Until this year, the Giro d’Italia Donne took the top spot when it came to stage racing in the Women’s WorldTour. The race’s long history, 33 editions, and an offering of 10 days of racing made it the most prestigious event on the calendar. With the advent of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, however, the Giro now has competition.
Despite the Giro’s longevity the prestige of the Tour de France, and with the races just two weeks apart, means that many of the top riders opted to sit out the Italian race in favour of the Tour, or indeed, in favour of altitude training ahead of the Tour.
Some, however – including all three riders from the GC podium at the Giro Donne – have taken on the task of racing both Grand Tours and their form at the Giro gives us a good indication of how they might feature at the Tour de France Femmes.
As race preparations are come to an end and the racing begins on Sunday in Paris, Cyclingnews takes a closer look at who is on course for the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar)
While some of the key Tour de France Femmes GC riders opted to sit the Giro Donne out, arguably the biggest favourite for the win, Annemiek van Vleuten has decided to ‘do the double’.
The Movistar leader had a strong start to the season – albeit without the dominant performances we have become used to seeing – winning Omloop het Nieuwsblad and taking a myriad of podiums before taking the win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège too. Then, while preparing for the block of Spanish stage races in May, the 39-year-old crashed on a mountain bike ride, breaking her wrist in the process.
As a result, the Giro was Van Vleuten’s first race since Liège, and the time away from the peloton doesn’t seem to have come at any detriment to her form. The Giro is a race at which Van Vleuten thrives, the long climbs and tough parcours that the race usually presents facilitate the hard racing that the Dutchwoman revels in and has led her to take two overall titles before this year.
Sure enough, at this year’s race Van Vleuten showed her considerable strength to take a third overall win with a margin of 1:52 ahead of FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope’s Marta Cavalli. While a few of her main GC rivals such as Demi Vollering were not at the race, Van Vleuten’s performance at the Giro confirmed that she will be hard to beat in France.
It isn’t only in the mountains that riders need to watch out for, however. While we have come to expect Van Vleuten to launch her GC bids when the road goes up it was on a tough, rolling stage where the three-woman move – including Van Vleuten, Cavalli and UAE Team ADQ’s Mavi Garcia – went and set up the GC at the Giro.
Those who want to challenge the former world champion at the Tour de France will need to use teamwork and aggressive racing to catch the maglia rosa winner off guard.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope)
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig has the climbing record but the form is almost an unknown. She raced the Giro d'Italia Donne where she was working for her teammate Marta Cavalli and building condition ahead of the Tour de France Femmes. However, she has had comparatively few races on her early-season programme, that included a stretch of time with COVID-19, that meant she comes into the event as a bit of a question mark.
The FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope team are backing the Danish Champion with an all-in approach that began back in 2020 when they brought her on board to develop an overall leader to one-day contest the Tour de France Femmes.
The Giro Donne seemed to be a great way for her to fine-tune her preparations for the eight-day race, tough racing and challenging mountain terrain will complement the route at the Tour, particularly the final two stages in the Vosges.
Her sixth place overall, while also supporting Cavalli to second on GC, showed that she was on great form, but with perhaps room to improve in the two intervening weeks before the Tour.
Demi Vollering (SD Worx)
A rider who opted to skip the Giro Donne, and spent much of her time preparing at altitude, Vollering will undoubtedly be prepared for the mountainous challenge that awaits.
Backed by a powerful team, SD Worx, she will need their support in order to take on the likes of compatriot and rival Van Vleuten.
Vollering excels on challenging hilly stages, sprints, gravel and in the mountains, everything a rider will need to excel at the Tour de France Femmes. It would not be a surprise to see her put on the yellow jersey during the early stages, perhaps stage 3 into Épernay or stage 4 along the gravel roads into across the gravel roads into Bar-Sur-Aub.
SD Worx are also strong enough to defend an early lead, but the question is, can Vollering contest the likes of Van Vleuten in the mountainous stage 7 to Le Markstein and the finale on stage 8 to the summit of La Super Planche des Belles Filles?
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)
Canyon-SRAM's Kasia Niewiadoma is one of the most consistent athletes in the sport, regularly delivering near the top of the results table. A major contender on all terrain, watch for her on the decisive gravel stage, breakaways, and critical mountain stages.
She, too, opted to skip the Giro Donne and focus on training ahead of the Tour de France Femmes, and she believes that she is ready for a top GC result.
The team are fielding what she called a 'climber's team' at the race, which means they will be mainly focused on the GC standings, while some riders will be given opportunities for stage wins and QOM ambitions.
Niewiadoma has spent the last weeks previewing the majority of the climbs, and has tailored her training to meet the expectations of the two mountainous routes on stage 7 and stage 8.
She is confident that she is on form and now in a position to handle the 30-minute plus ascents, and is motivated to tackle the race and meet its challenges head on.
Marta Cavalli (FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope)
While Marta Cavalli may not be going into the Tour de France Femmes as FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope’s main GC rider – that role will go to Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig – it would be remiss if the team did not afford her some level of protected rider status at the race.
Still only 24-years-old the Italian rider has been steadily climbing the ranks of the women’s peloton for the past few seasons and has established herself as one of the peloton’s best climbers.
This season has seen breakthrough performances for the former national champion after she won two of the Ardennes Classics, Amstel Gold and La Flèche Wallonne, beating Annemiek van Vleuten and a host of other talented women in the process.
Cavalli made a statement about her climbing form ahead of the Giro Donne by winning the Mont Ventoux Challenge a few weeks before and sure enough was one of the few riders capable of taking the GC fight to Van Vleuten in the mountains of Italy.
One of just two other riders who were able to go with a move on stage four with Van Vleuten alongside Spanish champion Mavi Garcia, Cavalli may have struggled in the closing kilometres of the stage but she also put herself in a strong position on GC. While Garcia went on to struggle in the high mountains later in the race, it was Cavalli who battled Van Vleuten to take back time lost.
A gutsy attack by the young Italian on stage 9 may not have dethroned the Dutchwoman but it certainly ate into her advantage and cemented Cavalli’s position as a bona fide GC contender. If she is able to execute similar moves at the Tour de France Femmes she could challenge Van Vleuten’s dominance.
Mavi Garcia (UAE Team ADQ)
The Spanish national champion, Mavi Garcia, is no stranger to battling with Van Vleuten by now. The 38-year-old notoriously took on the dominant Dutch rider at Strade Bianche in 2020 in a ride that cemented her place in the upper echelons of the Women’s WorldTour.
One of the peloton’s best climbers, Garcia was tenacious at the Giro Donne, sticking to Van Vleuten’s wheel like glue on stage 4 as the Movistar rider dealt attack after attack in the closing kilometres.
While her performance waned towards the end of the race – she lost almost three minutes to Van Vleuten on the final day in the mountains – Garcia is no stranger to back-to-back stage races. In 2020, she took on the gruelling 7-day Tour de Feminin International de l’Ardeche, coming second overall, before heading straight to the 10-day Giro Donne just a few days later where she placed 9th on GC.
If Garcia can still back up her form like she did in 2020 then she could come to the Tour with the same form or better than she took to the Giro. For Garcia, the only thing she may lack is team support in the mountains.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo)
She is now a well-established rider but Elisa Longo Borghini appears to have found an extra gear this season. The 30-year-old Italian has proven herself on all kinds of terrain, winning the second Paris Roubaix Femmes in April and riding an impressive GC race at The Women’s Tour including winning the mountain top stage and unleashing a sprint on the final day that surprised even herself.
At the Giro Donne Longo Borghini once again showed her all-round capabilities. A bad day on the all-important stage 4 meant that she lost too much time to make it onto the GC podium but the Trek-Segafredo rider was barely outside the top-10 for the remainder of the race. Whether leading out World Champion Elisa Balsamo for a sprint or going up against Van Vleuten in the mountains, Longo Borghini has the whole package which on the varied stages of the Tour de France Femmes will serve her well.
Elsewhere in the GC race, Team DSM’s French rider Juliette Labous had an impressive Giro, winning on the mountain-top finish up to Passo del Maniva while Team BikeExchange-Jayco’s Amanda Spratt was looking increasingly like her old self on the comeback from Iliac artery surgery.
Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo)
Longo Borghini’s aforementioned teammate rode an incredibly successful race for her debut Giro Donne. The 24-year-old world champion took two stage wins ahead of none other than Marianne Vos as well as netting two podiums.
While she is an incredibly fast finisher in her own right, the key to Balsamo’s success also comes from her Trek-Segafredo lead-out train. Even with some of the key riders missing, such as Ellen van Dijk, Balsamo was well supported by Longo Borghini and Lucinda Brand. With even more fire power at her disposal at the Tour de France Femmes she will be an even more formidable adversary in the sprints, but she will need the added boost when she comes up against the unstoppable force that is Team DSM’s Lorena Wiebes.
Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma)
Marianne Vos will always find a way to win. Widely regarded as the greatest of all time, Vos is a pure bike racer and she showed that at the Giro Donne. The 35-year-old Dutchwoman has a record 32 Giro stage wins to her name after winning two of the six stages she took part in.
The Jumbo-Visma leader departed the race after stage 6 in order to focus on the Tour de France Femmes where she will have her eye on starting a fresh tally of stage wins at that race. Despite some setbacks during the spring, including testing positive for COVID-19 on the morning of Paris Roubaix Femmes, Vos is looking as sharp as ever ahead of the Tour.
Emma Norsgaard (Movistar)
Movistar’s sprinter, Emma Norsgaard, put herself on the map at the Giro Donne in 2020 as she came up against Lorena Wiebes on the sprint stages. After a successful 2021 season the 22 year old carried her form into this year winning Le Samyn in March and placing on the podium at RideLondon before taking the national time trial title.
At the Giro Donne, however, Norsgaard’s speed seemed to be somewhat lacking. A crash on stage five saw another opportunity to sprint taken away from the Dane and although her injuries were not serious they affected her performance for the rest of the race. She will need to regroup ahead of the Tour de France Femmes if she wants to challenge Wiebes et al in the sprint stages.
Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx)
Team SD Worx’s Lotte Kopecky is another rider who may need to go back to the drawing board between the Giro Donne and the Tour de France Femmes. The former Belgian champion has had an incredible season so far, winning Strade Bianche and Flanders, but her sprinting has not been what we have seen in previous seasons.
The team took a younger and slightly less experienced squad to the Giro so with the backing of riders like Chantal van den Broek Blaak, Kopecky may be able to find that extra bit of speed in the finals.
Furthermore, Kopecky is not a ‘pure’ sprinter and can hold her own on climbs, too meaning she will be an asset to the team as an all-rounder even if she cannot deliver on flat, sprint days.
Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM)
While her rivals were testing their legs out at the Giro Donne, Wiebes took a decidedly different approach opting to train and then race at the Baloise Ladies Tour the week after the Giro.
Her endeavours were a success with three stage wins, and while the competition may not have been at the same level as the Giro Donne, Wiebes will have gain invaluable confidence heading into the Tour de France.
A pure sprinter, capable of climbing and excelling on challenging terrain, watch for Wiebes to both win bunch sprints, reduced group sprints, and perhaps hunt the intermediate sprints in her pursuit of the green jersey.
In an interview ahead of the Giro Donne Annemiek van Vleuten revealed that her team, Movistar, will be taking the same squad to both the Giro Donne and the Tour de France Femmes. The reason, she said, was in order for the riders to practise their teamwork ahead of the second race.
With Van Vleuten leading the charge almost single-handedly at the Giro the team will need to analyse their race if they want to ride more cohesively in France. While she usually does not need much support in the mountains the Tour de France will be a different beast with teams throwing everything at the Dutch rider so if she finds herself isolated she could be in trouble.
Elsewhere, in the sprints, Emma Norsgaard will benefit from a well-rehearsed lead out if she is to come up against Lorena Wiebes and her Team DSM train as well as Elisa Balsamo and Trek-Segafredo’s lead out.
Only a few of the riders from the Giro Donne are heading to the Tour de France Femmes but FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope supported Marta Cavalli well in Italy. Australian Brodie Chapman was, as ever, a valuable team player – although she will not be racing the Tour de France Femmes – and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig was seen contributing to the pace and helping to pull Cavalli back to the front at various points during the race.
With their powerhouse rider Grace Brown back on the scene for the Tour FDJ will have a very strong line up for the race. The team is awash with talent and as a French team will want to showcase their home-grown talent in the form of Evita Muzic but their best GC chances lie with Cavalli and newly-crowned Danish national champion, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig.
The team’s only downfall could be if their multi-pronged approach is not managed well.
Trek-Segafredo are renowned as a team with excellent cohesion and the Giro Donne was no different. While it looks like only the two Elisas, Balsamo and Longo Borghini, will be doing the Giro-Tour double the way the pair work together for one another is testament enough to how they will race the Tour.
The squad will be fortified with some of the strongest domestiques in the peloton in the form of Ellen van Dijk, Audrey Cordon Ragot, and Shirin van Anrooij to back up both Balsamo’s sprints and Longo Borghini’s GC bid.
While not every Tour de France favourite was present at the Giro Donne, those who did show up for a hard 10 days of racing have given us a good insight into how the Tour de France Femmes might play out. With just two weeks in between both races some may fare better than others however regardless, an exciting GC battle at the Giro has set things up for an explosive eight days in France too.
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