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Here come the mountains, 3 climb-heavy day

02/02/2024

The Giro d’Italia Women, like every major stage race, will see the mountains act as the final judges of the competition. The route will provide plenty of opportunities for the climbers and the GC leaders, thanks to three climb-heavy stages (all on the Apennines), two of which featuring a summit finish. All eyes on stage 3, 7 and 8 then!

Toano’s debut

The first test for the climbers will come on Tuesday 9 July, the third day of racing, with the largely flat 111km run from Sabbioneta to Toano, which will nevertheless feature the first mountaintop finish of the Giro. Before tackling this category 2 effort up to the Apennine town of Toano (located at an altitude of 885 metres), at its debut in the world of great cycling, the athletes will not face any other altimetrical difficulties.

The stage starts in the Mantuan plain and, after crossing the River Po, heads into the lowlands of the Reggio Emilia province. From there, the route proceeds towards the gentle valley roads of the hinterland and the intermediate sprint of Albinea (around halfway through the stage), which could be the target of the day’s probable breakaway. The road will begin to gradually rise after reaching the village of Ponte Secchia, close to the hundredth kilometre. The final climb is regular and not exceedingly hard (11 kilometres at an average gradient of 6% with peaks of 8%) but could cause some problems if tackled too aggressively. The 1100 metres of elevation gain, almost all of which are included in the finale, will definitely warm up the engines in view of the following days and the climbers will certainly take this opportunity to separate themselves from the rest of the bunch.

Here comes Abruzzo

With six days of racing under the belt, the increasingly tough challenges posed by the Giro d’Italia Women will reach their climax during the seventh and penultimate day of competition, the Queen Stage. The Lanciano-Blockhaus, 123 kilometres and 3600 metres of elevation gain, will reveal the true conditions of the Maglia Rosa contenders and will likely be the big GC decider. The first 44 kilometres – with basically no flat ground to play with thanks to some uncategorised climbs – will lead the athletes to La Forchetta, where a kind of dreadful circuit around the Maielletta ski area will begin, including the two first-category KOMs of the day. The various leaders will likely send their most trusted companions ahead with the idea of catching up with them along the way and find the well needed support for a possible attack.

The real standouts of this “tappone (“big stage”, as the Italians would call it) will be the Passo Lanciano and the Blockhaus, the latter will also host this year’s “Cima Alfonsina Strada (the women’s version of the “Cima Coppi”) named after the late pioneer of women’s cycling who went as far as competing in the men’s Giro d’Italia in 1924. Both climbs will be tackled from the Manoppello side (where the intermediate sprint will be held on the second passage). The road to Passo Lanciano measures 12.4 kilometres at 8.3% with peaks at 13%, while the second climb, on the same road, will feature a further 5.3 kilometres at 7% (for a total of 17.7) before reaching the Blockhaus summit at an altitude of 1680 metres.

The last call

If the previous day’s battle was not enough to finalise the top positions in the GC, Sunday 14 July, the tricky eighth and final day stage, will be the last chance to try and overturn (or confirm) the rankings of the 2024 edition of the Giro Women. The 109-kilometre Pescara-L’Aquila offers plenty of Apennine climbing along the way and two official KOMs. The last 2,500 metres of elevation gain of the nearly 12,000 in programme do not include hard gradients but very long climbs. Just as twenty-four hours before, the descents will also play an important role.

Right off the bat, the riders will climb gradually towards Forca di Penne (918 metres, second-category KOM): 22.5 kilometres at 3.2% and peaks at 8%. Classic breakaway ground. Just past the fiftieth kilometre of racing, the ascent to Castel del Monte (altitude 1303 metres, first-category KOM) begins: another 13.2 kilometres at 4.7% with 8% peaks. The following ups and downs will provide the perfect and potentially last opportunity to blow the race apart. At thirty kilometres to go, the intermediate sprint of Santo Stefano di Sessanio (at 1230 metres of altitude) anticipates a final climb before heading towards an unpredictable finale in L’Aquila. The demanding walls of Acquasanta (1.7 kilometres with peaks of 9%, four kilometres from the finish) and the final one in the city centre (1.1 kilometres at an average of 7.5% and peaks of 11%) will be the final obstacles to overcome, with podium spots and stage win still very much up for grabs.

Let’s keep an eye on…

The mountain stages of the Giro d’Italia Women will more than likely feature a race within the race, the one for the partial success and the one for the Maglia Rosa. As the days go by and the energies run out, things will get tougher and highly unpredictable. Thus, while waiting for the starting athletes to be announced, the Pescara native Gaia Realini seems to be the most suitable name for this type of stage so far, also factoring in the energy gained from racing close to home.

 

In addition to Lidl-Trek’s young talent, who came second at the UAE Tour in 2023, and third at the Vuelta, Giro and Tour de l’Avenir, her teammate and captain Longo Borghini (two stages and two podiums at the Corsa Rosa) will also be up front in these fractions, both loyally supported by Spratt (one stage and two third places). The other possible Italian protagonists could be Cavalli (second in 2022), Magnaldi, Malcotti, Arzuffi and Barale. The foreign roster, on the other hand, can obviously count on more alternatives. Should she attend, last season’s dominator Vollering would be a fierce competitor, fighting for her first stage victory and to improve on her third place finish of 2021. The other potential contenders to keep an eye on for the mountain stages and the GC might be Labous (one stage in 2022 and second last year), Peperkamp, Ludwig, Muzic, Mavi Garcia (third in 2022), Niewiadoma, Bradbury, Bauernfiend, Niedermaier (scored in 2023), Moolman (one stage and twice on the podium), Fisher-Black (twice Maglia Bianca), Van Empel, Ewers, Markus, Aalerud, Santesteban, Zigart, Manly, Henderson, Baril and Uijen. Although the season plans of the various athletes are not yet known, we can be sure that the Giro d’Italia Women 2024 will be very closely contested.

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