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Race preview: Giro d’Italia Donne bigger and better than ever as it returns to WorldTour

Some big names are skipping the race to focus on the Tour de France Femmes, but there's still a star-studded line up with Annemiek van Vleuten and Elisa Longo Borghini set to headline.

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After being demoted from the WorldTour for 2021, the Giro d’Italia Donne is back at the highest level this summer and it has a race to back that up.

While it is now no longer the only grand tour on the women’s calendar, thanks to the inclusion of the Tour de France Femmes, it remains one of the oldest events for the women’s peloton and is the longest race of the season.

The return to the WorldTour comes with a big increase in investment that was very much needed. Off the back of about 30-45 minutes of live coverage for the first time last year, which didn’t always work, the organizers have promised two hours of live television pictures.

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There’s also a lot more prize money on tap for this year with a total prize pot of €250,000, a massive five times more than was on offer last year. It means that the winner will get €50,000 to share with the rest of her team.

In a world where much more is being expected of women’s race organizers, the Giro d’Italia Donne needed to step its game up and this year’s event should be a massive progression.

The contenders

While some big names have decided to skip the Giro d’Italia Donne to save themselves for the Tour de France Femmes, there’s still a list of big-hitters that are due to line up in Sardinia later this week.

Two-time former champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) is the major favorite for the overall title. Van Vleuten missed last year’s Giro as she looked to avoid any possible hiccups ahead of the Olympic Games, but this season she has set herself the tricky task of winning both the Giro and the Tour.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) has said she plans to target stage wins at the Giro as she saves her best form for the Tour, but with the form she has at the moment, we can still expect a strong performance from her in her home race. If she avoids any major issues, a podium finish is definitely within her reach and she’s unlikely to throw it away if she’s going strong.

Trek-Segafredo can also look to Lucinda Brand for a strong GC performance after the Dutchwoman took overall victory at the Tour de Suisse. She’s not as quick up the big climbs as the likes of Longo Borghini and Van Vleuten, but after her ride in Switzerland, it would be remiss not to mention her.

There’s more home hope for victory with Marta Cavalli set to lead FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope’s ambitions at the Italian race. Cavalli has had a breakthrough season in 2022 and, in spite of crashing out of the Vuelta a Burgos at the end of May, she looks in top form coming into the Giro after destroying the rest of the pack at the inaugural Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge.

Outside of the GC battle, there’s a strong line-up of potential stage hunters coming to Italy. Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) will return to racing after a spring interrupted by COVID-19 as she looks to add to her already impressive 30 stage victories at the Giro.

Elisa Balsamo is making her grand tour debut for Trek-Segafredo at the race, and she will be tough to beat in the sprint stages. Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) and Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ) will be doing their best to frustrate her, though.

The route

This year’s Giro d’Italia Donne will feature a rare rest day as the race begins on the island of Sardinia. In total, three days will be spent on Sardinia before the race heads to the Italian mainland.

Beginning on June 30, the race will kick off with a pan-flat individual time trial in Cagliari. At 4.75 kilometers, it won’t create big gaps, but it’ll be enough to give us the first maglia rosa and a small opportunity to see how the big contenders are going.

Day 2 will see the peloton ride 106.5 kilometers from Villasmius to Tortoli, taking in a few small rises on along the way. There is just one classified climb on this slightly undulating day the 1.5k Castiadas, which comes just six kilometers into the day and averages 5.2 percent with a maximum gradient of 9.2 percent. It may help a breakaway get away but it’s probably too early into the stage to be overly defining.

The final stage on Sardinia will, as it did on day two, take the riders along the coast where crosswinds could play a factor if the conditions are right. The 113.4km day starts with a long downhill section from Dorgali that should make it a fast start to the day. After that, there’s not too much to trouble the riders and it should be a bunch sprint at the finish.

After a rest day, the Giro will be on the far side of Italy in the Emilia Romagna region with an out and back stage from Cesena. The stage distances keep growing and this one is 120km and takes in three classified climbs.

Stage 4 of the Giro d'Italia Donne
Stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia Donne (Photo: Giro d’Italia Donne)

The second category Colle del Barbotto, which comes just after the halfway point of the stage, is the toughest of the day’s ascents. It is less than five kilometers long, but it averages 8.2 percent and hits a maximum gradient of 16.2 percent. The race is likely to break up here and some riders will have a long chase to get back on before the finish.

Moving north, stage 5 takes the riders 126km from Carpi to Reggio Emilia. With just a few undulations to speak of, it’s bound to be another day for the sprinters.

The race continues to move northwest as it enters the second half with stage 6 taking the riders 114.7km from Sarnico to Bergamo. The day will begin with five laps of a circuit that features the third-category San Pantaleone, a 1.8km climb that maxes out at 8.3 percent.

While it’s not the toughest of climbs, the repeated ascents will whittle down the group and it could be a day for a breakaway. The unclassified Porta di San Lorenzo shortly before the finish will be something to be cautious of.

The first major mountain day comes on stage 7 with a 112km ride from Prevalle to Passo Maniva. While it’s not one of the better-known ascents in Italy, it packs a punch and should see some big shifts in the overall classification. Once again, the day starts with some circuits before it heads out in search of the mountaintop finish.

Stage 7 of the Giro d'Italia Donne
Stage 7 of the Giro d’Italia Donne (Photo: Giro d’Italia Donne)

The Passo Maniva is just shy of 10 kilometers long and has an average gradient of 7.8 percent with a maximum of 13.5 percent. The summit sits comfortably over 1,700 meters and will be one of the highest finishes on the 2022 calendar.

Stage 8 from Rovereto to Aldeno is one of the shortest road stages in this year’s race at 104.7km but it packs in some good climbing with the second categorie Passo Bordala and Lago di Cei coming in the second half of the stage. This could be another good chance for a breakaway to get up the road.

The peloton returns back into the mountains for stage 9, undoubtedly the queen stage of the race. Setting off from San Michele All’Adige, it travels 112.8km to San Lorenzo Dorsino and takes in three classified climbs along the way.

First is the second category Fai della Paganelle, an 11km ascent that averages 6.3 percent with a peak of 11.3 percent, and it is followed by the cat. 2 Passo Duron, which is 10km long and averages 5.6 percent with a maximum of 10.6 percent.

As the race crests the Duron, it will be just passed the halfway point of the stage with one more climb to do. The final climb of the day is the Passo Daone, which tops out around 26km from the finish.

Though it is smaller than the Maniva, it has the honor of being the Cima Coppi of the race. The Daone is just over six kilometers long but it averages a challenging 10.9 percent with a leg-sapping maximum of 18.1 percent. There’s a long descent followed by an undulating road to the finish line that could make life difficult for anyone who goes clear on the Daone.

The final stage brings the riders from Abano Terme to Padova in just 90 kilometers. Though there is one classified climb near the start of the day it should be another chance for the sprinters to take victory.