Gaia Realini: From Giro d’Italia Donne breakout rider to podium finisher

Young Italian third overall, a year after attention-grabbing performance in 2022 race

Clock18:00, Sunday 9th July 2023
Gaia Realini (Lidl-Trek) took home third overall and the best young rider's jersey

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Gaia Realini (Lidl-Trek) took home third overall and the best young rider's jersey

Twelve months ago, Gaia Realini (Lidl-Trek) finished the Giro d’Italia Donne as the race’s stand-out young rider, having battled Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) on some of its hardest stages. This year, she leaves the race as a podium finisher.

In the context of 2023, Realini’s performance is her biggest overall result to date, but it is far from surprising. The 22-year-old started her year with second overall behind teammate Elisa Longo Borghini at the UAE Tour, and has since won a stage at the Vuelta Femenina, where she also finished third on GC.

Coming into July, then, it’s not as if Realini was an outsider. But in her first Giro for a WorldTour team - at the very race which likely earnt her contract with Lidl-Trek last autumn - it was made clear just how far she’s stepped up in just a year.

After Elisa Longo Borghini crashed heavily on stage 6, dropping out of second overall and not starting the following day, Realini found herself as Trek’s sole GC leader.

“This Giro was a new experience for me, both in terms of how I approached it and how I lived it day by day,” Realini said after the race. “It was the event I prepared best for, I was at the start with a great desire to test myself, but with the awareness that the first objective was to gain experience.

“I was ready for whatever the team wanted, but then the abandon of Elisa changed things. I found myself being the leader, having the team racing only for me. The goal was to protect me, to not lose a second, to always put me in the best position to face the competition for GC.”

Despite leadership not being the plan for Realini, she stepped into the role with success, often one of the few riders who could follow race Van Vleuten, and went with what would prove to be the podium-deciding move on the final climb of stage 7.

Having been able to follow and in fact beat Van Vleuten during the Vuelta Femenina, it was clear that confidence was a big part of Realini’s success in Italy.

“From the Vuelta a España to today, I have gained awareness and confidence,” she said. “And the biggest thanks go to the team: teammates, team directors and staff. Thanks to them the responsibility of being a leader has never turned into pressure. I could bring out the best because I raced in serenity. These last few days of the Giro are the proof. Nervous, tricky stages that I passed without any problems. It didn’t happen by chance, but it’s the result of our work.

“From Wednesday until today, every team meeting ended by repeating that we could take the podium and keep it until the end. This conviction gave me incredible strength, and every rider knows that the head counts more than the legs in certain situations.”

The loss of Longo Borghini may have changed Lidl-Trek’s plans midway through the race, but team DS Ina Yoko Teutenberg praised the way they still achieved their goals.

“We came with the ambitious idea of hunting stages and fighting for GC, and we hit both targets,” Teutenberg said. “I’m really proud of what the riders did in these days, the dedication and the team spirit they showed.”

Despite Realini’s podium success in the last two major stage races on the calendar, it’s not clear what her role will be for the rest of the summer - the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift looms, but leadership at that race is hotly contested in a team as stacked as Lidl-Trek. But although it may not pay off immediately, what Realini has proved at this race is that just a year on from being a Continental rider taking a chance in the Giro, she is a rider who should be given serious GC opportunities.

“I'm having a dream season, beyond all expectations,” she concluded. “I'll keep repeating that. I am super happy. What will come in the next few months we will find out as we go along. Now I’ll have some rest, then we’ll think again about races.”

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