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Van Vleuten: Tour de France is my big goal, Giro and Vuelta need to 'step up'

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 05: Annemiek Van Vleuten of Netherlands and Movistar Team celebrates winning the red leader jersey on the podium ceremony after the 7th Ceratizit Challenge By La Vuelta 2021, Stage 4 a 107,4 km at stage from As Pontes to Santiago de Compostela / @ChallengeVuelta / #CERATIZITChallenge21 / on September 05, 2021 in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Annemiek Van Vleuten on the podium of the 2021 Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta (Image credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

As Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) rolls out the reborn Tour de France Femmes it is quickly becoming the most high-profile event of the season, prompting many of the best riders in the world to make the maillot jaune their primary target in 2022.  

Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) is among them, having told Cyclingnews that the Tour de France Femmes (July 24-31) is her major goal of this season and that she is impressed by the detailed planning, route reveal and the overall media package that ASO has presented to the women’s peloton. So much so that she is now undecided on whether she will compete at the Giro d’Italia Donne (July 1-10) and Challenge by La Vuelta (September 7-11) that have not yet published route details.

"I'm a little bit disappointed that I still don't know the courses yet. Before I say yes to the three big races, I need to see their courses, and hopefully they [the Giro and Vuelta] announce them soon because otherwise it is a bit disappointing for me," van Vleuten told Cyclingnews in an interview at her pre-season training camp at Tenerife.

"I'm super happy that the Tour de France has announced their race so quickly, and everything about it, it's how it should be. In that regard, it is already a very good start to the Tour de France. I love the concept of the Tour de France and so if there is any doubt about the other [two] races, I will not do them. The Tour de France is my big goal."

Indeed, ASO may have been late to the party with a Tour de France Femmes – with Giro d'Italia Donne heading toward its 33rd edition and Challenge by La Vuelta having delivered multiple stages since 2018 – but now that it has arrived it has raised the bar for other race organisers with a route reveal at the Palais des Congrès in October, at the same time as the men's Tour de France. 

The eight-day race is set to start at Eiffel Tower and end with the summit finish of La Planche des Belles Filles. It will cover 1,029 kilometres and include two stages for the puncheurs, a stage packed with gravel sectors, and four flat stages that could either end in bunch sprints or breakaway wins, and back-to-back mountain stages in the Vosges where the overall winner will be crowned.

Organisers of the Vuelta a España revealed the route for the men's Grand Tour last December, however, the only mention of the women's Challenge by La Vuelta was that it had expanded to five stages, according to  Javier Guillén, General Director of La Vuelta.

Van Vleuten, who is the defending champion of the Challenge by La Vuelta, said that she has heard about some of the potential locations for this year's event, and that it could be an interesting option for her, but without any official route details, it is hard to properly plan and make decisions regarding her calendar or targets.

"I have an idea about where the Vuelta will be, it’s a bit sad that they announced the 21 days for the Vuelta and then for the women they say it’s five days. That’s quite disappointing," she said. "The same for the Giro, they didn’t announce yet the course, and they need to hurry. Organisers need to step up."

NICE FRANCE AUGUST 29 Annemiek Van Vleuten of The Netherlands and Team Mitchelton Scott World Champion Jersey Elisa Longo Borghini of Italy and Team Trek Segafredo Elisabeth DeignanArmitstead of The United Kingdom and Team Trek Segafredo Marianne Vos of The Netherlands and Team CCC Liv Katarzyna Niewiadoma of Poland and Team Canyon Sram Racing Demi Vollering of The Netherlands and Team Parkhotel Valkenburg Breakaway during the 7th La Course 2020 by Le Tour de France a 96km race from Nice to Nice TDF2020 LeTour on August 29 2020 in Nice France Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Annemiek van Vleuten racing at the 2020 La Course by Le Tour de France (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The Giro d'Italia Donne – which historically has challenging parcours including iconic mountain passes such as the Mortirolo, Stelvio, and Zoncolan – have not revealed details about this year's race, other than the dates, which fall directly ahead of the Tour de France Femmes in July.

The event returns to the Women's WorldTour after being downgraded to the ProSeries for 2021 after not offering live broadcasting, along with other organisational concerns, back in 2020. The race's previous organisers hit back at complaints about the lack of live TV in 2020 claiming the COVID-19 pandemic had forced them to sacrifice live coverage – which was introduced as a Women's WorldTour requirement that year – to ensure that the race went ahead.

The UCI noted that it was reinstated to WorldTour level “subject to the 2021 edition meeting the specifications for the series." Pulse Media Group (PMG Sport) are the new organisers of the Giro d'Italia Donne as of 2021 and they have made some improvements in their marketing strategy and organisation around the event. However, fans were again left frustrated by the inconsistent and sometimes non-existent live coverage of last year's race.

"As for the Giro, the race should be interesting for me, otherwise, I will not take the risk to do the Giro before the Tour, because the Tour is my big goal, and it’s a bit disappointing that I have no clue where the Giro will be," said Van Vleuten, who won the overall title at the Giro d'Italia Donne in 2018 and 2019.

"It should be interesting with beautiful uphill mountain finishes or a TT, or something interesting for me. They  have a history of announcing it really late and no live TV coverage so they need to lift their game, a lot."

While organisational problems, TV coverage, and prize money concerns over the years at the Giro – which runs on a much smaller budget – cannot be overlooked criticism has also been directed toward the Tour de France Femmes organisers in recent years.

The ASO, one of the richest organisations in the sport, has also delivered women's races at La Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, La Course, and the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes – a history-making moment in 2021 won by Lizzie Deignan.

However, it has too been admonished for inadequate live television broadcasting, prize money inequality, and for the absence of an official Tour de France for the women's peloton for the past 30 years [Société du Tour de France, which later became part of ASO in 1992, hostsed a women's Tour de France from 1984-89 – Ed.].

Though, now that a high-quality Tour de France Femmes has been introduced for 2022, even before a pedal stroke has been turned, the event appears to have upped the ante.

'We need the organisations to respect us' says FDJ boss Delcourt

COLICO ITALY JULY 07 Sabrina Stultiens of Netherlands and Team Liv Racing Liane Lippert of Germany and Team DSM La Curinier of France and Arkea Pro Cycling Team Marta Bastianelli of Italy and Team Ale Btc Ljubljana Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig of Denmark and Team FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope The peloton passing through lake Como landscape during the 32nd Giro dItalia Internazionale Femminile 2021 Stage 6 a 155km stage from Colico to Colico GiroDonne UCIWWT on July 07 2021 in Colico Italy Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

The peloton racing at the Giro d'Italia Donne 2021 (Image credit: Getty Images)

Van Vleuten is not alone in her request that race organisers of the Giro d'Italia Donne and Challenge by La Vuelta offer more information about their events sooner.  

FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope team manager Stephen Delcourt has also asked that more respect be shown for the women's peloton and expressed disappointment that the organisers have not provided more details for the women's events, which prevents his team and riders from planning for their targets.

"2022 will be the year of women's cycling, after Paris-Roubaix, everyone showed how women's cycling is fantastic. We want to be one of the big actors of this new season. Our priority is the three big tours," Delcourt told members of the press in an interview on Tuesday.

"Now we can talk about three [Grand Tours] with the Giro, Tour de France and the Vuelta. But first, it's important to note that we are not like men’s cycling. Now, we know all the details of the stages of the Tour de France and we can prepare for the Tour de France. But on the other side, we don't know all the details of the Giro, and it's not professional. For the Vuelta: nothing," he said.

"We want to prepare the season like the men, and the women work a lot for that, but we really need the organisations to respect us, to anticipate and to prepare the women's races like the men's races."

FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope riders have big targets this year with Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig aiming to secure the yellow jersey for the France-based team at the Tour de France Femmes. 

Italian rider Marta Cavalli, from FDJ, has high hopes for contesting the GC at her home Giro d'Italia Donne, as does Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo), who stated that the Tour’s large platform and media interest doesn’t necessarily mean more prestige.

Cavalli does hope that the Giro moves to May in future, to be more inline with the men's Giro, but said she is not too concerned about the route details yet because the organisers are fairly predictable when it comes to including tough mountain passes.

"We target the Giro because, like everyone saw last year, I was good at 10 days of racing and it is one of my strengths... if I have the occasion to win, I will take it," Cavalli said.

"In my preparation, it's not so fundamental to know all the big stages because the idea of the Giro organiser is to always have the hardest Giro as possible, and so we will find three, or more, hard stages, a sprint, usually one TTT and an individual time trial.

"We would like just to know where the stages will take place, and if we knew more details as soon as possible, it would be better, but I don't think it would make a big change in my preparation because we know the dates and it will be fine."

However, as important as it is, there is also more than rider preparation at stake when it comes to a Grand Tour.

Van Vleuten pointed out that by offering the route details of the Tour de France Femmes early, as well as a compelling course and a good media model, the ASO have shown that they take the women's peloton seriously.

"It has given me a good feeling that they take it seriously; they have announced the course, we’ll have television coverage, and I love the concept to start on the last day of the men’s race, so we can take all the people who might be disappointed that the their race is over, they can follow the women’s Tour de France," she said.

"The concept is great and they have all the great ingredients and good signs that it will be a great event and a success."

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Kirsten Frattini

Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.