It is Grand Tour time. The excitement of the climbs, the fight for stage victories and the building suspense of the general classification is upon us again with the nine-day Giro Rosa set to start on Friday 11 September. The intensified anticipation caused by what Italian contender Elisa Longo Borghini aptly described as “this strange year” will be added to by a course that is lighter on long finishing climbs and has no individual time trial (ITT).
I’ll tell you a little more about why that’s such a big deal shortly but first – as is our habit – let’s set the scene with a recap of what happened at the last big race of the season, La Course.
LOOKING BACK ON LA COURSE
La Course is one of the biggest races of the year, not because the route is the most exciting or the format always the most compelling, but because running alongside the Tour de France delivers the attention and TV coverage that most women’s cycling fans and riders can usually only dream of. That’s why every year the women’s peloton go all out to make it the most exciting race it can possibly be, giving those new women’s cycling viewers a good reason to tune in again and again.
Of course, this year was no exception. It was a hilly 96 kilometre course with two climbs, a long descent and then a flat run into the line. This meant it was touted as a race that could come down either to a bunch sprint or a breakaway victory.
It’s no surprise then that some key riders, particularly dominant World Champion, Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), eschewed option A – let the sprinters have their day – and instead went for option B – go early, go hard and rip everyone’s legs off.
The pace was on and the bunch splintering as they took to the early climb but the peloton managed to regroup before the second climb. That didn’t last, as van Vleuten almost singlehandedly ripped it apart again by charging out the front from the very start of the final climb. The Dutch rider just kept going until the top, not so much as glancing back in the expectation of help from the small group of riders that did manage to stay with her.
That group left the field well behind and in the end a group of van Vleuten, Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv), Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo), Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) and Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenburg) charged toward the line. Vos was forced to chase down Longo Borghini, who was laying down all her reserves to set up teammate Deignan, and start her sprint early. That was the undoing of the two-time La Course winner, with Deignan able to come around and snatch victory. Vos held on for second while Vollering came third.
The win confirmed two things. The first was that Deignan had found that top-end speed and strength she’d been looking to regain since returning to racing after becoming a mother. The second was that Trek-Segafredo was now not just a collection of talented riders, but a team to be feared.
September 11 – 19 – Giro Rosa
After two years of topping the podium Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) is an easy favourite pick. Just as Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans), who has stood on the podium of every edition she has raced since 2014, is an obvious challenger. Most years their prowess on the long hard climbs combined with the time-trialling power delivers the Dutch rivals a huge advantage on the rest of the field; one so large that it barely leaves room for anyone else to realistically contemplate the quest for the pink jersey.
But this year is different.
The Giro Rosa is moving down to central and southern Italy and the balance has been skewed away from the long mountain climbs toward shorter ones, plus there is no individual time trial. This means we are facing one of the most open races in years.
The two Dutch multiple winners are still going to be incredibly tough to beat, especially van Vleuten with a team and form that is finely tuned.
However, with this course at least their rivals now have a fighting chance.
The list of contenders for the nine-day stage race includes Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv), Cecilie Uttrup-Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Mitchelton-Scott dual leader Amanda Spratt. Among the young riders there is Liane Lippert (Team Sunweb), teammate Juliette Labous and FDJ’s Evita Muzic. Then there is Italian-rider Elisa Longo Borghini who not only has great form, a strong team and a stellar record but is also deeply motivated by her desire to give her beleaguered nation something to smile about.
It’ll also be interesting to see how many stage victories Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) can add to her tally, which currently stands at 25, and if Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) will, like she did at La Course, again challenge the most prolific stage winner at the Giro Rosa.
That’s who to watch in a nutshell but for more detail on all these contenders you can see the Cyclingnews article I wrote summing up the key riders here. To find out all the stage details click through to any of these Giro Rosa previews from Voxwomen, CyclingTips, Cyclingnews and VeloNews. If you’d rather listen to a preview tune into the Australian Cycling Insider Podcast and you can watch the GCN round-up.
How to follow the action
This is where is gets a little tricky as the Giro Rosa has a well-earned reputation for being difficult to follow. Fortunately there will be a highlights package widely available this year but live coverage … well that’s another matter.
In Australia you’ll be able to watch the highlights on SBS every day at 4.30pm AEST. Outside Australia, New Zealand and Italy the highlights are available with a GCN Race Pass. The Giro Rosa will also be on Eurosport and in the US and Canada coverage will be available on FloBikes.
The go to hashtag is #girorosa and the official Twitter account is @GiroRosaIccrea but if the current Twitter silence continues @UCI_WWT and the accounts of the teams could be a much better option.
There have been a nice run of profile pieces coming out ahead of the Giro Rosa, so here’s a round-up of some of the articles that will deliver a bit of extra insight into some of those key riders.
Not surprisingly the focus has been on the Italian favourite, Elisa Longo Borghini and Jose Been and I were both lucky enough to have a chat with the in-form Trek-Segafredo rider recently:
There is also this piece on the Australia’s top Giro Rosa and World Championship contender from Been:
Plus a pre Giro Rosa check in with Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio from by Amy Jones to find out how she’s recovering from her crash:
Finally, even though we’ve mentioned this Australian Cycling Insider podcast among the previews it is well worth bringing up again as it is 50 percent preview, 50 percent insightful chat and 100 percent good listening.
- Lucy Kennedy and Belinda (@reallyspoketome) preview the Giro Rosa (Australian Cycling Insider)
Thanks for joining us for the Giro Rosa edition of the What’s On. Running on our new COVID-19 reboot schedule, with more regular updates, we’ll be back with more before the World Championships. To keep up to date with all the action in the meantime follow The Women’s Race on Twitter.