What we learned from the Giro Donne

What can we take with us from the Giro Donne to the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift? A lot.

Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.

Jump To Comments

We are mere weeks away from the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, a race that is just another race but at the same time is so much more. Every rider who grew up watching men’s cycling, especially that little three-week race in July, will dream of wearing yellow at some point during the eight-stage race at the end of the month. With the Giro Donne freshly wrapped up, there are some key takeaways from Italy that teams and riders will keep in mind as they prepare to roll out of Paris on July 24th.

Van Vleuten is the one to beat

Annemiek van Vleuten is on fire. At first, it looked like the Dutchwoman wasn’t going to run away with the pink jersey, as she has done in the past, but hope for a real general classification battle ended in flames by the eighth stage. With the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift ending on La Super Planche des Belles Filles, Van Vleuten will roll down the Champs-Élyées on stage 1 the number-one favourite for overall victory. Especially after taking pink at the Giro Donne.

Sure, there are a few GC favourites who didn’t race the Giro Donne, and the course is very different from the 10 days in Italy, but with the final showdown taking place on the 7 km long steep climb, those hoping to beat the Dutchwoman will have to do so in the seven stages before the finale.

The Giro-Tour double

Two women’s WorldTour stage races of this scale have never taken place back to back before, so when top riders made their schedules for the year some opted to skip the Giro Donne in favour of peaking for the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. Some, like Van Vleuten, didn’t see the back-to-back tours as a problem.

There are two weeks between the Giro and Tour, so there is ample time to recover from the efforts in Italy. What will make it a little more challenging for those doing both is that the Giro’s harder stages were all loaded towards the back end of the race when fatigue was already at its highest. Look to the seasoned professionals to really shine at both events or the riders who know how to slow down and ‘rest’ their legs. The sort of rider who tends to get too keen on training, wanting to go hard all the time, will suffer by the middle of the Tour.

It is impossible to really know how much effect the Giro Donne will have on those also targeting the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift until we are into the thick of racing in France but even though the WorldTour has never had this kind of packed calendar before there have always been lower-level stage races that back up the big races. In 2020 Mavi García secured second overall at the seven day Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardéche and then turned around and started the Giro Rosa two days later where she came ninth overall.

Strength in numbers

One of the major takeaways from the 2022 season so far is that teams don’t have the numbers for the newly packed WorldTour calendar. So when it came to the Giro and Tour teams went about the racing a few different ways. Movistar, for example, will have pretty much the same team at both. Van Vleuten said a few times, both before and during the Giro, that the Spanish team had never targeted the general classification at a major tour before so the Giro would be a good gauge to see if anything needed adjusting before they took on France.

On the other hand, SD Worx brought their “B-Team” (if you can call any riders on the top women’s team in the world B grade). They left a lot of their top riders at home, like Demi Vollering, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, Marlen Reusser, and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio. It was a real shame not to see Moolman Pasio contending for the pink jersey this year. The South African has been up there on the general classification before and would have made a great companion to Niamh Fisher-Black who finished fifth overall and won the best young rider competition for the second year in a row. Although unlike Movistar the Dutch team has raced for GC many, many times, so they, in theory, don’t need extra practice. Even so, after dominating the 2021 Giro Donne SD Worx walked away with only Fisher-Black’s jersey and Lotte Kopecky’s second on stage 6.

Many teams couldn’t afford to bring a whole team of different riders to both races. Trek-Segafredo will fly in some fresh legs for the Tour but will definitely have some overlap. Canyon-SRAM will swap out one or two.

FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, who came into the season with a four-leader team, started the Giro with three of four. The fourth, Grace Brown, will no doubt be racing in France. But as a hometown team with a vested interest in winning the yellow jersey, they will really have to do some thinking about how they approach the race. Marta Cavalli was their leader at the Giro and secured second overall, while Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig has expressed interest in racing for herself in France. But does she have the form? Then there is their young talent Évita Muzic.

The French team’s multi-leader approach worked at the Giro since Cavalli was head and shoulders above the rest and it wasn’t as big a deal for the team, but the same will not be true at the Tour.

An Italian will win the Giro in the coming years

I wrote about this in depth in another piece but it is worth a line here.

The Italians were on fine form at the Giro. Between Marta Cavalli, Elisa Longo Borghini, and some young up-and-comers, an Italian will win the pink jersey for the first time since 2008 within the next couple of years. Maybe even next year if Cavalli keeps progressing as she has been.

Women’s racing takes on men’s tactics

The sport is growing rapidly, with more riders paid livable wages and able to dedicate themselves fully to racing the peloton is getting faster, and the talent is spread wider. So when it comes to tactics, the women’s racing will stop being a fight between five top riders and start being everyone’s game. While in years previously the break may have succeeded on flatter stages, it did not happen this year.

What we saw was the standard formula from men’s racing: breakaway goes, sprinter’s teams’ chase, the break is caught, and the race begins in the final kilometres. This comes down mostly to Trek-Segafredo who had Elisa Balsamo. The American team would have known that if they delivered their world champion to the line she could deliver them a win, and she did so twice. But other teams helped in the chase as well. Mainly Team DSM and Team BikeExchange-Jayco.

Team DSM was working for Charlotte Kool, who normally takes on the job of last lead-out woman for Lorena Wiebes. Kool got to step it up in Italy, and even though she didn’t walk away with a stage win she was very close with a third and two second-place finishes.

Two stages went to the breakaway, kind of. The mountain top finish on stage 7 was won by Juliette Labous while the ninth “Queen Stage” was won by Kristen Faulkner, her second attempt at a surprise victory.

As the sport continues to progress and teams are able to provide resources for more riders it’s possible the scrappy women’s racing of the past will be just that. Some people will miss it, but I would argue it is not a bad thing. Women’s racing will continue to be unpredictable, and the passion and fight that drive women to race their bikes aren’t going anywhere.

More days of racing = more opportunities

During the Spring Classics, a lot of the same names graced the leader’s board. SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo end the Classics with the most victories, and a win from someone like Marta Cavalli becomes the highlight of the season because of the novelty. Until this year when it came to stage races a lot of the same women won. Van Vleuten and Van der Breggen more than most. But with more stage races on the calendar more women are winning races.

Not only did Team BikeExchange-Jayco win two stages, but Team DSM’s Labous also took a huge win on the Passo del Maniva and Chiara Consonni sprinted to victory on the final stage for Valcar-Travel & Service.

The Australian team in particular had a very disappointing spring campaign with the loss of Grace Brown who moved to FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope in the offseason. They have a few new signings that show promise but struggled to put together any results. Now into the stage race season Kristen Faulkner is proving a valuable asset to the team, and Amanda Spratt was looking really good before testing positive for COVID-19 ahead of stage 9.

The more opportunities teams have to perfect the way they ride together and the more races the women start the more we will see new faces win. A lot of the exciting up-and-coming riders need race starts to fail, learn, and come back for more. If they only have 30 race days a year it’s hard to continue growing as a rider. Although, it’s important to walk that tightrope and not get burnt out at the same time.

A lack of in-between stages

The parcours for this year’s Giro Donne was exponentially better than last year. Last year, a mountainous stage on day two followed by an uphill time trial on stage four ended the general classification battle before the race even started. After stage two Van der Breggen was leading her teammate Moolman Pasio by a minute and 22 seconds, with their other teammate Vollering in third. It was the SD Worx show. This year the GC battle didn’t begin until the fourth stage and wasn’t decided until the eighth. It’s true Van Vleuten took the jersey after the fourth stage but the time gaps were still within dreaming distance for a few days afterwards.

In general, the courses were well made with a few sprint stages and a few high mountain days. What was missing were “in-between” stages. Stages that are kind of hilly and provide a great day for a breakaway to succeed. Those days that are not exactly GC days but too hard for sprinters. Per my above point, there were some days not won by Trek-Segafredo, Van Vleuten and Vos, the usual suspects, but there were precious few days for the non-WorldTeams. There were zero.

Top Girls Fassa Bortolo sent riders up the road every single day and never walked away with a result. For these small Italian teams, the Giro should be an opportunity to take something back to the sponsors, and those in-between stages provide that chance.

This also comes down to the growing gap between WorldTour and non-WorldTour teams — but I’m not going to get into that today.

Finally, the Giro delivers suitable live coverage

The point cannot be made too many times. Live coverage is incredibly important to women’s racing and for the first time, the Giro Donne provided suitable live coverage of all ten stages. We may have missed some key moments, like Van Vleuten’s stage 4 attack that set the GC stage for the race, but we saw a lot. Hey, we have now seen two of Vos’s 32 Giro stage wins! Let’s hope the coverage continues to get better and better.

Editors' Picks