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Giro d'Italia Donne 2021 – Preview

Anna van der Breggen wins 2020 Giro d'Italia Donne
Anna van der Breggen wins 2020 Giro d'Italia Donne (Image credit: Getty Images)

The cycling community - teams, riders, fans and media - might not recognise the revamped Giro d'Italia Donne held from July 2-11 across northern Italy after new organiser PMG Sport stepped in to give the race a complete makeover with fresh branding and marketing initiatives, and promises of better security and live broadcasting, all in an effort to win back its status on the Women's WorldTour.

The event is known for its more than 30-year history as the toughest race on  the women's calendar and it has been a part of the Women's WorldTour since the top-tier calendar's inception in 2016. However, the race was downgraded to the 2.Pro Series for not providing required live television and other organisational concerns last year.

This year it's part of the second-tier ProSeries and will embark on its 32nd anniversary. Cyclingnews understands that as a ProSeries race this year organisers are not required to guarantee live broadcast, however, to get back into the UCI Women’s WorldTour next year, they will have to meet the TV requirements of the series for a minimum of 45 minutes, which would be a welcome addition to the media package offered to fans who want to watch the race on television.

However, race organisers have stated in a recent press release that they will only offer international live coverage of the final 15km of each stage, as apart of a broader 60-minute package that includes post-race ceremonies, interviews  and analysis.

From a historical context, the Giro d'Italia Donne has been the biggest event on the calendar because it, so far, is the only women's race granted permission by the UCI to covers 10 days of racing, and organisers regularly include iconic mountain passes such as the Mortirolo, Stelvio, and Zoncolan, and this year's race will includes summit finishes at Prato Nevoso and Monte Matajur. 

Some of the past winners include inaugural champion Maria Canins (Italy) in 1988, Catherine Marsal (France) in 1990, five-time winner Fabiana Luperini (Italy) from 1995-1998 and 2008, two-time winner Joane Somarriba (Spain) in 1999 and 2000, three-time winner Nicole Brändli (Switzerland) in 2001, 2003 and 2005, Nicole Cooke (Great Britain) in 2004, and two-time winner Edita Pučinskaitė (Lithuania) in 2006 and 2007.

Two Americans won twice, Mara Abbott in 2010 and 2013 and Megan Guariner in 2016. Then there were multiple victories by a trio of Dutch riders - three-time winner Marianne Vos in 2011, 2012 and 2014, two-time winner Annemiek van Vleuten in 2018 and 2019, and three-time winner and defending champion Anna van der Breggen in 2015, 2017 and 2020.

Several rides have opted not to compete at this year's Giro d'Italia Donne, however, despite its downgrade from the Women's WorldTour cycling fans can still expect to see a world-class peloton fighting for both stage glory and the coveted maglia rosa as they race across the mountainous northern regions of Italy.

Who to watch

Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) made the difficult decision not to race the Giro d'Italia Donne this year as she prepares for the Tokyo Olympic Games later in July. However, her compatriot and double world champion Anna can der Breggen (SD Worx) will be on the start line to defend her title in what she believes will be suitable build-up to the hilly road race in Tokyo. Likewise, runner-up last year Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) will not participate in this year's edition.

Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx)  - The double world champion is having an incredibly successful season, in what is her last before retiring at the end of 2021. After a stellar spring campaign that saw her win a seventh consecutive Flèche Wallonne, Veulta a Burgos and the time trial title at the Dutch Championships, Van der Breggen seems to be, once again, on the form of her life. This month's block of racing sees two main objectives defending titles at the Giro d'Italia Donne (for a fourth time) and in the women's road race at the Olympic Games.

Elisa Longo Borghini  (Trek-Segafredo) - She has just defended her titles in the time trial and road race at the Italian Road Championships and goes into her home race as the GC leader for Trek-Segafredo. She has stood on the podium on two occasions; second in 2017 and third in 2020. She has a powerful team to back up an overall victory this year but they will need to out-race the likes of Van der Breggen and SD Worx if Longo Borghini wants to take the maglia rosa for the first time in her career.

"It's the best team we could have chosen. In the last races we've seen the riders in good shape, some already in top form while others are still improving. We have a GC leader in Elisa to protect and then several stages that are well suited to our characteristics. We'll try to start with the wind in our sails, like last year," said Trek-Segafredo director Giorgia Bronzini.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) - She finally secured her first win on the Women's WorldTour at the Vuelta a Burgos, and after placing second at La Course, Uttrup Ludwig heads into the Giro d'Italia Donne as a favourite contender for the overall title. She is strong climber with opportunistic traits, so watch for her to move up a notch from fourth place overall last year, and onto the final podium.

Amanda Spratt (Team BikeExchange) -  The Australian has twice finished on the podium in third place (2018 and 2019) while playing a valuable support role for her former teammate and twice winner of  the maglia rosa Annemiek van Vleuten. She and Van Vleuten were forced to abandon the race last year due to a crash, but Spratt returns to target the maglia rosa. Spratt arrives to the Giro d'Italia Donne as the sole leader of BikeExchange. While Lucy Kennedy continues her recovery from injuries sustained in a crash during the spring Classics, Spratt has the support of proven climbers Grace Brown and Ane Santesteban.  

"I have great memories from the Giro,"  Spratt said. "Of course, last year ended badly with the crash, but before that I was on the final GC podium both times. I know it’s a race I can do well in and that I generally become better throughout the tour, too. We also have Ane Santesteban and Grace Brown who I think can also do well in the overall, so I think we can aim to have good numbers at the top and play the game in the finals."

Mikayla Harvey (Canyon-SRAM) - The sport's newest rising talent is Mikayla Harvey who finished fifth overall and topped the young rider classification at last year's Giro while racing for the now-folded Equipe Paule Ka. In a development role, so far, this year, Harvey has finished in the top 10 on several occasions including third in the youth classification at Vuelta a Burgos and first in the mountain competition at Tour de Suisse.

The route

Organisers have revealed that this year’s race will travel through the mountainous northern regions of Italy that include Piemonte, Lombardia, Liguria, Veneto, and Friuli Venezia Giulia. 

The race will begin on July 2 with a team time trial in Fossano to Cuneo, include an uphill time trial on stage 4, and two mountaintop finishes on stage 2 at Prato Nevoso and stage 9 at Monte Matajur on the penultimate stage, before concluding in Cormons on July 11.

Stage 1: Fossano - Cuneo, TTT, 26.7km

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Giro d'Italia Donne - stage 1 profile

Giro d'Italia Donne - stage 1 profile (Image credit: Giro d'Italia Donne / PMG Sport)

The opening 26.7km team time trial begins in Fossano with a gentle rise to the finish in Cuneo. The Giro d'Italia Donne has begun with a team time trial on several occasions to present the strongest team in the specified discipline before revealing the first rider to wear the maglia rosa in the 10-day race.

Stage 2: Boves - Prato Nevoso, 100km

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Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 2 profile

Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 2 profile (Image credit: Giro d'Italia Donne / PMG Sport)

Stage 2's 100km race begins in Boves and loops across the region's lumpy terrain before tackling the first of two proper mountaintop finishes at Prato Nevoso. 

The race includes an intermediate sprint at Casa del Cioccolato (56.2km) and then a category 3 climb at the Colle del Morte that peaks at roughly the 63km mark. That is followed by an undulating route straight into the final ascent, 20 kilometres along the category 1 climb of the Colle del Prel to Prato Nevoso.

This will be the first day for the GC contenders to reveal themselves and for time gaps to open between the main rivals in pursuit for the maglia rosa.

Stage 3: Casale Monferrato - Ovada, 135km

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Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 3 profile

Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 3 profile (Image credit: Giro d'Italia Donne / PMG Sport)

There's no mountaintop finish but stage 3's 135km route between Casale Monferrato and Ovada is no walk in the park either. The stage is one for the puncheurs, with one intermediate sprint at Acqui Terme (63km) and then four category 4 climbs located during the last half of the stage.

The peloton will contest the first cateogrised climb over Morsasco (71km), followed by a succession of climbs over Ovada (85km), Belforte Monferrato (105km) and lastly Mornes (118km) before a fast descent and a flat run-in to the finish line in Ovada.

It's a day for the punchy riders and the opportunists looking to create a winning breakaway.

Stage 4: Formazza - Cascate del Toce, ITT, 14 Km

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Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 4 profile

Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 4 profile (Image credit: Giro d'Italia Donne / PMG Sport)

The Giro d'Italia is known for throwing in particularly difficult time trials, many of them on steep uphill slopes, which have caused major separations between the GC contenders.

This year is no different and stage 4's 11.2km time trial. It is short but held on an uphill route between Formazza and Cascate del Toce.

The fastest time trial specialists will face competition from the powerful climbers on a route like this one - making for an exciting time trial.

Stage 5: Milano - Carugate, 120km

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Giro d'Italia Donne -Stage 5 profile

Giro d'Italia Donne -Stage 5 profile (Image credit: Giro d'Italia Donne / PMG Sport)

Sprinters will be happy to have a day of their own and stage 5's 122km race from Milano to Carugate will almost certainly end in a bunch sprint.

Recent history proves that you can't always trust the route profiles provided at the Giro d'Italia Donne, but stage 5 appears (on paper at least) to be pan flat.

The route begins in Milano and after 45km of racing reaches the final circuits in Carugate where there are three intermediate sprints; one upon entering the circuits and two more on subsequent laps, before the last-lap finish at Carugate.

Stage 6: Gera Lario Colico - Colico, 155km

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Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 6 profile

Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 6 profile (Image credit: Giro d'Italia Donne / PMG Sport)

Stage 6 is the longest route of the Giro d'Italia Donne at 155 kilometres. The race begins at Gera Lario Colico and offers another punchy route before finishing in nearby Colico.

At the moment, the route maps and profiles do not indicate intermediate sprints nor categorised climbs, however, that could change as we get closer to the race.

In any case, the profile appears to be a demanding one that is undulating with steep pitches and almost no flat sections. This stage, again, looks suited to a breakaway for the puncheurs to have their glory.

Stage 7: Soprazzocco di Gavardo - Puegnago del Garda, 109.6km

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Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 7 profile

Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 7 profile (Image credit: Giro d'Italia Donne / PMG Sport)

Stage 7's nearly 110km begins in Soprazzocco di Gavardo and ends in Puegnago del Garda. The race starts out on a gentle down hill and into an intermediate sprint at Manerbra del Garda (15km) before reaching the six larger circuits.

Each circuit climbs to Puegnago del Garda, a category 3 climb, whereby the first five times up offer sprints for mountain points at the top. The sixth and final ascent marks the finish line at the top.

It's a demanding and explosive circuit that could play out tactically by strong teams and in favour powerful riders who do well on circuit-style races with little recover in between efforts.

Stage 8: San Vendemiano - Mortegliano, 131.8km

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Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 8 profile

Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 8 profile (Image credit: Giro d'Italia Donne / PMG Sport)

Stage 8's 131.8km stage between San Vendemiano and Mortegliano is another one for the sprinters. There are no categorised climbs and the route looks almost completely flat with two intermediate sprints; San Vito al Tagliamento (52.3km) and Mortegliano (88.8km) before finishing in Mortegliano. 

The day will offer the GC contenders some reprieve ahead of the second and final mountaintop finish on stage 9.

Stage 9: Feletto-Umberto - Monte Matajur, 122.6km

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Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 9 profile

Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 9 profile (Image credit: Giro d'Italia Donne / PMG Sport)

The peloton is treated to the 'queen' stage on the ninth day of racing with 122.6 kilometres from Feletto-Umberto to the summit finish at Monte Matajur.

The race sets out of Feletto-Umberto for one large loop that includes a category 3 ascent over the Attimis (26.5km) before heading toward the daunting finale. The peloton will need to get over the category 2 climb Stregna (82km) followed by a fast descent that leads straight into the base of the nearly 20km-long Monte Matajur.

If the general classification has not been decided by this point in the race, it will surely be sealed on the slopes of the Monte Matajur, a 1,642-metre mountain in the Julian Alps on the border between Italy and Slovenia.

Stage 10: Capriva del Friuli - Cormons, 113km

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Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 10 profile

Giro d'Italia Donne - Stage 10 profile (Image credit: Giro d'Italia Donne / PMG Sport)

There is never a parade stage to conclude the Giro d'Italia Donne, and this year is no different, with the finale set along a 113km hilly route in Cormons.

The peloton set out of Capriva del Friuli and contest on a shorter loop that includes a category 3 ascent over Sovenza (15.7km). Next is  a larger loop that includes three more category 3 ascents at Ruttars (31.8km, 67.8km and 104km) before finishing on a descent and run-in to Cormons, where the winner of the official 2021 Giro d'Italia Donne will be crowned.

What to expect

The absence of two-time winner Annemiek van Vleuten (who now races with Movistar) will have the single biggest affect on how the race plays out. She has dominated the event on two previous occasions, and then crashed out of the race while wearing the leader's jersey last year. 

It will be unusual for teams and riders to not have to factor in Van Vleuten's climbing and time trial prowess into their strategies, but it also means the race will be a much more open affair.

Instead of marking two potential winners, this year, Anna van der Breggen will line up as the outright favourite. We can expect her to arrive with a powerful SD Worx team, and with several GC options that also include Demi Vollering and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio.   

There is never just one potential winner, though, and so this year could see a new champion emerge from strong teams Trek-Segafredo, Canyon-SRAM or Team BikeExchange. The biggest test for these teams will be whether they can contest Van der Breggen on the two decisive mountaintop finishes at Prato Nevoso and Monte Matajur.

This year's route offers a good mix of opportunities for time triallists, sprinters, puncheurs and pure climbers, and so we can expect an unpredictable and tactical race for the maglia rosa.

Teams

  • Ale BTC Ljubljana
  • Canyon-SRAM Racing
  • FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope
  • Liv Racing
  • Movistar Team Women
  • Team DSM
  • Trek-Segafredo
  • Team BikeExchange
  • Team SD Worx
  • A.R. Monex Women’s Pro Cycling Team
  • Arkea Pro Cycling Team
  • Bepink
  • Aromitalia Basso Bike Vaiano
  • Bizkaia-Durango
  • Born to Win G20 Ambedo
  • Ceratizit-WNT pro Cycling Team
  • Isolmant-Premac-Vittoria
  • Lotto Soudal Ladies
  • Top Girls Fassa Bortolo
  • Servetto-Makhymo-Beltrami TSA
  • TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank
  • Valcar Travel & Service
  • Jumbo-Visma Women Team
  • Rally Cycling
Kirsten Frattini

Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the 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 cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.

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