31st Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile (2.WWT)

Come on! This race deserves a thread of its own, rather than to be chucked away in the general Women's Racing thread.

Here's the startlist

And now for an important question: Coverage? It's a WT race, so it has to have coverage! But surely the 50 minutes delayed coverage thing on ES Player doesn't actually count as coverage. Surely by "coverage" they mean live coverage?!

Stage info to follow in individual posts.
 
It's a shame to lose a day of racing relative to previous years, but that's likely a response to the pandemic and there's not much that can be done about it, and it doesn't stop me being a bit excited, so there's that. This is a really interesting route, with the move for a more southern route, presumably influenced by the race being later than usual so the desire to not have adverse weather as a factor. This route reminds me a bit of 2009's Giro Donne, actually, more so than the last time they had a 'southern' route, which was 2017. That race was a disappointing parcours with not one real mountain (I know this one has very few that can count as keynote climbs and none that have the reputation or aura of the likes of Zoncolan, Gavia, Stelvio, Madonna del Ghisallo and others the women have taken on in recent years, but it's a clear tougher route than 2017) placed in a position to be truly decisive. The 2018 and 2019 Giri were a response to that - and the criticism levelled at the 2017 parcours by some corners of the péloton. However the last two years were somewhat imbalanced the other way, with the only time trials being mountainous and some huge mountaintop finishes, resulting in a runaway victory each time. This route looks to be an intriguing mixture that recalls 2009, when there was an iconic mountain, but early in the race (stage 3 to Monte Serra), then a couple of real up-and-down-all-day stages in the middle, including one that saw Pooley dropped big time due to poor descending, and enabled Häusler to get the advantage she needed, plus a great puncheuse finish at Castel di Monte. There is no equivalent of Monte Serra here, but the professionalism in the péloton is different to how it was eleven years ago too, and there are ample opportunities to make the race. The women's bunch with its smaller teams and so many never-say-die riders in the upper echelons of the péloton isn't given to too many "wait and see" stages, so this has a lot of potential and I am pretty enthused about the route, all told. I like it.

The stages

Stage 1:
Unfortunately, we start with probably the thing I like the least about the race. There are simply not enough women's races with proper length ITTs. In fact, in 2019, there was literally one ITT in the Women's World Tour outside of the Giro, that being the 3,8km prologue of the Boels Rentals Ladies Tour. At least a couple of years ago Emakumeen Bira had a 30km ITT. For the most part though, the lower budget of the women's races plus the ability to get the roads closed and open again in a shorter period means the dreaded TTT is more common and more popular, much to my eternal disappointment. The TTT is pan flat and will encourage teams to bring some rouleuses at least, but nevertheless, I just feel it's a real shame to not have a proper race of truth. My opinions of TTTs are well known, even if last year's TTT put Kasia Niewiadoma in the maglia rosa.

Stage 2:
Helpfully, the Giro Rosa in recent years really hasn't stayed on circumstance and giving the sprinters a chance to fight out the lead for a few days. All action all the time. Would it have been nice to climb up Monte Amiata? Sure, but I'm certainly not complaining about the route they've chosen, a real leg-biting up-and-down all day around the shoulders of the climb. Toscana is of course one of the cradles of cycling in Italy, and in recent years when you think of Tuscan cycling you must surely think of Strade Bianche... that epic 2010 Giro stage... L'Eroica... well, it's nice to see a little taste of that. And the dirt climb here is a real climb - a proper cat.2, tough enough to tell us the group of riders likely to fight out the top placings without taking out too much suspense (at least for the podium, if somebody (I have two names in mind) goes nuts). The slight uphill to the line is pure Vos territory, so the others will want to really go hard on the strade bianche to try and rid themselves of her.

I also love that the Giro Rosa has truly decided to ape its male counterpart by not categorising any of those climbs save for one. That's some world class trolling there.

Stage 3:
The climb categories are beyond insane here. 3,8km @ 4,8% is cat.3, but right before it 6km @ 5% is not worthy of categorisation. Then the finish, 1,8km @ 8%, is a cat.1. Whoever put these figures together is mad; we're giving out fewer points than the Giro on the bigger climbs, but over-reaching with cat.1 status more than ASO on the Côte des Chevrères. This is going to be a women's Flêche. I know there's a real women's Flêche, but they often actually race before the Mur there, this is a stage that will be all about the finish. The official planimetry is pretty vague, but the routing seems to suggest it's the same finish as the 2012 Giro stage which was won by Joaquím Rodríguez. Should be good for the puncheuses, obviously, and we have a lot of elite ones on hand.

Stage 4:
At this point the GPM goes from being a nod and a wink to a full trollface. This is effectively more of the same from stage 3, only the finish this time somehow isn't categorised. 1,8km @ 8,0% = cat.1, but 2,0km @ 7,9% isn't worth categorising. There are no words for this. I suspect this will be a bit like Montenars in 2016. Hopefully it's as decisive. The other thing that's crucial about this one is the length. 169km is a rare length for a women's race and really above a lot of riders' thresholds. This will be a good endurance test and it was this stage that most excited Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig before the race. I know, I know, it usually doesn't take much to excite our friend Cecilie, but this is a real outlier in women's cycling and in a year where some of the other races that push the boundaries aren't running (the Women's Tour likes to put in some long stages and has a high average stage length, for example) this is a real potential feather in the cap of the winner and a bit of a pre-World Championships marker, as success over a long distance on a punchy course in central Italy will augur well for a couple of weeks later...

Stage 5:
This stage could be really interesting in the women's péloton. With that long run-in, it could be forgiven for being left to the sprinters, especially after the last three days will have been GC days. But then how many real sprinters are turning up to a race like this, and how many of them survive a 13km @ 4% climb? Well, Merckx will, of course, but she's unique. As Ina-Yoko Teutenberg once said after a Giro stage, when questioned as to whether the next stage would be for her or if it was entering "Vos territory"... "everything is Vos territory". The descent from Lenola to Fondi could be very interesting, though - descents tend to be more decisive in women's races than men's, although the retirements of two of the most fabled bad descenders, Pooley and Abbott, does temper that somewhat. Nevertheless, we do see some concerted downhill attacks in women's racing, and there are some real specialists who might risk it especially if they've lost a bit of time that they'd rather not have done. Sometimes in women's races, it's the unexpected places where things happen. Claudia Lichtenberg re-entered the 2015 GC mix on a breakaway in a flat stage because the sprinters were disorganised. Annemiek van Vleuten lost the 2017 Giro Rosa by being dropped in a pan-flat circuit race in the Po floodplain. This is a banana skin.

Stage 6:
For the second time in four years they race in the shadow of Vesuvio and don't use it. That makes me sad. Good stage for a break, this.

Stage 7:
This is another potential Worlds tune-up for those who are out of the GC mix, and a potentially interesting stage for the GC with a profile a bit like the Trofeo Alfredo Binda.

Stage 8:
While a pretty short stage, this one is going to be an absolute monster. I am very, very interested in how that final climb is going to pan out. 3,3km at more that 12% is going to be a brutal climb which could be very, very decisive for the GC here. It's the toughest single climb of the race. Sadly not everybody I'd love to see fighting this one out is going to be there to do so but we still have a lot of big hitters so hopefully it won't disappoint. The summit not being at the top of the steepest part could lend some intrigue, too - but this looks like more something out of the Vuelta in recent years; it's something akin to Xorret del Catí (which featured last year in the Setmana Valenciana). This will likely be a stage where the second they hit the climb we're going to see carnage.

Stage 9:
The finale looks like a tougher version of the Varese Worlds, with climbing the shallower side and descending the steeper side of the Volturno climb (and putting the GPM in a misleading spot too). With it climbing right from km0 and the small team sizes, plus the fact that there are no more days to wait for, if there's still a GC battle going on, this could be an absolute slaughter. Even if there isn't, there are going to be plenty of teams who want to salvage something from the race and it will be peoples' last race day before the Worlds Road Race so that might also be a factor. Looking forward to it!
 
Reactions: Pantani_lives
I would have preferred using Monte Amiata at stage 2, or more sterratos, or a mixture of the two ( I had a stage in my Giro variant with sterrato after Monte Amiata that I posted in Race Design Thread ).
The route generally does not have any big climbing stages. I would have liked one mountain stage, not a summit finish, but rather a stage where you have a tough climb at 50-60 km from the finish and have easier ones. afterwards. Disappointed to see a TTT instead of an ITT as well.
Stage 8 has a very tough climb just before the finish, similar to Xorret del Cati or Mende., so that should bring some gaps as well.
 
Reactions: SafeBet
The Teams

Mitchelton-Scott:
They will obviously be the first to come up because they have the defending champion. Annemiek van Vleuten is an obvious favourite for the race. After all, she was already a world class cyclist before she had a terrifying accident whilst busy trying to win the Olympic Road Race. Left for dead face down on the kerb with a broken vertebrae, that could have easily been it. But just as with Steve Austin (not the Stone Cold one, the other one), "we can rebuild her... we have the technology". Annemiek van Vleuten was stitched back together again with a six million dollar bionic skeleton perfectly configured for cycling and constructed entirely out of titanium and awesomeness, and since then she's been on an incredible tear. She comes into the race the defending champion, the world champion, and having won several tough climbing races since the return to racing. Her opponents will take solace in that she didn't look quite so untouchable at La Course, that she's not a great sprinter if bonus seconds come into it, and that, at 38, she has to hit the wall at some point, right? After all, she's thrown the race away with a mistake in a flat stage befoore, and this course is light on the long specialist climbs that she's made her own since relocating to Livigno and training with Mitchelton's men's team. And, of course, crashes happen, much as though we'd rather they didn't, and they can change a race - and a career - in an instant.

If crashes or similar do derail Annemiek's bid for the GC, though, they still have Amanda Spratt, so that's really not a bad fallback option, since she was on the podium herself last year. Now, it is true that in many respects Spratt's recent successes have been benefiting from van Vleuten much as van Vleuten used to benefit from Vos, with opposition letting her gain more time than she needs in the fear of giving Annemiek a free ride. But Spratt is often underrated - including by me, definitely - as a result. She attacked on the Urkiola pass some 60km from home in the Emakumeen Bira in 2018, and was strong enough to hold that advantage to the line. She dropped a lot of highly vaunted climbers on Altopiano di Montasio to cement that podium last year. She's a bit of a late bloomer, but she's been a quality pro for several years who has been biased in skillset towards the climbs, so she really can't be given much rope. Plus there's also Lucy Kennedy, a latecomer to cycling who nevertheless clearly has the endurance and skillset to succeed - and would have won a Giro stage last year had she not celebrated prematurely and given Marianne Vos an extra half second to catch her, which at the speed Marianne was travelling on that cobbled hill in Piedicavallo was more than enough.

Alé-BTC Ljubljana:
Effectively not a merger but a bit of a grafting of some of the better riders from BTC onto the old Alé team, it seems they're going to be a mountains team this year. Eugenia Bujak doesn't seem to mix it up in sprints often these days, and the old hands will handle the climbing. Tatiana Guderzo and Mavi García are the same age, but you'd never think it from racing; Guderzo's heyday is nearly a decade in the past, while García goes from strength to strength lately after only moving into cycling from triathlon after turning 30. Tatiana is not explosive nowadays and doesn't tend to win much of anything in recent years, but she's always motivated for the Giro and, as a former world champion and podium athlete in the race, is worth keeping an eye on, especially for the maglia azzurra. García just won two stages of the Tour de l'Ardêche, including a real beast of a stage to Font d'Urle, so she's a bit of a wildcard.

Aromitalia-Vaiano:
Letizia Borghesi won a stage from the break last year. Realistically that's their best hope; the team consists of five Italian youngsters who are 24 or younger, and Rasa Leleivyte, the Lithuanian who would almost certainly have moved on had it not been for that positive test in her past. She's a good bet to finish around 7th or 8th on the punchy finishes but as she came from sprinting originally, she tends to be less competitive as climbs tend longer. She can finish well at places like Plumelec and the Giro dell'Emilia but against an all-star cast she'll be a bit quieter.

Astana:
Arlenis Sierra is comfortably their best name, while they may have some wildcard hopes for Blanca Liliana Moreno. Both tend to get their best results in the UCI America Tour, however, so breakaways and well chosen moves are their best hope of anything beyond some decent placements from Sierra I'd have thought.

BePink:
Another team of local prospects, albeit with some older, more experienced heads like Silvia Valsecchi and Simona Frapporti to keep them on the level. They've managed to spring the occasional surprise such as with Kseniya Tuhai in 2015 or unearthing Nikola Nosková in 2017, so don't write them out completely, but it will be a surprise if they're up in the mix.

Bizkaia-Durango:
Smallish Spanish team, their big thing will be Italian cyclocross specialist Alice Maria Arzuffi who is a pretty capable climber and could get up into the top 20.

Boels-Dolmans:
The obvious contender to van Vleuten is Anna van der Breggen, who is calling premature time on her career soon, albeit perhaps delayed a biit to give her a chance to defend her Olympic title. Or both Olympic titles, as some within women's cycling have suggested. Either way, this looks a good route for Anna, seeing as there are two nice steep punchy finishes and you can't really get anybody who likes a punchy finish more than somebody who has won on the Mur de Huy five times in a row. Anna, like van Vleuten, is a proper ATV of a climber, powerful and punchy, and strong against the clock too. She's a real threat. The strange thing, though, is that Boels have largely sent a rouleuse corps in support of her. OK, there's no, say, Dideriksen, but after Karol-Ann Canuel, who hasn't been as strong as a couple of years ago, the third best climber on the team is probably Amy Pieters, although in fairness Blaak is fine on smaller climbs and Buurman, though really signed to be a pocket rocket kind of reduced-bunch-sprint-on-a-lumpy-stage rider, is no mug. Only d'Hoore is somebody who doesn't really climb at all, and that's because she's one of the few truly elite sprinters to be on the startline. Those few stages with flattish finishes will see her really fighting to come into her own. No Katie Hall is a shame as she would have added a further contender or a real 1B option alongside van der Breggen, but pandemics are pandemics I'm afraid.

Canyon-SRAM:
Another frontline team who will be fighting for the podium, the logical leader for Canyon is Kasia Niewiadoma. The combative Pole, since being11th as a teenage neo-pro, has been the model of consistency at the Giro, finishing 5th, 7th, 6th, 7th and 5th in her five attempts since. She has tended to stall out in the middle of the top 10 as she seems to go best on mid-length kinds of climbs, in the 4-8km kind of range, similar in scale to those she's grown up climbing in the mountains of southern Poland, so this might be her best chance yet to make the step forward to the podium. After all, she's been around a long time, but she's still only 25. And if La Course is anything to go by, she has added descending to her arsenal, stringing out the bunch and even breaking away from it on the descents from early in the race. One thing's always for sure with Kasia though - she won't die wondering. If she has the legs to compete, we'll know about it because she'll be attacking left right and centre. With Omer Shapira and Alena Amialiusik she has good climbing help, with Hannah Barnes and Lisa Klein she has some strong engines and with Elena Cecchini the team have one of the smarter riders in the bunch when it comes to tactics and the right moves to follow.

CCC-Liv:
Possibly the strongest top-down team in the entire race. The on-paper weakest rider is Pauliena Rooijakkers, who just came from the podium of the Giro dell'Emilia and would be a more than serviceable #1 helper for just about any leader in this race. That's how strong they are. Sabrina Stultiens is a bit quieter than she used to be these days, but the rest of the team are about as top line as it comes. Sofia Bertizzolo has been WWT U23 champion and is strong in a variety of terrains; Soraya Paladin had a superb 2019 season and has a fast finish as well as being able to get over a lot of obstacles - including most that the 2020 Giro Rosa includes - and then you have the two leaders. I think this year's route is one that is more suited to Vos than to Moolman-Pasio; typically Vos has been able to compete over this kind of terrain, and it's been when the Giro has gone to the really serious climbs that she's fallen away - Monte Beigua in 2013 and Torre di Fraele last year for example - whereas Ash has been best when the climbs have gone to the really tough level - her best climbing performance was taking Mitchelton apart on Jaizkibel in 2017, and she was the one to come closest to breaking van Vleuten on the Zoncolan. However, being on the same team as Eddy Merckx does rather limit your options as leader; nevertheless this is a serious contender for Annemiek and Amanda as the strongest GC hydrahead in the race. There's one that could potentially come close later on in the startlist but I'm not so sure about.

Ceratizit-WNT:
WNT are almost out of their role as the surprise climbing package now. Last year their depth as climbers was a real out-of-nowhere surprise as they seemingly put together a top climbing corps out of odds and ends - late starting Italian Erica Magnaldi and Basque escaladora Ane Santesteban were odd pickups for a British team that had historically focused on sprints and Benelux one-day races, then Clara Koppenburg emerged as a climbing talent and they picked Janneke Ensing up off the waiver wire when she fell out with Sunweb. Obviously that corps has been taken apart to some extent, but they still have half of it, and Magnaldi will be motivated as well as being the best of the 4 at last year's Giro. Brennauer, Wild and Confalonieri is a hell of a lot of firepower for what little flat racing there is.

Cogeas-Mettler:
The most bonkers team in the péloton, they are a completely mad mix that are like a team version of the mercenary rider, and I have no idea what to expect. Maria Novolodskaya is a genuine prodigy, or seems like it in the races she gets to do. She's just come from committing assault and battery on the hopes and dreams of everybody in the péloton in a series of middling Turkish races at high altitude and with mountains, and she's still only just turned 20. But she may end up having to forgo her own interests in favour of that of the team's other project, which is bringing together as many veteran, shady names as they can - they have Olga Zabelinskaya, now 40 and with plenty of history both good and bad, and Amber Neben, the former world time trial champion now 45 years old. Half the team are shady veterans, half the team are young Russian talents, and all 6 could contest for the top 10 or miss the time cut almost any day of this. Oy vey.

Cronos-Casa Dorada:
A new mid-budget Spanish team, they're also an odd collection, but with considerably less baggage. Małgorzata Jasińska is getting older and less competitive the last couple of years after her initial renaissance at Movistar, but thankfully no less combative so I'd expect to see their jersey off the front a good few times thanks to her capable instincts. They also got Rachel Neylan off Movistar but her best results feel a long time ago now. Of more interest will be the two Italians - Soraya Paladin's younger sister Asja, and Nadia Quagliotto, who memorably lost a stage win to premature celebrations last year, and has a reasonably good finish that she puts to good use on the national calendar but has been hard-pushed to replicate just yet internationally.

Équipe Paule Ka:
The former Bigla/Cervélo team have had a tumultuous time of late, and it is a great disappointment to see them line up without either their best climber, Clara Koppenburg, or their young climbing prospect Nikola Nosková. Nevertheless, while stage wins may become their target instead, they have some useful weapons for that. Lizzie Banks won a Giro stage last year, for starters, while late starter Marlen Reusser has great TT skills to perhaps take a late flyer. Emma Norsgaard is a prospective phenom, while Niamh Fisher-Black looked very impressive in La Course.

Eurotarget-Bianchi:
A small Italian team, I think they'll be break fodder here, largely young riders and shorn of two of their more well-known names, with sprinter Arianna Fidanza moving on to Lotto and Romanian champion Ana Maria Covrig, always visible in attack moves late on in the Giro (having good day-on-day recovery to be fresh to attack but not the overall level to compete for the stage, generally), retiring.

FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope:
FDJ will come into this race with aspirations of the podium or at least a top 10, and we should all want that because, you know, CILLE. The charismatic, impulsive and lovably insane Dane is a very strong candidate for the upper echelons of the GC, having won the Giro dell'Emilia last month suggesting good puncheuse form. She did crash of course in Plouay which cost her in La Course, but a rested Cille will be a competitive Cille, and as I've said before, we should all want a competitive Cille because the better she does, the more likely people are to put a microphone in front of her. I hope nobody ever tries to give her media training, and if they do, she takes it about as seriously as Kimi Räikkönen took his, because she is the best thing about the sport of cycling in 2020. She also has some good backup - Brodie Chapman quietly amassed a lot of really good results last year, and Emilia Fahlin was just showing in La Course that she might be getting back to the kind of level she was at before her injuries. If so, she could win a reduced or punchy sprint here as well, which takes a bit of pressure off Cille, seeing as the latter's sprint is... well, I might back her in a two-up against Longo Borghini, at a push.

Lotto-Soudal:
Having mentioned Fidanza before, she has come across to Lotto, though she will be subsumed to work for Lotte Kopecky, you would expect, as an outside shot at a couple of the flatter stage finishes. Elsewhere, Julie van de Velde was 17th in the Giro last year and is a pretty functional climber who will often be among those who come in in the group behind the van Vleutens and van der Breggens of this world. She quietly had a pretty good 2019, ninja-style, and she was top 10 over Xorret del Catí in the Setmana Valenciana, beating much more vaunted climbers like Hall, Ludwig and García.

Lviv Cycling Team:
Debutantes at the Giro, this Ukrainian team is an odd choice, but they do have longtime Giro Rosa stalwart Yevgeniya Vysotska. Now 44, the veteran Ukrainian has often built her whole season around one more tilt at the Giro, her best result being 6th back in 2010 when riding for Valdarno in support of Tatiana Guderzo. Now largely confined to small Italian teams and mercenary racing, she's slowly drifted back among the pack and now finishes in what men's cycling fans might call the Francis de Greef zone. The team don't do many major races in Europe so it's hard to really judge the riders based on what they do in small races in Turkey and China.

Movistar:
Movistar's Giro plans were thrown into chaos last week; their main plan was built around the featherweight climber Eider Merino, but after she was a good little Basque climber, i.e. she crashed on a descent and managed to injure herself in the Tour de l'Ardêche, she is unavailable to start. As a result, bib #1 for them goes to Katrine Aalerud, the Norwegian who is potentially a surprise - she likes steep gradients and finished top 10 in the Monte Zoncolan stage in 2018 - and their other hopes will likely rest on Colombian prospect Paula Patiño, who went well in Ardêche but whose pack skills need a bit of work it seems. Guarischi or Biannic might be able to nab a sprint or two or interject themselves from the right break.

Servetto-Piumate-Beltrami TSA:
Another team of young Italians, their squad of inexperienced riders is supplemented by two Russians, Anna Potokina and Kseniya Dobrynina. Form for them is an unknown with no real racing since lockdown, but I'd be surprised if they provide more than the occasional break fodder.

Team Sunweb:
An interesting team for the GC here, they have a pretty young team. The route I believe is such that Juliette Labous is the smart name to put their weight behind; she narrowly missed the top 10 last year and is more at home on longer climbs than their other youth superstar prospect, Liane Lippert. I feel Lippert to be more of a puncheuse, so although she may be more consistently strong than Labous, the Frenchwoman is the better suited rider to this kind of course. They're only 21 (Labous) and 22 (Lippert) respectively so plenty of development time yet, too. The other GC possibility to take some pressure off would be Leah Kirchmann; she was 8th back in 2016 and in the break in the Torre di Fraele stage last year. She also fought out the Women's Tour GC to salvage the race after Lippert collapsed on the Epynt climb in 2019. Floortje Mackaij is a great hand for all terrains and Coryn Rivera is punchy enough to potentially contest a couple of stages here, and prove to the team she still has a role there after the signing of Lorena Wiebes...

Top Girls Fassa Bortolo:
No stars, just prospects, but they're just absolute fixtures of the race and it would be wrong not to see them there.

Trek-Segafredo:
This is going to be an interesting one. The obvious leader is of course Elisa Longo Borghini. She's on home territory and she has been on the podium here before. The problem for Elisa is that she has almost always managed to have one bad day that completely puts paid to her GC bids. Often on her home roads, such as at the San Domenico di Varzo climb. Like Niewiadoma, she's pretty consistent - her results in the Giro Rosa are 18th, 9th, 5th, 8th, 11th, 2nd, 10th, 8th. She largely settles at the bottom end of the top 10 when there is serious climbing to be done; the one edition she was in genuine contention for the win for, however, was 2017's southern route, away from the pressure of home roads and without a major MTF to crack on. She also had the issue of sharing leadership with Mara Abbott, which is the kind of relationship which is locker room poison; "sharing leadership" with Mara generally translates as taking the responsibility to lead all year, then being asked to slave away for Mara on the few races Mara swans in to do, never to see that work reciprocated. At Trek, it's largely different, despite now being asked to share leadership with another rider known for being rather ungrateful, as the reactions to Lizzie Deignan's non-suspension in the Olympic lead-in from her fellow riders could tell you. However, while she has always been quick to take credit for successes and apportion blame for failures, the one time a year Lizzie has always been happy to put her own goals aside and be a good domestique has been the Giro. Then again, though, Lizzie may never have a better chance to be a GC player in the longest women's stage race than this. She was 15th back in 2009 and hasn't sniffed that again - but in recent years her climbing has improved markedly. She went from being one for the classics who could occasionally handle a hillier one to somebody who took wins in the Trofeo Binda and was among the best in the Ardennes. She then went to being somebody who could podium on the Col d'Izoard. She won the Women's Tour over what you'd call typical Armitstead terrain in 2016, but in 2019 it was a hillier race much more attuned to the rider she is now, rather than then. Would she be tempted to go for her own goals in a truncated season? Or will she be happy to ride for Elisa here and save herself for the World Championships, which she must surely like the look of on the Imola course? The two Americans will provide plenty of capable climbing help - Tayler Wiles won a HTF at Emakumeen Bira last year for example, and was 2nd in the queen stage of the Tour of California the year before as well - while in van Dijk and Cordon-Ragot the team has two incredibly powerful, persistent and selfless rouleuses.

Valcar-Travel & Service:
The final team on the startline, Valcar are another team largely comprising young Italians, though there is rogue Trinidadian Teniel Campbell on the startlist for them, who has come through the UCI World Cycling Centre. They're a bit more enticing than some of the other small Italian teams though, even if young sprint sensation Elisa Balsamo is nowhere to be seen; they have got Marta Cavalli, however, a very promising 22-year-old who has been 5th in the Emakumeen Saria, coming in in a small group with the likes of Moolman-Pasio, Cille, Mavi García, Spratt, Magnaldi and Eider Merino, so clearly she is no mug. She was also top 20 in the Tour of California (inc. the Mount Baldy MTF) and the Women's Tour last year, so signs are good.
 
The Teams

Mitchelton-Scott:
They will obviously be the first to come up because they have the defending champion. Annemiek van Vleuten is an obvious favourite for the race. After all, she was already a world class cyclist before she had a terrifying accident whilst busy trying to win the Olympic Road Race. Left for dead face down on the kerb with a broken vertebrae, that could have easily been it. But just as with Steve Austin (not the Stone Cold one, the other one), "we can rebuild her... we have the technology". Annemiek van Vleuten was stitched back together again with a six million dollar bionic skeleton perfectly configured for cycling and constructed entirely out of titanium and awesomeness, and since then she's been on an incredible tear. She comes into the race the defending champion, the world champion, and having won several tough climbing races since the return to racing. Her opponents will take solace in that she didn't look quite so untouchable at La Course, that she's not a great sprinter if bonus seconds come into it, and that, at 38, she has to hit the wall at some point, right? After all, she's thrown the race away with a mistake in a flat stage befoore, and this course is light on the long specialist climbs that she's made her own since relocating to Livigno and training with Mitchelton's men's team. And, of course, crashes happen, much as though we'd rather they didn't, and they can change a race - and a career - in an instant.

If crashes or similar do derail Annemiek's bid for the GC, though, they still have Amanda Spratt, so that's really not a bad fallback option, since she was on the podium herself last year. Now, it is true that in many respects Spratt's recent successes have been benefiting from van Vleuten much as van Vleuten used to benefit from Vos, with opposition letting her gain more time than she needs in the fear of giving Annemiek a free ride. But Spratt is often underrated - including by me, definitely - as a result. She attacked on the Urkiola pass some 60km from home in the Emakumeen Bira in 2018, and was strong enough to hold that advantage to the line. She dropped a lot of highly vaunted climbers on Altopiano di Montasio to cement that podium last year. She's a bit of a late bloomer, but she's been a quality pro for several years who has been biased in skillset towards the climbs, so she really can't be given much rope. Plus there's also Lucy Kennedy, a latecomer to cycling who nevertheless clearly has the endurance and skillset to succeed - and would have won a Giro stage last year had she not celebrated prematurely and given Marianne Vos an extra half second to catch her, which at the speed Marianne was travelling on that cobbled hill in Piedicavallo was more than enough.

Alé-BTC Ljubljana:
Effectively not a merger but a bit of a grafting of some of the better riders from BTC onto the old Alé team, it seems they're going to be a mountains team this year. Eugenia Bujak doesn't seem to mix it up in sprints often these days, and the old hands will handle the climbing. Tatiana Guderzo and Mavi García are the same age, but you'd never think it from racing; Guderzo's heyday is nearly a decade in the past, while García goes from strength to strength lately after only moving into cycling from triathlon after turning 30. Tatiana is not explosive nowadays and doesn't tend to win much of anything in recent years, but she's always motivated for the Giro and, as a former world champion and podium athlete in the race, is worth keeping an eye on, especially for the maglia azzurra. García just won two stages of the Tour de l'Ardêche, including a real beast of a stage to Font d'Urle, so she's a bit of a wildcard.

Aromitalia-Vaiano:
Letizia Borghesi won a stage from the break last year. Realistically that's their best hope; the team consists of five Italian youngsters who are 24 or younger, and Rasa Leleivyte, the Lithuanian who would almost certainly have moved on had it not been for that positive test in her past. She's a good bet to finish around 7th or 8th on the punchy finishes but as she came from sprinting originally, she tends to be less competitive as climbs tend longer. She can finish well at places like Plumelec and the Giro dell'Emilia but against an all-star cast she'll be a bit quieter.

Astana:
Arlenis Sierra is comfortably their best name, while they may have some wildcard hopes for Blanca Liliana Moreno. Both tend to get their best results in the UCI America Tour, however, so breakaways and well chosen moves are their best hope of anything beyond some decent placements from Sierra I'd have thought.

BePink:
Another team of local prospects, albeit with some older, more experienced heads like Silvia Valsecchi and Simona Frapporti to keep them on the level. They've managed to spring the occasional surprise such as with Kseniya Tuhai in 2015 or unearthing Nikola Nosková in 2017, so don't write them out completely, but it will be a surprise if they're up in the mix.

Bizkaia-Durango:
Smallish Spanish team, their big thing will be Italian cyclocross specialist Alice Maria Arzuffi who is a pretty capable climber and could get up into the top 20.

Boels-Dolmans:
The obvious contender to van Vleuten is Anna van der Breggen, who is calling premature time on her career soon, albeit perhaps delayed a biit to give her a chance to defend her Olympic title. Or both Olympic titles, as some within women's cycling have suggested. Either way, this looks a good route for Anna, seeing as there are two nice steep punchy finishes and you can't really get anybody who likes a punchy finish more than somebody who has won on the Mur de Huy five times in a row. Anna, like van Vleuten, is a proper ATV of a climber, powerful and punchy, and strong against the clock too. She's a real threat. The strange thing, though, is that Boels have largely sent a rouleuse corps in support of her. OK, there's no, say, Dideriksen, but after Karol-Ann Canuel, who hasn't been as strong as a couple of years ago, the third best climber on the team is probably Amy Pieters, although in fairness Blaak is fine on smaller climbs and Buurman, though really signed to be a pocket rocket kind of reduced-bunch-sprint-on-a-lumpy-stage rider, is no mug. Only d'Hoore is somebody who doesn't really climb at all, and that's because she's one of the few truly elite sprinters to be on the startline. Those few stages with flattish finishes will see her really fighting to come into her own. No Katie Hall is a shame as she would have added a further contender or a real 1B option alongside van der Breggen, but pandemics are pandemics I'm afraid.

Canyon-SRAM:
Another frontline team who will be fighting for the podium, the logical leader for Canyon is Kasia Niewiadoma. The combative Pole, since being11th as a teenage neo-pro, has been the model of consistency at the Giro, finishing 5th, 7th, 6th, 7th and 5th in her five attempts since. She has tended to stall out in the middle of the top 10 as she seems to go best on mid-length kinds of climbs, in the 4-8km kind of range, similar in scale to those she's grown up climbing in the mountains of southern Poland, so this might be her best chance yet to make the step forward to the podium. After all, she's been around a long time, but she's still only 25. And if La Course is anything to go by, she has added descending to her arsenal, stringing out the bunch and even breaking away from it on the descents from early in the race. One thing's always for sure with Kasia though - she won't die wondering. If she has the legs to compete, we'll know about it because she'll be attacking left right and centre. With Omer Shapira and Alena Amialiusik she has good climbing help, with Hannah Barnes and Lisa Klein she has some strong engines and with Elena Cecchini the team have one of the smarter riders in the bunch when it comes to tactics and the right moves to follow.

CCC-Liv:
Possibly the strongest top-down team in the entire race. The on-paper weakest rider is Pauliena Rooijakkers, who just came from the podium of the Giro dell'Emilia and would be a more than serviceable #1 helper for just about any leader in this race. That's how strong they are. Sabrina Stultiens is a bit quieter than she used to be these days, but the rest of the team are about as top line as it comes. Sofia Bertizzolo has been WWT U23 champion and is strong in a variety of terrains; Soraya Paladin had a superb 2019 season and has a fast finish as well as being able to get over a lot of obstacles - including most that the 2020 Giro Rosa includes - and then you have the two leaders. I think this year's route is one that is more suited to Vos than to Moolman-Pasio; typically Vos has been able to compete over this kind of terrain, and it's been when the Giro has gone to the really serious climbs that she's fallen away - Monte Beigua in 2013 and Torre di Fraele last year for example - whereas Ash has been best when the climbs have gone to the really tough level - her best climbing performance was taking Mitchelton apart on Jaizkibel in 2017, and she was the one to come closest to breaking van Vleuten on the Zoncolan. However, being on the same team as Eddy Merckx does rather limit your options as leader; nevertheless this is a serious contender for Annemiek and Amanda as the strongest GC hydrahead in the race. There's one that could potentially come close later on in the startlist but I'm not so sure about.

Ceratizit-WNT:
WNT are almost out of their role as the surprise climbing package now. Last year their depth as climbers was a real out-of-nowhere surprise as they seemingly put together a top climbing corps out of odds and ends - late starting Italian Erica Magnaldi and Basque escaladora Ane Santesteban were odd pickups for a British team that had historically focused on sprints and Benelux one-day races, then Clara Koppenburg emerged as a climbing talent and they picked Janneke Ensing up off the waiver wire when she fell out with Sunweb. Obviously that corps has been taken apart to some extent, but they still have half of it, and Magnaldi will be motivated as well as being the best of the 4 at last year's Giro. Brennauer, Wild and Confalonieri is a hell of a lot of firepower for what little flat racing there is.

Cogeas-Mettler:
The most bonkers team in the péloton, they are a completely mad mix that are like a team version of the mercenary rider, and I have no idea what to expect. Maria Novolodskaya is a genuine prodigy, or seems like it in the races she gets to do. She's just come from committing assault and battery on the hopes and dreams of everybody in the péloton in a series of middling Turkish races at high altitude and with mountains, and she's still only just turned 20. But she may end up having to forgo her own interests in favour of that of the team's other project, which is bringing together as many veteran, shady names as they can - they have Olga Zabelinskaya, now 40 and with plenty of history both good and bad, and Amber Neben, the former world time trial champion now 45 years old. Half the team are shady veterans, half the team are young Russian talents, and all 6 could contest for the top 10 or miss the time cut almost any day of this. Oy vey.

Cronos-Casa Dorada:
A new mid-budget Spanish team, they're also an odd collection, but with considerably less baggage. Małgorzata Jasińska is getting older and less competitive the last couple of years after her initial renaissance at Movistar, but thankfully no less combative so I'd expect to see their jersey off the front a good few times thanks to her capable instincts. They also got Rachel Neylan off Movistar but her best results feel a long time ago now. Of more interest will be the two Italians - Soraya Paladin's younger sister Asja, and Nadia Quagliotto, who memorably lost a stage win to premature celebrations last year, and has a reasonably good finish that she puts to good use on the national calendar but has been hard-pushed to replicate just yet internationally.

Équipe Paule Ka:
The former Bigla/Cervélo team have had a tumultuous time of late, and it is a great disappointment to see them line up without either their best climber, Clara Koppenburg, or their young climbing prospect Nikola Nosková. Nevertheless, while stage wins may become their target instead, they have some useful weapons for that. Lizzie Banks won a Giro stage last year, for starters, while late starter Marlen Reusser has great TT skills to perhaps take a late flyer. Emma Norsgaard is a prospective phenom, while Niamh Fisher-Black looked very impressive in La Course.

Eurotarget-Bianchi:
A small Italian team, I think they'll be break fodder here, largely young riders and shorn of two of their more well-known names, with sprinter Arianna Fidanza moving on to Lotto and Romanian champion Ana Maria Covrig, always visible in attack moves late on in the Giro (having good day-on-day recovery to be fresh to attack but not the overall level to compete for the stage, generally), retiring.

FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope:
FDJ will come into this race with aspirations of the podium or at least a top 10, and we should all want that because, you know, CILLE. The charismatic, impulsive and lovably insane Dane is a very strong candidate for the upper echelons of the GC, having won the Giro dell'Emilia last month suggesting good puncheuse form. She did crash of course in Plouay which cost her in La Course, but a rested Cille will be a competitive Cille, and as I've said before, we should all want a competitive Cille because the better she does, the more likely people are to put a microphone in front of her. I hope nobody ever tries to give her media training, and if they do, she takes it about as seriously as Kimi Räikkönen took his, because she is the best thing about the sport of cycling in 2020. She also has some good backup - Brodie Chapman quietly amassed a lot of really good results last year, and Emilia Fahlin was just showing in La Course that she might be getting back to the kind of level she was at before her injuries. If so, she could win a reduced or punchy sprint here as well, which takes a bit of pressure off Cille, seeing as the latter's sprint is... well, I might back her in a two-up against Longo Borghini, at a push.

Lotto-Soudal:
Having mentioned Fidanza before, she has come across to Lotto, though she will be subsumed to work for Lotte Kopecky, you would expect, as an outside shot at a couple of the flatter stage finishes. Elsewhere, Julie van de Velde was 17th in the Giro last year and is a pretty functional climber who will often be among those who come in in the group behind the van Vleutens and van der Breggens of this world. She quietly had a pretty good 2019, ninja-style, and she was top 10 over Xorret del Catí in the Setmana Valenciana, beating much more vaunted climbers like Hall, Ludwig and García.

Lviv Cycling Team:
Debutantes at the Giro, this Ukrainian team is an odd choice, but they do have longtime Giro Rosa stalwart Yevgeniya Vysotska. Now 44, the veteran Ukrainian has often built her whole season around one more tilt at the Giro, her best result being 6th back in 2010 when riding for Valdarno in support of Tatiana Guderzo. Now largely confined to small Italian teams and mercenary racing, she's slowly drifted back among the pack and now finishes in what men's cycling fans might call the Francis de Greef zone. The team don't do many major races in Europe so it's hard to really judge the riders based on what they do in small races in Turkey and China.

Movistar:
Movistar's Giro plans were thrown into chaos last week; their main plan was built around the featherweight climber Eider Merino, but after she was a good little Basque climber, i.e. she crashed on a descent and managed to injure herself in the Tour de l'Ardêche, she is unavailable to start. As a result, bib #1 for them goes to Katrine Aalerud, the Norwegian who is potentially a surprise - she likes steep gradients and finished top 10 in the Monte Zoncolan stage in 2018 - and their other hopes will likely rest on Colombian prospect Paula Patiño, who went well in Ardêche but whose pack skills need a bit of work it seems. Guarischi or Biannic might be able to nab a sprint or two or interject themselves from the right break.

Servetto-Piumate-Beltrami TSA:
Another team of young Italians, their squad of inexperienced riders is supplemented by two Russians, Anna Potokina and Kseniya Dobrynina. Form for them is an unknown with no real racing since lockdown, but I'd be surprised if they provide more than the occasional break fodder.

Team Sunweb:
An interesting team for the GC here, they have a pretty young team. The route I believe is such that Juliette Labous is the smart name to put their weight behind; she narrowly missed the top 10 last year and is more at home on longer climbs than their other youth superstar prospect, Liane Lippert. I feel Lippert to be more of a puncheuse, so although she may be more consistently strong than Labous, the Frenchwoman is the better suited rider to this kind of course. They're only 21 (Labous) and 22 (Lippert) respectively so plenty of development time yet, too. The other GC possibility to take some pressure off would be Leah Kirchmann; she was 8th back in 2016 and in the break in the Torre di Fraele stage last year. She also fought out the Women's Tour GC to salvage the race after Lippert collapsed on the Epynt climb in 2019. Floortje Mackaij is a great hand for all terrains and Coryn Rivera is punchy enough to potentially contest a couple of stages here, and prove to the team she still has a role there after the signing of Lorena Wiebes...

Top Girls Fassa Bortolo:
No stars, just prospects, but they're just absolute fixtures of the race and it would be wrong not to see them there.

Trek-Segafredo:
This is going to be an interesting one. The obvious leader is of course Elisa Longo Borghini. She's on home territory and she has been on the podium here before. The problem for Elisa is that she has almost always managed to have one bad day that completely puts paid to her GC bids. Often on her home roads, such as at the San Domenico di Varzo climb. Like Niewiadoma, she's pretty consistent - her results in the Giro Rosa are 18th, 9th, 5th, 8th, 11th, 2nd, 10th, 8th. She largely settles at the bottom end of the top 10 when there is serious climbing to be done; the one edition she was in genuine contention for the win for, however, was 2017's southern route, away from the pressure of home roads and without a major MTF to crack on. She also had the issue of sharing leadership with Mara Abbott, which is the kind of relationship which is locker room poison; "sharing leadership" with Mara generally translates as taking the responsibility to lead all year, then being asked to slave away for Mara on the few races Mara swans in to do, never to see that work reciprocated. At Trek, it's largely different, despite now being asked to share leadership with another rider known for being rather ungrateful, as the reactions to Lizzie Deignan's non-suspension in the Olympic lead-in from her fellow riders could tell you. However, while she has always been quick to take credit for successes and apportion blame for failures, the one time a year Lizzie has always been happy to put her own goals aside and be a good domestique has been the Giro. Then again, though, Lizzie may never have a better chance to be a GC player in the longest women's stage race than this. She was 15th back in 2009 and hasn't sniffed that again - but in recent years her climbing has improved markedly. She went from being one for the classics who could occasionally handle a hillier one to somebody who took wins in the Trofeo Binda and was among the best in the Ardennes. She then went to being somebody who could podium on the Col d'Izoard. She won the Women's Tour over what you'd call typical Armitstead terrain in 2016, but in 2019 it was a hillier race much more attuned to the rider she is now, rather than then. Would she be tempted to go for her own goals in a truncated season? Or will she be happy to ride for Elisa here and save herself for the World Championships, which she must surely like the look of on the Imola course? The two Americans will provide plenty of capable climbing help - Tayler Wiles won a HTF at Emakumeen Bira last year for example, and was 2nd in the queen stage of the Tour of California the year before as well - while in van Dijk and Cordon-Ragot the team has two incredibly powerful, persistent and selfless rouleuses.

Valcar-Travel & Service:
The final team on the startline, Valcar are another team largely comprising young Italians, though there is rogue Trinidadian Teniel Campbell on the startlist for them, who has come through the UCI World Cycling Centre. They're a bit more enticing than some of the other small Italian teams though, even if young sprint sensation Elisa Balsamo is nowhere to be seen; they have got Marta Cavalli, however, a very promising 22-year-old who has been 5th in the Emakumeen Saria, coming in in a small group with the likes of Moolman-Pasio, Cille, Mavi García, Spratt, Magnaldi and Eider Merino, so clearly she is no mug. She was also top 20 in the Tour of California (inc. the Mount Baldy MTF) and the Women's Tour last year, so signs are good.
Thank you for this great overview.
 
Who's missing?

There are a few people who aren't on the startlist for a variety of reasons, however. While the Giro is still the biggest stage race for women, and it doesn't have the same kind of factor as the Tour where you can be instead focusing on the Giro or Vuelta, it doesn't host 100% of the top names in the sport at all times. I mean, for many years Emma Johansson was one of the very best in the world and she never got on with the Giro, preferring to take a brief break and race Thüringen instead as she started her buildup to the World Championships. Plus, of course, with the parcours being what it is, a lot of elite rouleuses and sprinters have decided not to bother.

Probably the most striking absence is that of Lucinda Brand. The powerful Dutchwoman has been 7th, 4th and 6th in the last three Giri; because she is not particularly explosive and thereby plays little role in the Ardennes or other climbing races like Emakumeen Bira, she sometimes flies under the radar as a GC rider for races like the Giro. However she is very adept with tempo and an absolutely fantastic descender, and comes into her own on longer climbs.

I'm also very disappointed at no Parkhotel Valkenburg on the startlist; I was looking forward to seeing what Demi Vollering could do. She has been very naïve in stage races in 2019, but as it was her breakout year that made sense, and she obviously had plenty of time to learn that trade; she was really impressive as the 'interloper' in a group with five of the biggest names in women's cycling in La Course (really, after her 2019 Demi isn't much of an interloper, but nevertheless she was by far the least proven rider in that group) and Hanna Nilsson is a pretty strong climber too.

Marta Bastianelli, as a monument-winning former World Champion Italian, being absent is also a shame - though healthy or not, there really aren't many stages that she might like the look of, unless she somehow turns the clock back and becomes 2008 Marta Bastianelli again, fresh-faced, fearless and perhaps without the dodgy diet supplement this time. Chursina has also been going well in the smaller races. At the opposite end of careers, Trek have left out Letizia Paternoster as they're so deep they have no reason to risk her, but still, I think she could probably handle the Giro at this point.

I already mentioned my disappointment at Paule Ka not having either Clara Koppenburg or Nikola Nosková in their lineup. Nosková emerged as a sensation at the Emakumeen Bira a couple of years ago and while she's struggled to replicate that, she's still been pretty useful in the mountains. Koppenburg would have been a good hand to have on the climb to San Marco la Catola - I compared it to Xorret del Catí, and Koppenburg put a pretty good climbing field to the sword on that climb in early 2019. Katie Hall being absent from the Boels team is a shame, as I also mentioned - I'd been wanting to see what she could do in Europe for a few years as she had been savaging the US domestic péloton on the climbs, and she promptly came 7th on her first try, losing two spots to a split in the bunch on the final day. Movistar are also without Lourdes Oyarbide, less of an immediate climbing threat, but she's a female version of the classic Basque all-rounder and one of their stronger riders, as well as being combative in stage races from the break as well. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sunweb haven't taken their big money acquisition to the race, but there really isn't much terrain for Lorena Wiebes in the Giro, they will probably feel it's better to send her to the two one-day races in Belgium and France instead. The Trophée des Grimpeuses doesn't sound liike one for her, but then the Trophée des Grimpeurs was a not-particularly-hilly one-day race in the suburbs of Paris, so who knows?
- never mind, looked at the parcours, it's in the area near Charleville-Mézières but on the Belgian side of the border. It's very hilly.

Rally Cycling would also be good to have on the startlist. They might have limited resources available, though, coming across from North America and with little turnaround after the Tour de l'Ardêche might be stretched. However, they have a world class sprinter in Chloe Hosking and Sara Poidevin is a promising and somewhat underrated climber who just finished top 10 in the Ardêche. I know TIBCO also don't tend to do the Giro, but Lauren Stephens and Nina Kessler would make a useful addition to the startlist. Also, finally, from North America, I'm not sure that Twenty20 would have too much to add as a team, but not coming over to race in Europe at all after the loss of pretty much the whole North American calendar AND the Olympics is an absolute waste of Chloe Dygert's prodigious talent after last year's World Championships, that's for sure.
 
Nadine Gill (Bizkaia) justa got a placement in a pro team mostly on her performances in GF and Letape and since she's married/involved(!?) with a Brazilian thats the closest we got to cheer to.
She's not young but lets see what she can do and the difference between amador races and pro races..
 
It's been a good few years since Top Girls could be considered to live up to the name. They're a pretty small team. Debora Silvestri is their Top Girl at the moment and looks like she might be pretty useful, she was 9th in Emilia, but against this kind of field she'll likely be swamped. Their best results tend to come out of races like the Giro della Marche and Toscana. They've had a few decent riders pass through in recent years - Quagliotto, Covrig - but they're mainly a stepping stone and riders showing promise at Top Girls will usually end up moving on to somewhere like Alé, the Italian team with the best budget and resources. The last big name to ride for them was Soraya Paladin back in 2016 a while before her breakout, and the last time somebody was a reasonably big name riding for them was when Francesca Cauz was there in 2014 after her 2013 breakout.

However, they have been an everpresent at the Giro Rosa since 2005 and are one of the most enduring and long-running teams in the péloton, and rely heavily on the bit of exposure a few breaks and presence in the intermediates etc. in this race give them, so it would feel absolutely wrong not to have their distinctive bright orange kits there.
 

ASK THE COMMUNITY