The 2019 Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile (also known as the Giro Rosa) will mark the next round of the Women's WorldTour, held from July 5-14 in northern Italy. It will be one of the toughest editions as this year's race will feature summit finishes on the Passo Gavia and at Malga Montasio, while there will also be an uphill time trial and a tough hilltop finale to the concluding stage in Udine.
[Editor's note: Organisers were forced to cancel summit finish on the Passo Gavia due to landslides and bad weather. Stage 5 has been re-routed to finish up the Passo Fraele at the Lago di Cancano.]
In the latest of our 'countdown' features ahead of the Giro Rosa, Cyclingnews enlisted the help of Canyon-SRAM's all-rounder Kasia Niewiadoma to select the top 10 riders to watch for this year's race.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott)
Annemiek van Vleuten, the time trial world champion, played a dominant role in the 2018 Giro Rosa, winning three stages and the overall title by more than four minutes over runner-up Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and 6:30 ahead of her teammate Amanda Spratt. This year, Van Vleuten won Strade Bianche and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and then has spent time training at altitude in Tenerife and on the Passo Gavia in Italy, specifically to prepare to win a second overall title at the Giro Rosa.
Niewiadoma says: "She is an incredible climber. In the last two years, she has made huge progress to the point where, in my opinion, she is unbeatable when climbs are longer than 10km.
"She knows how to prepare for a race like the Giro Rosa. She spends a lot of time at altitude. Once she knows what she wants, she can deliver. Her attacks are extremely brutal. She attacks when everyone is already over the limit, and then she continues riding super hard and steady. That makes her an incredible climber.
"In my opinion, she is the woman to win the Giro Rosa. There might even be a big gap between her and second place."
Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans)
Anna van der Breggen, the road race world champion and the Olympic champion, is a two-time winner of the Giro Rosa - 2015 and 2017 - but skipped last year's edition to focus on one-day races in preparation for her victory at the Innsbruck Worlds. She is a versatile rider who has won the Ardennes Classic triple, including La Flèche Wallonne a record five times in a row. This year, she won the overall title at the Tour of California and stayed in Park City, Utah to train at altitude in preparation for the Giro Rosa. She will have a strong team to support her bid for a third overall title, including American Katie Hall.
Niewiadoma says: "I know that Anna is also a very good climber. Even though I feel that Annemiek is on another level right now, I also think that Anna will have a very strong team. She will have a rider like Katie Hall helping her, and they might try to make up differences in other parts of the Giro Rosa, before the big climbs. I think they will be fighting with Annemiek for first place.
"Anna also has a lot of experience and has won twice. Every passing year the Giro Rosa becomes harder than the year before, and I'm not saying that Anna won because the race was easier - of course, she won because she was the strongest. Anna didn't race last year, and so it is hard to predict how she will race against Annemiek.
"There are a lot of women who could potentially be third place at the Giro Rosa: Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, Katie Hall, Amanda Spratt, Elisa Longo Borghini and myself. We also have young riders like Clara Koppenburg and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who are also very good climbers. But I do believe that Annemiek and Anna will be outside of our radar."
Omer Shapira (Canyon-SRAM)
Niewiadoma's teammate Omer Shapira is the Israeli national champion and newest member of the Canyon-SRAM team. She had a standout performance at the Tour of California, where she finished 5th on the queen stage summit finish on Mt.Baldy and went on to finish 8th overall.
Niewiadoma says: "Our Israeli rider, Omer, will surprise everyone. I feel like she has been gaining confidence every day, ever since we finished the Tour of California. I do believe that this race suits her because she can climb very well, and a stage like Passo Gavia is where she can shine."
Liane Lippert (Sunweb)
Sunweb has not released it's official roster yet, however, the team have a number of potential contenders with the likes of Lucinda Brand, who was fourth last year, along with Juliette Labous and Liane Lippert. Niewiadoma selected Lippert as a rider to watch, if she is part of the Giro Rosa squad. Lippert forms part of a powerful Sunweb team, signed through 2022. She is only 21 years old and last year won the Lotto Belgium Tour title and finished 4th at the Tour de Yorkshire. This year, she stepped up a notch, finishing on the podium in stages at Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour and OVO Energy Women's Tour.
Niewiadoma says: "If she is racing, I pick Liane Lippert. I saw her racing at OVO Energy Women's Tour, and I wouldn't normally have noticed, but watching her trying to be on the podium every day, being aggressive and working for her teammates, and still finishing with a result was impressive. I can see a fighting spirit inside of her."
If Lippert is not racing the Giro Rosa this year, Niewiadoma said that she will be a key rider to watch in future editions of the Giro Rosa.
Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott)
Amanda Spratt is a dark horse to win the overall title at the Giro Rosa. She is a three-time winner of the Santos Women's Tour Down Under, a former winner of Emakumeen Bira, and last year placed on the overall podium at the Giro Rosa, winning a stage and the mountains classification. She was also second at the Innsbruck World Championships, making her one of the savviest and strongest riders in the peloton.
Niewiadoma says: "Amanda is a great rider for breakaways, and she always grabs opportunities to get a result. I do believe that she can show her skill; she's a good climber. Being on the same team as Annemiek gives her a huge advantage because many riders will be focussed on Annemiek.
"Amanda could win some stages and fight for GC like she did last year. I always see her as a crafty rider; you won't see her during the race and then all of a sudden she's up front in a breakaway. I always say to myself, 'oh no, how did I miss her'."
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv)
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio finished second overall to Van Vleuten in last year's Giro Rosa. Although she aims to be part of the fight for the GC this year, she has struggled with some setbacks including two crashes during the Spring Classics that caused her a severe back injury. She will line up at the Giro Rosa as prepared as she can be to try to secure a place on the overall podium.
Niewiadoma says: "Ashleigh knows how to climb, and she is an experienced rider. If Marianne Vos is racing at her side, then she will also have a very strong team. Of course, she is on my list because she is strong. She is always there at the Giro Rosa."
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla)
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig enjoyed an outstanding Spring Classics campaign, where she finished in the top 10 at Strade Bianche (5th), Trofeo Alfredo Binda (3rd), Tour of Flanders (3rd), Amstel Gold Race (6th), La Flèche Wallonne (8th) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (10th). Perhaps more well known for her post-race interviews - 'let's put the hammer down' - Uttrup Ludwig, who was 6th overall at the Giro Rosa last year, is always an animator in the one-day and stage races.
Niewiadoma says: "I feel like she has been training hard. I think she will surprise people at the Giro Rosa this year. She's been climbing better in the last few months.
"We have not seen her at the last few races, and so perhaps she is fully focused on the Giro Rosa. If you have this kind of time to focus, with a free head, where you only need to think about one race, then it's is much better preparation. She will be ready for Giro Rosa."
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo)
Italy will be watching its very own Elisa Longo Borghini. She was second overall in the 2017 edition and has been a regular among the top 10 overall in recent years. After her team Wiggle-High 5 folded last year, she joined the newly launched Trek-Segafredo in 2019, where she has enjoyed success in Australia, at the Spring Classics, and recently won the overall title at Emakumeen Bira. She also finished top 10 at the OVO Energy Women's Tour while riding in support of her teammate and overall winner Lizzie Deignan.
Niewiadoma says: "I do believe that Elisa will be there in the top 5. It's her country, and she loves the Giro Rosa. She has been riding very well in the last couple of months at Emakumeen Bira and OVO Energy Women's Tour on her new team."
Sofia Bertizzolo (Team Virtu)
Sofia Bertizzolo is one of the rising talents of the women's peloton, frequently finishing in the top 10 of Women's WorldTour races and claiming the top youth classifications. Last year, Bertizzolo was the top young rider at the Giro Rosa and placed 21st overall. She would have initially been racing in support of team leader Marta Bastianelli. However, the Tour of Flanders winner had to pull out with an injured knee. That could give Bertizzolo the leadership role at the Giro Rosa.
Niewiadoma says: "Sofia is also a very good rider, and she has been good from the start of the season. Marta Bastianelli is not racing, and so it will be a great opportunity for her to shine."
Editor's pick: Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)
Niewiadoma is always on Cyclingnews' list of riders to watch, whether that's for the one-day Classics or a 10-day mountainous race like the Giro Rosa. She is one of the most versatile riders in the peloton, demonstrating as much this season by winning Amstel Gold Race and placing second overall at the OVO Energy Women's Tour.
The 24-year-old twice won the youth classification while also placing in the top-eight three times at the Giro Rosa and she could be a potential contender for the maglia rosa in the future. For now, Niewiadoma enjoys the freedom to split her ambitions between her love of the punchy one-day races and the high mountains.
Niewiadoma says: "To be honest, I have no idea how I will do at the Giro Rosa. At the Tour of California and OVO Energy Women's Tour, I wasn't ready to race, with my mind busy with other things outside of cycling. OVO Energy ended up being a good race for our team and myself. It took me some time to recover from that effort; it was hard, the weather was bad, so I'm still recovering. It's also hot in Girona and hard to train super well. I'm an unknown for now ahead of the Giro Rosa. I think the first three stages will tell me how I am doing.
"I'm not putting any pressure on myself, in thinking that I want to go for GC. My main goal is to win a stage. I have thought of a couple of stages that I think I can win. Winning the overall is too far from my abilities right now.
"I have realised this year that I am not the kind of pure climber that goes up a pass like Gavia or Mortirolo first. I'm more punchy and suited to the Ardennes Classics where you always have to fight for position, fight ahead of climbs, and have short, punchy intervals.
"I've always been told that I am a person who could win the Giro Rosa, but I'm not ready for that, yet. I would have to change my entire programme to win a race like the Giro Rosa; train only for the one goal, and skip many other races during the season. If I really wanted to race Giro Rosa, I couldn't race OVO Energy Women's Tour, for example. Maybe in the future, I'll focus on just the Giro Rosa. Right now, I like racing the Spring Classics and unpredictable races that give me pleasure and fun. I feel like I don't handle high pressure very well and I would need to be ready to do that if I wanted to focus on the Giro Rosa."