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There is only one stage race on the Women’s WorldTour calendar that is longer than seven days* and that is the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile, or the Giro Rosa. There used to be two “Grand Tours” for women, but the other multi-day race, the Tour de l’Aude Cycliste Féminin in France, was cancelled in 2010 and never brought back.
Typically a 10-day race, this year’s Giro Rosa was cut short due to the coronavirus calendar shakeup. The rescheduled 2020 edition starts this Friday, September 11, and finishes on the 19th after nine stages.
(*Actually, this year there are only two Women’s WorldTour stage races in total, one of them being the Madrid Challenge which is only three days long.)
A brief history
One of the most prestigious races for the women, the Giro Rosa is almost universally loved by riders who have been fortunate enough to race it. Some riders, like legendary American climber Mara Abbott, spend their entire career chasing the pink leader’s jersey and build their season around this race. Until 2013 the race was referred to as the Giro Donne, but starting in 2014 the name changed to the more colorful Giro Rosa.
The race was first run in 1988. That year it was won by Italian Maria Canins, a two-time silver medalist in the world championships road race, and two-time Olympian. Although the race was not held in 1991 or 1992, when it came back, it started to grow in the hearts of the women’s peloton.
Various different nationalities have claimed victory at the Giro Rosa, but interestingly, the last 10 editions have only seen Dutch or American winners.
Mara Abbott, who is maybe most well known in cycling for her near miss at Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, was the first American to win the Giro Rosa. In fact, she won it twice, in 2010 and 2013. Megan Guarnier was the other American to take the title in 2016.
Other than those two, the race has only had a Dutch champion since 2011: three-time winner Marianne Vos, two-time winner Anna van der Breggen, and the most recent champion, Annemiek van Vleuten (two wins as well).
There are some less savory clouds around the Giro Rosa, notably the lack of proper coverage each day. As the race grew in popularity as well as in status on the calendar, the organization failed to keep up with demands of live television coverage and adequate on-the-ground reporting. Even this year, two days before the start of the race, it is unclear if there will be live pictures or if we will only see a highlights package after the race has concluded.
It’s a touchy subject. Sure, live coverage is expensive and can be hard to organize, but for one of the most highly anticipated races on the women’s calendar to lack live coverage is becoming a little inexcusable, particularly when other, smaller women’s races go out of their way to provide ways for fans to watch the action.
With the excitement of GP de Plouay, the European Championships, and La Course by the Tour de France fresh in our minds, it’s hard not to feel a little disappointment about potentially missing what will most definitely be an exciting race.
The Giro Rosa is typically known for having the hardest climbing of any women’s race, but this year’s 31st edition features smaller, punchier climbs. Not drastically smaller, but more like 5-10 km long rather than, say, last year’s almost-18 km-long Passo di Gavia near Bormio, or the 22 km Passo Stelvio.
As noted, this year’s edition will be one day shorter than planned — with the world championships scheduled for soon after the finish — but judging by the challenging stages on tap, one day less might not be so bad for the peloton.
Kicking off in Grosseto with a 16.8 km team time trial, the race then heads for the hills. Every single stage features some amount of climbing, and unfortunately we might only witness two days for the sprinters: stages five and maybe six. Already on stage two the riders will see more climbing than flat roads, and stages three, four, eight, and nine all end on a climb.
One of the most interesting stages is stage four which spans 170 km. This will be one of the longest days on the bike the women see all season long, and takes place smack bang in the middle of the Giro Rosa. Among the riders there are many different opinions about whether or not stages this long belong in women’s cycling.
Mitchelton-Scott’s Amanda Spratt seems sceptical of the stage, saying that it will potentially see very little action. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) had the opposite opinion. In a recent press conference about the Giro Rosa she said “Finally we are being taken seriously and they don’t think our uteruses will fall out if we ride long stages”.
It’s up in the air regarding how exciting this stage will be, however, the profile is not a flat one, and it has the potential to naturally blow the race apart without too much aggressive riding.
Follow the link for a detailed breakdown of every stage in the 2020 Giro Rosa. The race website has more info too.
Riders to watch
The name of the game is duos. Going into this race an interesting pattern among teams is that many have two strong cards to play, or two riders who are exciting to watch together. Here are some of them:
Annemiek van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott)
Not only is Van Vleuten the defending champion, she has also been on another level physically this season. The course may not suit her quite as well as last year’s — with fewer big mountains — but the Dutchwoman is still exceptional at smaller climbs.
Women’s cycling doesn’t have the same weird dynamic as men’s when star riders announce they are leaving teams, but it will still be interesting to observe how Mitchelton-Scott tackles the Giro. Amanda Spratt, who finished third on the general classification in 2018 and 2019, is a very capable rider and will be moving into a lead role at Mitchelton-Scott’s in 2021 as Van Vleuten leaves the team to join Movistar.
Will that affect how the team takes on the Giro this year? Probably not, but it’s still interesting to keep an eye on.
As with many of the races we’ve already seen this year, the Giro Rosa is Van Vleuten’s to lose. She’s coming into it after winning the last two editions, and while the course doesn’t quite suit her as well as she may have liked, she’ll still be hard to beat.
Lizzie Diegnan and Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo)
This duo is the friendship we never knew we needed. La Course was a breakthrough ride for these two, as a team. Yes, their legs were strong when Van Vleuten went and they both followed, but the real gamechanger was the teamwork between the two of them.
To viewers it seemed Longo Borghini could read Deignan’s mind in the final few kilometers. Both are definitely strong right now, but what could really make the difference is passion. Elisa Longo Borghini has been vocal about her love for her home country. Now she will be racing on home soil, and there is no doubt that it will elevate not only her but all her teammates.
The last time an Italian won the Giro Rosa was in 2008 with Fabiana Luperini. Unlike other races, the Giro Rosa has a jersey for the top Italian on the general classification. Longo Borghini has taken home this prize for the last six years. I’m sure she loves donning this jersey during the race, but no doubt she would be even happier swapping it for pink.
Leah Thomas and Lizzy Banks (Equipe Paule Ka)
This power duo was established last year, possibly even in 2018 as they were on UnitedHealthcare together. Anyone who follows these two on social media knows they are close friends off the bike, making their dynamics on the bike even stronger.
Thomas had a breakout ride at Strade Bianche (third), and Banks had a breakthrough ride at GP de Plouay (second) … not to mention that she won a stage of the Giro Rosa last year! The two of them get better and better every year, and with nine chances to get a result we will surely see them both up there on more than one occasion.
Marianne Vos and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (CCC- Liv)
Each time Marianne Vos races her bike this year it’s clear she is getting faster and faster. She was millimeters off the win at La Course and anyone who is hoping to win the World Championships in Imola after the Giro Rosa has one eye on Vos’ form.
Vos may not have won the Giro Rosa last year, but she came out of the race having thrown her arms in the air four times — more than anyone else. Those victories were followed immediately by an impressive win at La Course. Factor in Vos’ teammate Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, who finished second overall at the Giro Rosa in 2018 and fourth last year, and these two could make the race.
Where Moolman Pasio excels at climbing, Vos does at sprinting, with the added bonus that both are decent at each other’s strength. Moolman Pasio unfortunately hasn’t been able to race since she crashed in training the day before Strade Bianche, but if her form coming out of lockdown is any indication, having to ride the trainer instead of riding on the road for a few weeks will not have slowed her down at all.
Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans)
It’s about time Anna van der Breggen was able to wear the Dutch national champion’s jersey. Actually, it’s almost weird we’ve never seen her in this kit before. It will be impossible to miss her, and not just because of her fancy new jersey, but also because she will almost certainly be going off the front of the race.
Van der Breggen has been getting faster and faster all season. In the European Championships time trial she destroyed Ellen van Dijk, one of the strongest time trialists on the planet. She won the Giro Rosa in 2015 and 2017. The main difference this year is that the strength of her team has some question marks.
In years previous, Boels Dolmans has been the absolute strongest team in the peloton, but this year other teams have stepped it up and have been able to knock Boels-Dolmans off the top spot.
Other riders to watch
Some riders are coming straight from the Tour Cycliste Feminin International de l’Ardeche, a seven-day race in the Ardeche region of France. Among them is Mavi Garcia (Ale BTC Ljublana) who flew onto the world’s radar at Strade Bianche this year, and has continued to ride well since then.
Going into the Giro Rosa the newly crowned Spanish champ will be one of the few WorldTour riders who has actually raced a stage race since the coronavirus pause. Garcia won the first two stages of the Tour de l’Ardeche and ended up second in the general classification to Tibco’s Lauren Stephens.
Now, there are physical benefits to racing a multi-day stage race before hitting the longest race in the season, however, Ardeche ends too close to the start of the Giro. The opening stage is a team time trial, which should mean an easy start to the race for Garcia, but with only one full day off racing before she will need to be on form, it’s not fully clear what we can expect from her.
Still, she is a strong climber, and if she can pull off a strong ride it will say a lot about a woman’s ability to race a 21-day stage race (spoiler alert: they can).
The riders of Canyon-SRAM are coming into the Giro Rosa with a fire under them. The last race they won was stage three of the Boels Ladies Tour last year with Lisa Klein. In the opening team time trial of last year’s Giro Rosa the team was victorious, which led to Kasia Niewiadoma wearing the pink leader’s jersey until Annemiek van Vleuten took it on the Torri di Fraele on stage five.
The team roster includes some strong riders: Omer Shapira, the strong Israeli climber; Niewiadoma herself who clearly is keen for a win after the way she rode La Course; and of course Italian Elena Cecchini who is one of the most consistent riders in the peloton. Niewiadoma will be one of the riders loving this new Giro Rosa format of shorter climbs. If the descents are technical, she could end the drought for Canyon-SRAM with a stage win.
Finally, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) is another rider who is worth watching. She was clearly on form at the European Championships but was held up in one of the crashes right when the winning move went. Her aggressive style will be enhanced by the nature of the course.
Uttrup Ludwig recently said in a press conference that she has targeted the pointy end of the race, because she’s also hoping to come good at the World Championships.
And finally …
In a perfect world we would be tuning in to watch all the action from this year’s Giro Rosa. For fans of short climbs and aggressive riding, this will be one of the most exciting editions of the race. Keep an eye on SBS, FloBikes and other outlets for post-race highlights packages, and maybe even some live coverage of the stages.
Be sure to stay posted to CyclingTips, too, for daily coverage from the 2020 Giro Rosa.