Giro Donne: Mountain top finishes aren’t what they used to be

And it's great for women's cycling.

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With 3 km to go a solo Juliette Labous led the Giro Donne by two and a half minutes. Behind, a group of around thirteen riders led by Movistar chased with a steady tempo. An attack by race leader Annemiek van Vleuten split the remaining group apart, but the Dutchwoman decked out in pink, wasn’t able to drop her two main rivals, Mavi García and Marta Cavalli. As the climb progressed, riders fought back onto the wheels of the three only to get dropped again when they started attacking each other.

In previous years, a nearly 9 km climb would spell the end of the general classification. As early as 2020 the queen stage of the Giro Donne would go to either Van Vleuten or Anna van der Breggen. Just last year Van Vleuten rode the final 3 km of the Queen stage of the Tour of Norway solo. The long climbs of the Giro Donne happened once in a season, in fact, stage races, in general, were scarce on the calendar.

Since it’s not every week a stage race features a true mountain top finish the women’s peloton has always had very few “pure climbers”. Why focus on such a specific strength when you only get to show off all that hard work once or twice a year? But as the UCI adds more multi-day races to the WorldTour calendar climbers have found their skill in high demand.

Pure climbers are still few and far between, and even Van Vleuten shouldn’t be put into that box, but what would have been a stage with Van Vleuten’s name all over it went to Labous, the only rider left from a 14-person breakaway. Van Vleuten only separated herself from a group of five in the final 500 meters.

Sure, looking at the general classification after the Queen stage of the Giro Donne it would seem Van Vleuten has this one in the bag. Ahead of the seventh stage the Dutch rider has a comfortable 31-second lead over García in second and a minute and 10 seconds over Cavalli in third. But it’s clear that those gaps are getting smaller over the years. Next year, Van Vleuten’s last in the professional peloton, there will be even more riders lining up to challenge the former world champion.

The Giro Donne doesn’t even have all the best riders in attendance. With only two weeks between the Giro Donne and the highly anticipated Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift a few general classification favorites opted to skip the Italian 10-day race. The battle in France will be the biggest of the 2022 season, with the yellow jersey potentially changing hands every day along the way.

At the Women’s Tour in June the “mountain top” finish ended in a reduced bunch sprint, won by Elisa Longo Borghini. On the sixth stage of the Giro Donne, Van Vleuten did not gain multiple minutes on her rivals. The peloton is evolving.

It’s too early to say women’s cycling is edging toward specialization, but the increase in opportunities for riders with specific talents has definitely encouraged riders to become less ‘all-arounders’. The battle for yellow in France at the end of July will be one for the history books.

Next, maybe we will see more riders challenging Lorena Wiebes in sprints.

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