10 riders to watch at the Giro d'Italia Donne

Our picks for the GC, the best sprinters, and three wildcards

Clock14:00, Thursday 29th June 2023
Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek) is capable of rubbing shoulders with the top stage race contenders

© Velo Collection / Getty Images

Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek) is capable of rubbing shoulders with the top stage race contenders

The longest race on the women’s calendar, the Giro d’Italia Donne, always attracts a stellar line-up of riders, and this year is no different. The nine-day race features a wide variety of stages, from an opening time trial, to sprint days, punchy finishes, and some big and challenging climbing. The field will be full of riders chasing all different objectives, so who should you keep an eye on? Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) will be chasing an historic and final win, but she has some hot GC competition to deal with, and there will be plenty of other riders looking for opportunistic success, too. Here are our picks.

GC contenders

Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar)

When the Giro gets underway in Chianciano Terme on Friday, all eyes will be on Annemiek van Vleuten. Not necessarily because she is the out-and-out favourite, but because the Movistar climber has the most riding on this race. Van Vleuten is in the middle of her final year as a professional, and is hoping to go out with a bang: ideally, by repeating her clean sweep of all three women’s ‘Grand Tours’, as she did in 2022. She won the Vuelta Femenina back in May, so she’s on track so far, and a win in the Giro would also bring her level with Anna van der Breggen to four overall wins.

Van Vleuten always starts stage races as a favourite, but perhaps what is going to make her most interesting to watch at this Giro is that we haven’t yet seen a really dominant performance from her this year. She didn’t pick up a win in the Classics, and in fact her overall Vuelta win - without taking a stage - is her only victory of the season, and even then she was pushed hard by Demi Vollering who won two stages. At the Dutch national championships last weekend, Van Vleuten only managed third in the TT, bettered by Riejanne Markus and Vollering, so she’s not going into this Giro on red-hot form. With fewer long and high climbs than previous years, Van Vleuten will have her work cut out if she’s going to win this race.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek)

In the wake of the questions over Van Vleuten’s form and the slightly more forgiving course, the GC opens up to the more all-round type riders and the top of that list has to be Elisa Longo Borghini. Whilst not a pure climber by any means, the Italian has been improving her stage racing pedigree in recent seasons, winning races like the Women’s Tour and the UAE Tour and finishing sixth overall at last year’s Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. The climbing is fairly forgiving in this Giro, and the new Italian champion is clearly time trialling well, so taking time here and there and holding on over the bigger climbs could definitely deliver Longo Borghini to a maiden win at her home race.

Marta Cavalli (FDJ-SUEZ)

The Italians are coming in with several options at this year’s Giro, with Marta Cavalli also a serious contender for the overall. Before the race was sadly cancelled due to safety issues, Cavalli took a big win atop the Hautacam in the Tour Féminin des Pyrénées, so despite her injury and health issues over the last year, she is definitely climbing well during this part of the season. Cavalli is expected to have leadership at this race with Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig supporting her before the roles reverse for the Tour de France, and Évita Muzic will also be a key help in the climbs. Second overall last year, Cavalli is more than capable of finishing on the podium again this year, and it would only take one good ride in the mountains to convert that runner-up prize into the win.

Chloé Dygert (Canyon-SRAM)

Perhaps a left-field inclusion, but the newly-crowned US champion should not be written off in the fight for pink. Since returning to racing after a difficult few years with injury and illness, the American has been proving that she is much more than just a time trialist, taking wins in sprints and climbing impressively. Dygert will surely be the big favourite to take victory in the opening TT, and from there there is little reason why the 26-year-old could not hold onto pink for the rest of the race. She’s unlikely to lose time on the flat days, and was climbing well enough in Spain to conserve enough time to win the race, especially if the other teams underestimate her and allow her to attack. Canyon-SRAM have a strong team with the likes of Pauliena Rooijakkers, Soraya Paladin and Sarah Roy, so they could be primed to take a big win.

Sprinters

Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx)

After skipping the Giro in 2022, Lorena Wiebes is back at the corsa rosa this year and is undeniably the favourite for the sprint days, and even the punchy finishes with the way she has been riding so far this season. There aren’t many super flat opportunities for the pure sprinters, and Wiebes will surely dominate the ones that are there, but it’s the punchier finishes where Wiebes will be a real risk, ready to steal the spoils from the one-day specialists. SD Worx seem to be putting a lot of focus on Wiebes, sending Barbara Guarischi, Femke Markus and Elena Cecchini as her lead-out, so it would be a big surprise if the most successful team of 2023 came away without at least one or two wins to Wiebes’ name.

Megan Jastrab (Team dsm-firmenich)

Lorena Wiebes’s old team dsm-firmenich won’t have heir-apparent Charlotte Kool in their midst in Italy, but will instead be looking to young American Megan Jastrab for their sprint efforts. Jastrab had a successful spring with fourth in Brugge-De Panne and second in Gent-Wevelgem, and has had a quieter summer so far, but at the Giro she’ll be freed from Kool support duties so should have more chances to show off her own abilities. She proved in last year’s Tour of Scandinavia how well she can finish in bunch sprints so whilst beating Wiebes may be an ask too big - for anybody - we’re expecting to see Jastrab mixing it in the top three.

Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ)

The sprinter who is perhaps most motivated to take a win at the Giro is UAE Team ADQ’s Marta Bastianelli, who announced earlier this year that she will be retiring after one final participation in her home race. Despite being in the very last stretch of her career, 36-year-old Bastianelli has still been sprinting very well this season, picking up two wins and a string of podium finishes, so one last Giro stage victory is definitely within her capability. There may be only a few opportunities, but Bastianelli will be in the action in this race, hoping to go out with a bang.

Wildcards

Fem van Empel (Jumbo-Visma)

Jumbo-Visma’s focus may be on Giro royalty Marianne Vos, who holds the record for most stage wins at the race with 32, but the most interesting name on their line-up is cyclo-cross star and world champion Fem van Empel. Since joining Jumbo-Visma at the start of this year, Van Empel has only raced three times on the road - twice finishing top 10 - so this will be something of a baptism of fire for the young Dutch rider. That said, the 20-year-old is never a rider to shy away from the action, so whilst she is riding her first ever elite stage race, don’t be surprised if you see her on the move.

Antonia Niedermaier (Canyon-SRAM)

By now, the cycling world is well acquainted with the name Ricarda Bauernfeind, who moved up from the Canyon-SRAM Generation team and has excelled at the top level, but you might be less familiar with her compatriot and teammate Antonia Niedermaier. The 20-year-old German was hugely impressive in 2022, winning the famously hard Tour de l’Ardèche and moving up to the WorldTour team alongside Bauernfeind. She’s had a slightly slower start to the season than her teammate, but is really coming good in recent weeks, finishing third on the Hautacam at the Tour des Pyrénées and winning the German U23 national time trial championships with a time that actually bettered the elite winner. One of only a few purer climbers in the Canyon team, we’re expecting Niedermaier to stand out when the race hits the climbs.

Alessia Vigilia (Top Girls Fassa Bortolo)

Among the various Italian Continental teams starting this year’s Giro, there will be a lot of riders hoping to be this year’s Gaia Realini - that is to say, a rider who really comes to the fore over the week in Italy, and hopefully attracts the attention of some big teams. A rider who looks in a prime position to impress in Alessia Vigilia of Top Girls Fassa Bortolo, who has been quietly performing well across .1 and .Pro races so far this season. She’s something of an all-rounder, so look out for her in the breakaways, and if she is up the road, don’t overlook her as a potential winner.

We’ll be showing live and on-demand coverage of all nine stages of this year’s Giro d’Italia Donne from Friday June 30th to Sunday July 9th. Head over to GCN+ now to check the start times of each broadcast so that you don’t miss out on a moment of the action! As always, territory restrictions will apply.

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