as anything in the Alps, often compared to Mont Ventoux due to its long distance and relentless gradients. Some even say Blockhaus is more difficult as the climb is constantly undulating, switching in and out of steep pitches that require constant gear changes and concentration.
Profile of stage seven of the Giro d'Italia Women (Image: RCS)
When the Giro d’Italia Women takes on the climb in a few month's time, it won’t just be Blockhaus that the peloton needs to contend with during the challenging stage. Before they reach the base of the revered mountain, they will race up the Passo Lanciano, which spans just over 15 kilometres and reaches an altitude of 1,310m, meaning the best climbers will likely be separated from the rest before they’ve even faced Blockhaus. The stage will finish after 20 kilometres of climbing up Blockhaus and, as the highest point in the race, will be home to the Cima Alfonsina Strada (named the Cima Coppi in the men’s Giro). It’s a day which the mountain goats of the peloton will be licking their lips at, and one that the sprinters will be praying to get through and make the time cut.
Blockhaus forms part of a heavy final weekend of the Giro d’Italia Women as the final stage of the race also is extremely mountainous. Similarly to ASO in the Tour de France Femmes, RCS has backloaded the Giro route with climbs, meaning that the general classification will be decided in the last two days in the hope that this will lead to exciting racing throughout the eight stages. In the past, when mountains have come early in the race, the winner of the maglia rosa has been decided in the first couple of stages, something that we won’t need to worry about in next year’s edition. The final stage will begin in Pescara, and the peloton will tackle the Forca di Penne and Castel del Monte climbs before a descent into L’Aquila, where it’s a short kick to the line. While it’s not as difficult as the Blockhaus stage that precedes it, the final stage of the Giro will still offer a chance for GC contenders to launch attacks and race for victory right until the very end.
Of course, this is a Grand Tour, so it’s not all about the mountains. RCS has also offered ample opportunities for the sprinters, time trialists and puncheurs in the women’s peloton in the opening six stages of the race, before the real climbs hit. The Grande Partenza will take place in Brescia with a 14.6km time trial – while this is still short, it’s longer than the usual prologues in the race and will still give a chance for the time trial specialists to shine. The route is largely flat with a rise to the finish line, so GC contenders will need to be vigilant that they don’t lose any time here.Annemiek van Vleuten on her way to winning the Giro Donne in 2023 (Image: Getty)
Stages two and three should suit the sprinters and puncheurs, though neither are completely straightforward for the fast women in the pack. Stage two sees some sharp inclines in the final 30 kilometres of the stage, so sprinters will need to hope that these don’t provide springboards for any opportunistic attacks. Similarly, stage three features a category two climb before the finish line, which spans 12km – it’s not quite hard enough to create big gaps on the general classification, but those who want to make a difference before Blockhaus hits later in the race will be looking for their chances to gain time here.
Given that RCS have opted to include far more of Italy in the 2024 Giro d’Italia Women route – the peloton will travel through Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Marche and Abruzzo – there are some transitional stages that need to be fit in on the way to the mountains. The first of these comes on stage four in Imola, where punchy riders in the peloton should flourish as they take on two category three climbs and a second category climb in the final 50 kilometres of the stage. With an uphill finale to finish, this could also be a day where some general classification riders get stuck in – this would be inline with how we’ve seen the Giro raced in the past on the women’s side.
Stage five is another rolling day, though it is a little tamer than the stage before, with only a couple of climbs that could suit either a breakaway or a bunch finish. It’s one of the final chances in the race for those who are not pure climbers to get a result, so we can expect a big battle to get in a breakaway on this day.
Profile of stage six of the Giro d'Italia Women, which is a punchy stage with barely any rest for the peloton (Image: RCS)
As the race reaches its final three days, the climbs come thick and fast, beginning on stage six, which, at 155km, is also the longest stage in the entire race. It’s a day where there is very little respite on offer for the riders, as the roads are constantly undulating with some second-category climbs, which have the potential to really put those who aren’t having a good day in difficulty. With the aforementioned tough two mountain days coming up to finish the race, it’s hard to know whether the general classification contenders will try any attacks here – some might want to save themselves for Blockhaus the following day. This means the breakaway may flourish unless some of the main contenders want to try something unexpected on their competitors.
Overall, the Giro d’Italia Women route is impressive. Finally, it seems as if the women’s peloton is being given the chance to race some of Italy’s toughest and most iconic climbs, and the race should also reach new audiences as it traverses a much wider area of the country. While the race is now two days shorter in length than previous years, the route still appears to be hard enough, with each stage having a clear place and purpose throughout the race. Fewer stages might also lead to braver and more attacking racing, given that riders won’t be as intimidated by the cumulative distance. If the route announcement is anything to go by, cycling fans are in for a treat when the Giro d’Italia Women eventually rolls around next July.
Cover image: Tornanti