The 2023 Giro d’Italia Donne has come to a close with Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) securing her career fourth overall victory, pulling on the maglia rosa on Sunday for the last time before retirement at the end of the season.
Many questioned if this event would even happen this year after the issues between the current organisers PMG Sport/Starlight, the Italian Cycling Federation and RCS Sport over the contractual rights to manage the event.
Although it started on shaky ground, in the end, the viewers were able to watch a live broadcast of an action-packed, nine-stage Giro d’Italia Donne.
That rocky start was on the first stage, which was cancelled due to heavy rain and lightning. Also, past stage winners Italian Champion Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek) and Antonia Niedermaier (Canyon-SRAM), both crashed and abandoned the race.
Van Vleuten’s stronghold on the general classification proved she is in top form, even if not all of the top contenders were present including Demi Vollering (SD Worx). Many riders consider this event to be the kickoff to one of the most important blocks to a season that will now take the peloton toward the Tour de France Femmes and the World Championships.
Cyclingnews highlights five conclusions of the 2023 Giro d’Italia Donne.
Annemiek van Vleuten primed for yellow defence
Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) put on a dominant performance winning three stages and leading the race from start to finish at the 2023 Giro d’Italia Donne.
The reigning World Champion may have had a slower-than-usual start to the season, without a victory until she won the overall title at La Vuelta Femenina, but she has shown that she is back on track.
She spent some time training at altitude in Livigno ahead of this Giro, where she said she was able to train and recharge her batteries for this important block of racing that includes the Giro Donne, Tour de France Femmes and the Glasgow World Championships.
Van Vleuten, who is known for her precise training and preparations ahead of big targets, proved to be exactly where she needs to be if she wants to defend her overall title at the Tour de France Femmes, held from July 23-30.
Importantly, Van Vleuten is in her final year of racing and the Giro Donne has played a crucial role in her career progression as one of the best stage racers, time triallists and Classics contenders in the world.
Across 13 of racing at the Giro Donne, she said the most memorable moment was her first participation in 2010, where she was racing with the Dutch national team. She said racing up the Stelvio that year was what opened her eyes to the Giro Donne and to training in Italy.
She has gone on to win four overall titles, claiming her first in 2018, then again in 2019, 2022 and again on Sunday.
“Winning the GC is always super special because you need to do it with a team. I did win it with different teams, this is the second one with Movistar, and I am super proud of my team to finish it off. It’s always stressful, but you have the team around you, that makes it special,” said Van Vleuten.
“[My next goal] is the Tour de France, I will stay in Italy and go back to Livigno, after some celebrations with the team, of course, to prepare for the Tour de France and re-charge the batteries.”
Future of the Giro Donne looks bright
This year’s 34th edition of the Giro Donne will be the last managed by PMG Sport/Starlight, a group that took over the women’s stage race in 2021 and 2022 from long-time organiser Giuseppe Rivolta.
The event has often struggled financially, sometimes affecting the aspects of the overall organisation over the years. For example, the UCI downgraded it to the ProSeries in 2021 because the previous organisers did not offer live broadcasting of the race in 2020, which is a requirement to be a part of the Women’s WorldTour, along with other organisational problems.
The race received criticism this year due to a lack of information in the days leading up to the nine-day race and limited knowledge of the route, start list and live broadcasting.
In the end, though it was only nine stages this year, the race went off seemingly without a hitch. Through no fault of the organisation, the stage 1 time trial had to be cancelled due to extreme weather, and everyone agreed that was a good decision.
The race also provided better-than-usual live broadcasting, which at times, showed the remaining 50km to 60km of each stage.
The event remains one of the most historic races on the women’s calendar and the only race available that traditionally offers 10 days of racing along with iconic mountain passes such as the Stelvio, Zoncolan, Gavia, and Mortirolo.
Next year’s edition sees RCS Sport take over organisation of Giro d’Italia Donne through 2027. Many agree that having the support of an operation as successful as RCS Sport will have a positive impact on the level of the Giro d’Italia Donne next season.
Wiebes still in a league of her own in sprints
The Giro Donne presented few opportunities for the pure sprinters, with just one truly flat stage coming on the third day of the race, duly won by Lorena Wiebes. On that stage, Wiebes proved yet again that she is the fastest woman in the peloton, winning by a comfortable margin ahead of Marianne Vos.
Of course, the European Champion’s main rival – and former lead-out woman – Charlotte Kool was not present for a head-to-head duel with Wiebes. Kool is the only rider to have beaten Wiebes in a sprint this season and the pair are in a league of their own when it comes to speed.
Wiebes also showed that flat finishes aren’t the only terrain on which she is capable of winning. The 24-year-old launched an impressive turn of speed on the uphill finish into Canelli on stage 6 to take second behind Van Vleuten, who had crossed the line solo 20 seconds prior.
With one eye on the Tour de France Femmes, however, Wiebes chose to exit the race after that stage, leaving the remaining two sprint stages open. As the rest of the race travelled to Sardinia with the GC all but decided the peloton faced two rolling stages that looked destined to end in a sprint.
All eyes were on the punchier riders who, speed-wise, sit just below the tier of Wiebes and Kool. The favourites seemed evenly matched, with newly-crowned US national champion Chloé Dygert, Marianne Vos, and UAE Team ADQ’s Chiara Consonni most highly tipped for victory. Elsewhere, AG Insurance NXTG’s Ally Wollaston and Team dsm-firmenich’s Megan Jastrab looked like strong contenders.
However, it was Wiebes’ teammate, Blanka Vas, who took the penultimate stage from a bunch sprint ahead of Dygert who was still nursing an injury sustained on stage one.
Realini continues to be a revelation
Gaia Realini has been the rider revelation of 2023 so far. The 22-year-old Italian burst onto the scene at the UAE Tour Women in February as she tore the field apart alongside teammate Elisa Longo Borghini up the Jabel Hafeet climb.
Since then, Realini has continued to impress both in her role for her Lidl-Trek teammates and individually. The tiny climber was the only rider able to live with the pace of Annemiek van Vleuten on stage 6 of the Vuelta Femenina before outsprinting the World Champion to take the win on the stage, eventually climbing to third overall.
Realini’s last race before the Giro Donne was the Italian national championships where she sacrificed her own chances to work for Longo Borghini, who eventually won the title. It was a theme that would continue into the Giro as Realini worked hard for the GC efforts of the newly-crowned national champion.
Once Longo Borghini crashed out of GC contention and left the race, however, Realini unflinchingly picked up the GC mantle for her team and cemented herself as one of the peloton’s biggest climbing talents. She finished third on the mountainous stage 7 behind Juliette Labous and ahead of Liane Lippert and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. Realini’s ride that day saw her move up to third overall, her second GC podium in a Grand Tour this year.
It is unclear yet whether Realini will race the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, however with the Col du Tourmalet looming large over the race the pure climber could be in for yet another strong GC ride if she does.
Vos misses out
Marianne Vos came into the Giro Donne searching for a historic 33rd stage victory at the race. The Jumbo-Visma rider has won at least one stage of every edition of the race she has started throughout her career, however, this time she came away empty handed.
Her best chances at a 33rd victory came in the final two days of the race, however, the 36-year-old was left disappointed after taking 10th on stage 8, and narrowly missing out on stage 9 behind Chiara Consonni.
“In the last corner, I briefly rode into the wind and had to drop back a bit. As a result, I had to come from too far back,” Vos said. “I’m a little disappointed. On the other hand, it is part of the sprint because sometimes you have to take risks. We have had an excellent Giro as a team, although we would have liked another victory.”
Although she may have missed out on the chance to further her Giro stage win tally this season, Vos, who is contracted to ride for Jumbo-Visma until 2025, will have plenty of opportunities in the coming years.
Even without adding to her Giro wins, Vos has already won two stages of La Vuelta Femenina this season despite having started the season having to undergo surgery for iliac artery endofibrosis.
The multi-disciplinary rider also claimed two stages of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in 2022 and, with some punchy stages that suit her featuring in this year’s Tour, will undoubtedly be looking to add to her Grand Tour stage win tally as she races her third of the season in a few week’s time.