The 33rd edition of the Giro d’Italia Donne saw Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) return to the top step of the overall podium for a third time, while Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) bumped her stage win tally up to 32, but the longest race on the women’s calendar was far more than a triumph for the doyens of the peloton. A new group of contenders also rose to the challenge.
The positioning of the established Italian Grand Tour just weeks ahead of the much-lauded return of the Tour de France Femmes meant some of the usual suspects were turning their attention toward yellow, giving more freedom for a new generation of riders to chase stage victories and pink in Italy.
That opened the way for the likes of 24-year-old Marta Cavalli, who led FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope with a stunning show of just how capable she truly is, not only as a climber but also with her ability to wear the pressure of a leading role.
For Cavalli and also Niamh Fisher-Black, who finished fifth as she got the chance to lead the charge for SD Worx, it was a chance to step up at a race where they had already clearly showed promise. For Neve Bradbury (Canyon-SRAM), meanwhile, it was a first opportunity at the race – and one she took full advantage of.
This interplay of established and upcoming riders, plus all those in between, delivered 10 stages of exciting racing, which we got to watch unfold live this year. It also revealed plenty, from the form of the riders for the next crucial big race ahead – which starts in Paris in less than two weeks – to those who we will likely be watching for many years to come.
Here are Cyclingnews’ eight conclusions from the 2022 Giro d’Italia Donne.
Van Vleuten: formidable but fallible
Annemiek van Vleuten came into this Giro d’Italia Donne as the outright favourite, and she did not disappoint, winning the overall title for the third time in her career after back-to-back victories in 2018 and 2019.
She hadn’t raced since her win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and suffered a broken wrist while training in April. However, her tried-and-true altitude training camps put the finishing touches on her form ahead of the Giro d’Italia Donne and the Tour de France Femmes, with the rider now halfway to her goal of winning both titles.
The Giro’s fourth stage wasn’t meant to be a GC decider, but a couple of tricky descents prompted her to attack early so she could safely negotiate them at her own pace. She took the magila rosa and never looked back, extending her lead on stage 7 and winning stage 8, wrapping up the title by 1:52 ahead of Cavalli and 5:56 ahead of Mavi Garcia (UAE Team ADQ).
While impressive, her performance was not as dominant as in previous Giro victories, where she won by 4:12 and 3:45 ahead of her nearest competitors. Route difference would have played a factor in those gaps, but she was also racing for a different team after switching from Mitchelton-Scott to Movistar in 2021.
Van Vleuten admitted at the start of the race that chasing the maglia rosa would be an entirely new experience for her Movistar squad. In some ways, the team were not as experienced as Mitchelton and needed time to learn how best to work together to accomplish their GC ambitions.
Van Vleuten also showed that she was not invincible. At times, she didn’t shake Cavalli and Garcia from her wheel on some of the ascents. She also narrowly missed a crash on stage 6, only to come off on a descent on stage 8 while riding solo to victory.
All-in-all, we get the feeling that Van Vleuten is near her very best form, but it was her first race back since April. She might still have even more to give by the time we reach the Tour de France Femmes. (KF)
It’s hard not to gush a little when talking of the performance of the Italian from FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope. There was no doubt Marta Cavalli entered the race with the form and track record to justify a place among the favourites, but the way the rider and the team stepped up to the challenge was something to behold.
Cavalli went from strength to strength, alert to the importance of the move on stage 4 and fighting not to lose too much time when dropped by Van Vleuten and García. She then trumped Garcia on stage 8 to move up to second and stage 9 showed her determination not to concede that the chase for the maglia rosa was over until she absolutely had to.
Her fighting spirit was impressive as not only did she look like the only rider who could come close to matching Van Vleuten, but she was also prepared to back herself and pour the pressure on – attacking and pulling out all stops on the descents during the final mountain stage to at least gain a little time on the GC leader, even if it was not enough to create an upset.
It was an assured performance throughout the race from FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope, who have probably given their Tour de France Femmes rivals much to contemplate. The team have not only shown what formidable support riders they have but also reinforced the strength they have at the top end with Grace Brown and Ceciile Uttrup Ludwig, who was in a support role at the Giro Donne but still finished sixth – clearly having a formidable ally in Cavalli.
The 24-year-old may be slight but clearly has wide enough shoulders to take the pressure of carrying the hopes of her team and also of a nation who will now have even more reason to believe that Cavalli could be the rider that breaks the recent drought and provides an Italian winner for the Italian Grand Tour. (SG)
Live TV a welcome step
For years, the Giro Donne has been the biggest stage race on the calendar and the toughest for the fans to follow and the media to cover. The cycling world again held its breath, waiting to see if the organisers would come through on such promises as a live television broadcast. To everyone’s pleasant surprise, they did.
A rebranding of the race through the takeover of PMG Sport and Starlight has turned the race around in just two years, starting with a better organisational structure, marketing and live broadcasting.
The stages were not shown from start to finish. However, the broadcast offered more kilometres of coverage than ever before, showing much of the final 40km, or beyond, of each stage on Eurosport and Discovery+.
It was a welcome step up for this race that has seen an increase in sponsorship dollars in just one year, and the live coverage improvements will go a long way in bringing more visibility to the race. (KF)
A breakthrough for Bradbury
Neve Bradbury, who worked her way onto Canyon-SRAM in 2021 via the Zwift Academy, had never before raced the Giro d’Italia Donne and, at the start of the season, it wasn’t in her race plan. But that didn’t stop it from being a goal that the 20-year-old Australian determinedly worked toward. Having secured that start, she certainly made the most of it.
“The Giro went really well for me,” said Bradbury. “My performance exceeded my initial goals, which were to get through the tour and help my teammates as much as possible.”
Up until stage 9, Elise Chabbey was the leading GC rider for Canyon-SRAM, with last year’s top-10 finisher looking the best prospect for the squad in her fourth Giro d’Italia Donne. It turns out, though, the was this year the untested support rider Bradbury would rise to the occasion.
A ninth place on stage 8 saw her move up to 11th on GC, just one spot behind Chabbey overall and then her 13th place on the final day in the mountains was anything but a bad omen. Another solid result on the climbs shifted her up another spot on the GC and showed that not only does she have the ability to get through a 10-day tour, but perform well through to the very end.
Bradbury rode over the Padova finish line at the end of her first Giro d’Italia Donne 10th overall, with second in the youth classification and a performance that will surely mark her out as as not just a shoo-in for next year’s squad, but also as one on the key riders to watch in the years ahead. (SG)
Marianne Vos: 32 and still counting
The world watched as Marianne Vos secured a remarkable 31 and 32 career stage wins at the Giro d’Italia, before an early departure to focus on the Tour de France Femmes.
Vos took her 31st win on stage 3, following a fight to the line with Charlotte Kool (Team DSM) and World Champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo). It was her first road victory of the season and undoubtedly a welcome step forward in her lengthy recovery from COVID-19, which forced he to sit out of Paris-Roubaix Femmes.
She went on to win stage 6 – her 32nd career stage win at the Giro – from a small front group ahead of Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) and Silvia Persico (Valcar Travel & System).
Vos is now in her 17th season in the elite ranks and still racing at the top of her game. She has also won three overall titles at the Giro d’Italia Donne – 2011, 2012 and 2014 – and holds the record for stage victories now at 32.
Her ability to sprint, climb, break away and time trial over the years makes her one of the most captivating riders of all time, and when it comes to the Giro d’Italia Donne she really has done it all.
Like many riders who competed at the Giro, Vos will head next to the Tour de France Femmes, where she will target stage wins on the eight-day race from July 24-31. (KF)
Well-placed faith in Faulkner
When BikeExchange-Jayco signed Kristen Faulkner to the team for this season and next, the high hopes they had for the rider from the United States were clear, with the team welcoming her to the squad with the acknowledgement that, despite her recent arrival in the top ranks of the sport, she’d be stepping into a leadership role. Injuries meant she may not have had the opportunity to grasp that in the early part of the season, but the 29-year-old is quickly making up for lost ground.
The former venture capitalist took second overall at the Tour de Suisse, with a stage win in the time trial, and then roared straight into the Giro d’Italia Donne with victory in the prologue. That gave the team the perfect start to the 10-stage tour, with second-placed Georgia Baker standing on the podium alongside Faulkner as she claimed the first maglia rosa of the Giro d’Italia Donne.
Faulkner may have had an off-moment on stage 4, when she plummeted down the overall standings after dehydrating and fading in the heat while on the attack out the front. Still, even as she came back from the front it was to give her last resources to work for a resurgent Amanda Spratt, who looked ready to make a mark on her way back from artery surgery until caught by COVID-19. Most impressively, though, was how Faulkner bounced bounced and carried the hopes of the team once Spratt and Baker had to depart. Two days on the attack on stages 8 and stage 9 led to another stage win, victory in the mountains classification and a climb back up to 11th place overall.
There is every chance that, as the power of Faulkner is refined, and as Spratt continues to regain her form, BikeExchange-Jayco could once again have a formidable duo to fight for the GC in Italy in the years to come and perhaps even a duo that could leave them in possession of pink at the other end of the Grand Tour next time. (SG)
Date change could improve visibility
July now marks a busy racing schedule for the women’s peloton with the longstanding Giro d’Italia Donne and the newly returned Tour de France Femmes positioned back-to-back in July. Many have speculated a possible date change for the Giro to align with the RCS-organised men’s Giro d’Italia in May, leaving the Tour de France Femmes in July alongside the men’s Tour de France.
PMG Sport and Starlight have said it’s not a priority, but they are considering a date change with the UCI to find the best date on the women’s calendar for the Giro Donne. Organisers have already confirmed the intent for the 2023 Giro Donne will begin in Rome. The UCI calendar’s current date for next year’s race is June 30 to July 9. However, organisers have indicated that they will re-evaluate this so that the race does not overlap with the men’s Tour de France.
While visiting the Tour de France Grand Dèpart in Denmark, UCI President David Lappartient confirmed in a press interview that the sports governing body is working with the Giro d’Italia Donne on this.
“We are also working with the Giro d’Italia Donne to think about another date for 2023. Also, for the visibility of the ladies to have this race during the Tour de France, it’s quite difficult to be seen, and the Giro d’Italia Donne is also a wonderful race,” Lappartient said.
“So, we are working on different options for 2023 first but maybe on a long-term strategy, with no overlapping in the women’s calendar, but also to avoid some big clashes like this [with the Tour de France]. The date in July will probably not be the one in the future for the Giro Donne.” (KF)
A podium without SD Worx, but youth gets a chance
After last year’s podium sweep, and with the team’s long history of top results in the race, a GC podium without at least one SD Worx rider on it felt like an impossibility, but that’s just what we saw in 2022. In fact, the Dutch squad were also largely absent from the stage podiums too, with their best result being Lotte Kopecky coming second to Vos on stage 5. The team’s best performer overall was Niamh Fisher-Black in fifth.
However, that was hardly a disappointing result – more a sign of the shifting sands of the Women’s WorldTour calendar. When the now-retired Anna van der Breggen took the maglia rosa for a fourth time in 2021 – with teammates Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and Demi Vollering standing alongside her – if you wanted to win a long stage race, the Giro d’Italia Donne was your one and only choice. Not so anymore, with the Tour de France Femmes coming up, and that’s where the team will be lining up with their top contenders this year.
That, too, is not necessarily a bad thing as a benefit was the opportunity to develop talent and youth at the Giro d’Italia Donne. The 21-year-old from New Zealand, Fisher-Black, got the chance to step up and find out what it felt like to be the team’s leading overall contender, targeting the youth classification, which she comfortably secured for a second year running. In doing so she also shifted four rungs higher up the GC than last year, a leap which all of a sudden makes it crystal clear that SD Worx have yet another serious podium contender on their hands. (SG)