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Italian job: Is this year the best chance for a home win at the Giro d’Italia Donne?

Giro Donne home winners 2022
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo), Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope (Image credit: Getty Images composite)

For years now women’s cycling has largely been dominated by Dutch riders. The likes of Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen, Marianne Vos, and Chantal van den Broek Blaak have been the ones to beat and in recent years a new generation including Demi Vollering have come to the fore. 

At World and Olympic championship level the team from The Netherlands was always packed with contenders, leading people to speculate every year that having so many potential winners could be to their disadvantage – something which began to become evident at the Tokyo Olympics. 

However, over the last few years the tide has been turning. In the past few seasons Italian women have been beating their Dutch counterparts at their own game. Nowhere was this more prominent than the 2021 World Championships in Leuven at which Elisa Balsamo out-sprinted Marianne Vos to take the rainbow jersey at just 23-years-old.

Balsamo’s team comprised of Italian champion Elisa Longo Borghini, former world champion Marta Bastianelli, sprinter Maria Guilia Confalonieri, bright young talents Marta Cavalli and Vittoria Guazzini, and former Italian national champion Elena Cecchini.

The national team for that race were just a fraction of the talent that has come out of Italy over the years. Riders like Longo Borghini, Cecchini, and Bastianelli have been at the top of the sport for a while but now both a new and experienced generation of Italian riders are converging to give their nation an undeniable presence in the women’s peloton. 

But this is not the work of a few years, as Longo Borghini was keen to point out, this emergence of talent has been in the works for a long time: 

“It's not the last 18 months, it's been a long process. It's been an effort that the small teams made, making young talents develop in a good way, not rushing them. And now we see the work coming out," she told Cyclingnews earlier this month, pointing in particular to Balsamo’s former team, Valcar Travel & Service

With the Italian Grand Tour, the 10-day Giro d’Italia Donne, around the corner – returning for a 33rd edition – the chances for the home nation to win are greater than ever. It has been 14 years since an Italian last won the Giro, when Fabiana Luperini took her fifth title – 10 years after the last of her four consecutive wins between 1995 and 1998. 

Luperini remains the rider with the most Giro wins and is only one of four Italians in history to take the overall title alongside Maria Canins, Roberta Bonanomi, and Michela Fanini. 

With the strong crop of Italian talent heading to the race this year the drought may well be broken. So who are the ones to watch at the 2022 Giro d’Italia Donne? 

Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope)

Marta Cavalli

Marta Cavalli (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Perhaps the best chance at a GC win for Italy is 24-year-old Marta Cavalli. An export of the unfathomably successful Valcar Travel & Service team, despite her young age, the FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope rider has quickly made an impression as one of the sport’s top climbers. 

This season she has truly come of age, winning two of the biggest races in the sport, La Flèche Wallonne and Amstel Gold Race as well as the gruelling Mont Ventoux Challenge. 

As a French team, FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope are likely to be focusing the bulk of their efforts on the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift and Cavalli will also be racing in France. As one of Italy’s top female riders, however, Cavalli will most likely opt for a leadership role at the Giro d’Italia Donne and head to the Tour in support of her teammates. 

Cavalli has already shown during the classics that she can beat Annemiek van Vleuten, however she has yet to come up against the Dutchwoman head-to-head on her preferred terrain – a long climb – this year. Challenging the former world champion on the parcours that suits her best is something very few riders are capable of, but if anyone can at this Giro Donne it’s Cavalli. 

Alongside Cavalli at the Giro Donne, will be Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who finished fourth in the race and opens up the option of a two-pronged GC attack for the team while Australian rider, Brodie Chapman, is likely to be an invaluable asset in the mountains. 

Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo)

Elisa Longo Borghini

Elisa Longo Borghini (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Paris Roubaix Femmes winner Elisa Longo Borghini has been racing for over a decade now and throughout that time has become one of the sport’s most accomplished riders. This year, she has shown her versatility in a way that has surprised not only other riders and fans, but even herself. 

Not usually a rider who was thought to have a particularly strong sprint – by her own admission –  Longo Borghini showed an incredible turn of speed on the final day of The Women’s Tour to place third on the stage and net enough bonus seconds to overtake FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope’s Grace Brown to take the overall victory. 

While the parcours of the UK race were very different to what the peloton will face in Italy, Longo Borghini has shown that she is on flying form ahead of her home ‘Grand Tour.’ Although she is racing both the Giro and the Tour, she has made clear that she is not giving any more importance to the French race telling Cyclingnews: "It's nice, I love there's a women's Tour de France. It seems like we are going to the moon. We are going to France and racing, not any different to what we do anywhere else in the world."

Longo Borghini will be backed up by Tour de Suisse winner Lucinda Brand who showed herself to be in excellent climbing form at the Swiss stage race. The Trek-Segafredo team will be searching for stages with their fast-finishing, world champion Elisa Balsamo, but they have a strong GC contender in the form of Longo Borghini.

Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo)

Elisa Balsamo

Elisa Balsamo (Image credit: Sprint Cycling Agency)

As an Italian reigning world champion Elisa Balsamo is almost obligated to race her home ‘Grand Tour’. The 24-year-old saw off any notion of the curse of the rainbow jersey just weeks after winning it when she took a stage of The Women’s Tour. 

This season she continued that trend, opening her 2022 account by winning the first stage of the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and later running a hat-trick of Women’s WorldTour wins at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Brugge-De Panne, and Gent-Wevelgem. 

Despite her incredible turn of speed Balsamo is more than capable of climbing as she demonstrated when she won her world title over the steep Belgian bergs and, most recently, at the Tour de Suisse where she won the second stage.

With Balsamo’s main sprinting rival, Lorena Wiebes, sitting the Giro d’Italia Donne out, the Italian looks to have a clear run at winning some of the sprint stages in her Giro debut. 

Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ)

Marta Bastianelli

Marta Bastianelli (Image credit: Luis Angel Gomez/SprintCyclingAgency©2022)

Former world champion Marta Bastianelli is one of the most established names in the women’s peloton and despite her many years of racing is showing no signs of slowing down. 

Her 2022 season so far has seen the 35-year-old place within the top-10 in almost all of the races she has entered including some of the most prestigious spring classics. In addition, the UAE Team ADQ rider has racked up five wins including the overall at Festival Elsy Jacobs and two stages of the Bretagne Ladies Tour. 

Unfortunately, Bastianelli was forced to abandon the recent Tour de Suisse due to knee issues but if she can recover in time for the Giro Donne she will be a real challenger on some of the punchier stages.

As well as Bastianelli, UAE Team ADQ have two potential Italian GC options in the form of talented climber Erica Magnaldi and all-rounder Sofia Bertizzolo.  

Soraya Paladin (Canyon-SRAM)

Soraya Paladin’s move to Canyon/SRAM from Liv Racing for the 2022 has proven to be a successful one. The 29-year-old all-rounder is no stranger to the Women’s WorldTour but in 2022 she has made an impression on the highest level of racing whether through working for Kasia Niewiadoma or securing a podium spot at Trofeo Alfredo Binda. 

The experienced Italian can climb – she won the final, mountainous stage of the Tour of Norway in 2019 –  and paired with her Swiss teammate, Elise Chabbey, could be a strong GC contender for her team in the absence of pure climbers and usual team leaders Kasia Niewiadoma and Pauliena Rooijakkers.

Silvia Persico and Chiara Consonni (Valcar Travel & Service) 

Silvia Persico

Silvia Persico (Image credit: Getty Images)

They may not have confirmed their roster for the race just yet but any combination that Valcar Travel & Service put together is sure to be a strong one. 

Unmissable in their bright pink jerseys the Italian team has seen some of the peloton’s biggest talents graduate from its programme, not least the reigning world champion, Balsamo. 

The current crop of talent includes two of the most exciting prospects in the women’s peloton in the form of cyclocross star and all-rounder Silvia Persico, and sprinter Chiara Consonni. 

Persico placed third behind Brand and Marianne Vos at the cyclocross world championships in January and carried her form over to the road, achieving top-10s in the likes of Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Strade Bianche, and Gent-Wevelgem. The 24-year-old also demonstrated her versatility, coming 6th overall at the hilly Vuelta a Burgos Feminas and 7th at the pan-flat RideLondon Classique. 

Consonni, meanwhile, is a consummate sprinter. Armed with the pure speed and gutsy riding that sprinting requires she has become one of the few challengers to Lorena Wiebes’ reign on women’s sprinting on the road. 

She may have had to settle for second where the Dutchwoman is concerned but Consonni has still had her fair share of podiums and wins this season. Provided some of the flatter stages of the Giro come down to a bunch kick we can expect to see the 23-year-old among the strong pool of Italian riders challenging for a win on home soil. 

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