Giro Rosa Iccrea: Will van Vleuten triumph again on the Women’s World Tour’s grandest of stage races?

The cycling world is abuzz with excitement ahead of the biggest race of the year.

The best riders in the world will fight against each other for the right to wear a famous jersey in a hallowed colour.

That’s right – it is time for the Giro Rosa.

First run in 1988, the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile has established itself as the only (remaining) Grand Tour in women’s cycling.

Due to a hiatus in 1991 and 1992, 2019 will see the 30th edition of the race.

Until 2012, the short name for the race was Giro Donne, since 2013 it is colloquially called Giro Rosa.

The organisers have secured sponsorship from Iccrea, a banking group owned by Italian cooperative banks and credit unions, and the race is now branded as the Giro Rosa Iccrea.

The Route

The Giro Rosa organisers are known for putting together a challenging race of ten stages, trying to include famous climbs each year. Even though the race sticks to the northern part of Italy, there will still be considerable transfers from stage to stage.

Riders will spend more than 17 hours in team vehicles moving between stage finishes and starts, probably a good deal more than that when transfers to and from hotels are factored in.

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Compared with last year’s winning time of just under 26 hours, this is a lot – but probably unavoidable if the race wants to visit as much of Italy as possible.

For the third time in a row, the race starts with a team time trial, from Cassano Spinola to Fausto Coppi’s birthplace, Castellania.

The 18-kilometre course is far from easy: the first third is uphill, followed by a downhill second third and an uphill/false-flat final. More than just a warm-up stage, the gaps created here can become crucial.

Stage 2 is a big loop around Viù, starting with a serious climb, but then being flat or false-flat most of the way. The final two kilometres climb at about four percent.

Stage 3 starts with a flattish circuit in the Northern Italian plain before climbing to Piedicavallo, finishing at 1049 metres. With an average gradient of four percent, this finish will not win you the race, but it will give a first indication of who should be considered a contender – and who shouldn’t.

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Stage 4 is harder than it looks on paper with a slightly uphill finish. Even so, this could be the first stage to end in something resembling a mass sprint.

This year’s queen stage 5 was supposed to finish on the Gavia Pass, but the risk of landslides forced a route change the day before the race start.

The mythical Gavia has been substituted with the lesser-known Passo Torri di Fraele (already used in the 2011 edition).

Riders will still start in Ponte in Valtellina and climb to the village of Vespi-Monegatti, a second-category climb.

Having then made their way up the Adda valley, they again climb to Le Motte before facing the climb to the Torri di Fraele with its 30 hairpins. The finish will likely be two kilometres further at the Lago di Cancano dam.

Stage 6 is an individual time trial from Chiuro to Teglio, climbing for 11 of its 12.2 kilometres while stage 7 is a hilly affair with several shorter climbs, offering an opportunity to stage hunters – or to those GC contenders who need to make up time.

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Stage 8 is the most likely mass sprint finish, but even this one includes two not insignificant climbs on the way.

Stage 9 is the last mountaintop finish of the race. An almost completely flat run-in is followed by the 10-7-kilometre, eight-percent average climb to Montasio. This is where the race will be decided.

The final stage finishes in Udine, the capital of the Friuli region, and is mostly flat, but with an uphill final kilometre on cobbles to the Udine castle.

The contenders

Defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten is the favourite to win again. She is supported by a very strong Mitchelton-Scott team including Amanda Spratt who herself finished third in 2018.

The team could well win the opening team time trial, Van Vleuten is world time trial champion and the overwhelming favourite for stage 6 (last year, she gained over half of her winning margin in a similar time trial), and she is one of the strongest climbers as well.

And if Van Vleuten should falter, Spratt is ready to step in.

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Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) sat out last year’s Giro Rosa but is back this year, in the world champion’s rainbow jersey she won on a mountainous course in Innsbruck.

Van der Breggen has an equally strong team behind her, with US climber Katie Hall as a strong lieutenant.

When Van der Breggen attacks, there are only very few riders in the world who can follow, and with her race craft she often picks the exact right moment to make her move.

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv) finished second in the Giro Rosa last year and wants to return to the podium.

She had an injury-marred start to the season and wasn’t at her best level at the Tour of California – but still finished third overall.

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Her team’s co-leader Marianne Vos is likely to go for stage wins, but her experience as a three-time Giro Rosa winner will be invaluable. Pauliena Rooijakkers is ready to step up and be the last helper on the climbs.

Behind those three favourites, the field is a bit closer. Trek-Segafredo line up with Elisa Longo Borghini as the GC leader, but Tayler Wiles and Ruth Winder also shouldn’t be discounted.

The newly-formed team has shown attacking racing all year, resulting in winning two stages and the overall at the Emakumeen Bira. Longo Borghini may not be able to challenge for the overall win here, but the team could go and win one or several stages.

Danish climber Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig will have the full support of her Bigla team after being only the second in line in 2018 behind Moolman-Pasio.

This year, Uttrup Ludwig has already achieved podium places at the Trofeo Binda and Tour of Flanders and appears to have put the injuries that held her back in 2018 firmly in the past.

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Her exuberant attacking spirit will be hard to contain, but like most of her teammates, she is still young. An improvement on last year’s sixth place overall is likely, but not guaranteed – what is guaranteed is that Uttrup Ludwig will throw everything she has at the race.

Team Sunweb field a strong team with last year’s fourth place Lucinda Brand and Leah Kirchmann as likely GC contenders – but Juliette Labous and Floortje Mackaij could also spring a surprise.

Whoever ends up as the GC threat, the team is a strongly knitted unit, racing for one common goal. A win in the opening TTT is entirely possible.

Canyon-SRAM support their leader Katarzyna Niewiadoma with a well-rounded team. Tiffany Cromwell is an excellent road captain to lead her younger teammates on the road, and Alena Amialiusik has one of the biggest engines in women’s cycling.

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Niewiadoma herself is a rider who isn’t afraid to take a chance. She would rather attack and lose the race than race conservatively, and it is a dictum in women’s cycling that when the road goes up, “Kasia” attacks. In this Giro Rosa, she will have plenty of opportunities for that.

WNT-Rotor strengthened their roster for the 2019 season and line up for the Giro Rosa with three GC threats. Erica Magnaldi, Ane Santesteban, and Kathrin Hammes could all break into the GC top-ten.

Italian Magnaldi will probably be the protected rider, but her teammates can expect to get green light if they show to be stronger on the road. The team also has Kirsten Wild for stages that come down to a sprint.

Who else to look out for?

Soraya Paladin (Alé Cipollini) has had a breakthrough season with top results in both classics and stage races and appears ready to step up at the Giro Rosa as well.

Her team also includes Nadia Quagliotto, second in the U23 ranking last year, and Korean Na Ahreum who competed with the best at the Bira.

Tatiana Guderzo (BePink) is a Giro Rosa veteran, going into her 14th participation.

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The former world champion may not be able to challenge for the overall win, but a stage win is well within her abilities.

Eider Merino (Movistar Team) impressed with a fourth place on the Zoncolan and an eighth place overall in last year’s edition. If the featherweight climber can avoid time losses on the flatter stages, she will be a force to reckon with in the mountains.

Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenburg) was almost unknown outside the Netherlands half a year ago.

Since then, she has turned heads with a strong final-lap attack at the Trofeo Binda, excellent results at the Ardennes classics culminating in a third-place at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and a fifth-place overall in the Women’s Tour.

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While her first Giro Rosa will be a learning experience, it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore to see her at the pointy end of the race.

The white U23 jersey will likely be fought for between Sofia Bertizzolo (Team Virtu Cycling) and Évita Muzic (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope).

Bertizzolo won the U23 classifications both at the Giro Rosa and in the whole Women’s WorldTour almost unopposed, but this year Muzic (and Valcar Cylance’s Marta Cavalli who isn’t racing the Giro Rosa) have put up fierce resistance, exchanging the lead in the U23 WWT ranking among themselves.

Muzic appears to be stronger in the high mountains, but Bertizzolo has the advantage of experience. While Muzic starts her first Giro Rosa, Bertizzolo has already finished the race three times before.

The coverage

There is no live TV coverage of the race. If you want to follow along as it happens, your best bet is Twitter where you can follow the hashtags #GiroRosa and #UCIWWT.

However, there will be an Italian-language ‘as-live’ broadcast of about the last hour shortly after the finish of each stage on the website of PMG Sport (also available on YouTube here).

This will be sent at different times each day, click here for details.

Finally, the race will also be broadcast in English as Trek and VoxWomen have joined forces to present a one-hour highlights show each day, aired at 18:30 CEST here.

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