Italian work: Is this year the best chance to win at home in the Giro d’Italia Donne?

For years, women’s cycling has been largely dominated by Dutch riders. Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen, Marianne Vos and Chantal van den Broek Blaak have been the ones to beat and in recent years a new generation, including Demi Vollering, have come to the fore.

At world championship and Olympic level, the Netherlands team was always packed with contenders, leading people to speculate every year that having so many potential winners might be to their disadvantage – which has started to become evident at the Tokyo Olympics.

However, in recent years, the tide has been turning. Over the past few seasons, the Italian women have beaten their Dutch counterparts at their own game. Nowhere was that more significant than the 2021 World Championships in Leuven in which Elisa Balsamo beat Marianne Vos to take the jersey bow -en-ciel at only 23 years old.

Balsamo’s team consisted of Italian champion Elisa Longo Borghini, former world champion Marta Bastianelli, sprinter Maria Guilia Confalonieri, bright young talents Marta Cavalli and Vittoria Guazzini, and former Italian national champion Elena Cecchini.

The national team for this race was just a fraction of the talent that has come out of Italy over the years. Riders like Longo Borghini, Cecchini and Bastianelli have been at the top of the sport for some time, but now a new generation of experienced Italian riders are converging to give their nation an undeniable presence in the women’s peloton.

But it is not the work of a few years, as Longo Borghini wanted to point out, this emergence of talents has been in the works for a long time:

“It’s not the last 18 months, it’s been a long process. It’s an effort that small teams have made, to ensure that young talents develop in the right direction, without rushing them. And now, we see the work coming out,” she said Cycling news earlier this month, pointing in particular to Balsamo’s former team, Valcar Travel & Service.

With the Grand Tour of Italy, the 10-day Giro d’Italia Donne, fast approaching – back for a 33rd edition – the host nation’s chances of victory are greater than ever. It’s been 14 years since an Italian won the Giro, when Fabiana Luperini won her fifth title – 10 years after the last of her four straight victories between 1995 and 1998.

Luperini remains the rider with the most Giro victories and is just one of four Italians in history to win the overall title alongside Maria Canins, Roberta Bonanomi and Michela Fanini.

With the strong crop of Italian talent heading into the race this year, the drought could well be broken. So who are the ones to watch out for at the 2022 Giro d’Italia Donne?

Marta Cavalli (FDJ New Aquitaine Futuroscope)

Marta Cavalli

Marta Cavalli (Image credit: Getty Images Sports)

Marta Cavalli, 24, is perhaps the best chance to win the GC for Italy. Export of the resoundingly successful Valcar Travel & Service team, despite her young age, the Futuroscope FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine rider quickly established herself as one of the best climbers in this sport.

This season she has truly come of age, winning two of the sport’s biggest races, La Flèche Wallonne and the Amstel Gold Race, as well as the grueling Mont Ventoux Challenge.

As a French team, FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope will likely focus most of their efforts on the Women’s Tour de France with Zwift and Cavalli also racing in France. As one of Italy’s top riders, however, Cavalli will most likely opt for a leadership role at the Giro d’Italia Donne and head to the Tour to support her teammates.

Cavalli has already shown in the classics that she can beat Annemiek van Vleuten, but she is yet to face the Dutchman one-on-one on her turf – a long climb – this year. Challenging the former world champion on the course that suits her best is something very few riders are capable of, but if anyone can on this Giro Donne, it’s Cavalli.

Alongside Cavalli at the Giro Donne will be Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who finished fourth in the race and opens up the possibility of a two-pronged GC attack for the team while Australian rider Brodie Chapman is likely to be an invaluable asset in the mountains.

Elisa Longo Borghini

Elisa Longo Borghini (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Paris Roubaix Women winner Elisa Longo Borghini has been running for over a decade and has become one of the sport’s most accomplished runners. This year she showed her versatility in a way that surprised not only other riders and fans, but also herself.

Not usually a rider who was thought to have a particularly strong sprint – by her own admission – Longo Borghini showed incredible speed on the final day of the Women’s Tour to claim third on the stage and score enough bonus seconds to pass FDJ Nouvelle Grace Brown of Futuroscope d’Aquitaine takes the final victory.

While the British race route was very different from what the peloton will face in Italy, Longo Borghini showed she was in fine form ahead of her home ‘Grand Tour’. Although she races both the Giro and the Tour, she made it clear that she no longer cares about French racing saying Cycling news“It’s good, I love that there’s a women’s Tour de France. It feels like we’re going to the moon. We’re going to France and racing, it’s no different than what we do anywhere else in the world.”

Longo Borghini will be supported by Tour de Suisse winner Lucinda Brand who showed herself to be in excellent climbing form during the Swiss stage race. The Trek-Segafredo team will be looking for stages with their fast-finishing World Champion Elisa Balsamo, but they have a strong GC competitor in the form of Longo Borghini.

Elisa Balsamo

Elisa Balsamo (Image credit: Sprint Cycling Agency)

As the reigning Italian world champion, Elisa Balsamo is almost obliged to run her “Grand Tour” at home. The 24-year-old saw any notion of the curse of the rainbow jersey just weeks after winning it when she took a stage on the Women’s Tour.

This season she continued that trend, opening her 2022 account by winning the first stage of the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and later achieving a hat-trick of Women’s WorldTour victories at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Brugge-De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem.

Despite her incredible lap of speed, Balsamo is more than capable of climbing as she demonstrated when she won her world title on the steep Belgian bergs and, more recently, at the Tour de Suisse where she won the second stage.

With Balsamo’s main sprint rival Lorena Wiebes absent from the Giro d’Italia Donne, the Italian appears to have a clear race to win some of the sprint stages on her Giro debut.

Marta Bastienelli

Marta Bastienelli (Image credit: Luis Angel Gomez/SprintCyclingAgency©2022)

Former World Champion Marta Bastianelli is one of the most established names in the women’s peloton and despite her many years of racing she shows no signs of slowing down.

Her 2022 season so far has seen the 35-year-old place in the top 10 in almost every race she has entered, including some of the most prestigious spring classics. In addition, the rider UAE Team ADQ has accumulated five victories including the general of the Festival Elsy Jacobs and two stages of the Bretagne Ladies Tour.

Unfortunately Bastianelli was forced to abandon the recent Tour de Suisse due to knee problems, but if she can recover in time for the Giro Donne she will be a real challenger on some of the more impactful stages.

As well as Bastianelli, UAE Team ADQ have two potential options for the Italian GC in the form of talented climber Erica Magnaldi and versatile Sofia Bertizzolo.

Soraya Paladin’s move to Canyon/SRAM from Liv Racing for 2022 has proven to be a success. The versatile 29-year-old is no stranger to the Women’s WorldTour, but in 2022 she has made an impression at the highest level of racing, whether working for Kasia Niewiadoma or securing a podium finish at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda.

The experienced Italian can climb – she won the final mountainous stage of the Tour of Norway in 2019 – and paired with her Swiss teammate Elise Chabbey could be a strong GC candidate for her team in the absence of pure climbers and usual team leaders. Kasia Niewiadoma and Pauliena Rooijakkers.

Silvia Persico

Silvia Persico (Image credit: Getty Images)

They may not have confirmed their roster for the race yet, but any combination Valcar Travel & Service puts together is sure to be solid.

Unmistakable in their bright pink jersey, the Italian side have seen some of the biggest talent in the peloton come out of their programme, including reigning world champion Balsamo.

The current crop of talent includes two of the most exciting prospects in the women’s peloton in the form of cyclocross star and all-rounder Silvia Persico, and sprinter Chiara Consonni.

Persico placed third behind Brand and Marianne Vos at the Cyclocross World Championships in January and carried her form on the road, reaching the top 10 at clubs like Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Strade Bianche and Gent-Wevelgem. The 24-year-old also demonstrated her versatility, finishing 6th overall in the hilly Vuelta a Burgos Feminas and 7th in the pan-flat RideLondon Classique.

Consonni, meanwhile, is an accomplished sprinter. Armed with the sheer speed and daring drive that sprinting demands, she became one of the few challengers to Lorena Wiebes’ reign of women’s road sprinting.

She may have had to settle for second place when it came to the Dutchwoman, but Consonni still had her fair share of podiums and wins this season. Provided some of the Giro’s flatter stages come down to a group kick, we can expect to see the 23-year-old among the strong group of Italian riders battling for a home win.

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