For years now women cycling has been dominated by Dutch riders. The likes of 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 and new generation including Demi Vollering have come to the fore.
The Netherlands has always been packed with contenders, leading people to speculate each year that there are many potential winners.
However, over the last few years the tide has been turning. In the past few seasons Italian women have been beating their Dutch counterparts at their own game. Elisa Balsamo out-sprinted Marianne Vos to take the rainbow jersey at just 23-years-old.
Balsamo’s team comprised 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 the 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 a while but now both new and experienced generation of Italian riders are converging to give their nation the undeniable presence in the women’s peloton.
But it is not the work of a few years, as Longo Borghini was keen to point out, this emergence of talent has been in the works for a long time:
“It’s not the last 18 months, it’s been a long process. It ‘s been an effort that the young teams make a good way, not rushing them. And now we see the work coming out, ”she told Cyclingnews earlier this month, pointing in particular to Balsamo’s former team, Valcar Travel & Service.
With the Italian Grand Tour, the 10-day Giro d’Italia Donne, around the corner – returning for a 33rd edition – the chances for the home nation to win are greater than ever. Fabiana Luperini took her fifth title – 10 years after her last success in 1995.
Luperini remains the rider with the most Giro wins and is only one of four Italians in history to take the overall title alongside Maria Canins, Roberta Bonanomi, and Michela Fanini.
With the strong crop of Italian talent heading to the race this year the drought may well be broken. So who are the ones to watch at the 2022 Giro d’Italia Donne?
Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope)
Marta Cavalli’s 24-year-old may be the best chance at a GC win for Italy. The FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope rider has quickly made the impression as one of the sport’s top climbers.
This season she has truly come of age, winning two of the biggest races in the sport, La Flèche Wallonne and Amstel Gold Race as well as the grueling Mont Ventoux Challenge.
As a French team, FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope is likely to focus on their efforts on the Tour de France Femmes and Cavalli will also be racing in France. One of Italy’s top female riders, however, Cavalli will most likely opt for a leadership role at the Giro d’Italia Donne and head to the Tour in support of her teammates.
Cavalli has already shown during the classics that she can beat Annemiek van Vleuten, however she has yet to come up against the Dutchwoman head-to-head on her preferred terrain – a long climb – this year. The Giro Donne it’s Cavalli.
Alongside Cavalli at the Giro Donne, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who finished fourth in the race and opens up the option of two-pronged GC attack for the team while Australian rider, Brodie Chapman, is likely to be an invaluable asset in the mountains.
Paris Roubaix Femmes winner Elisa Longo Borghini has been racing for over a decade now and throughout that time has become one of the sport’s most accomplished riders. This year, she has shown her versatility in a way that has surprised not only other riders and fans, but even herself.
Longer Borghini showed the incredible turn of speed on the final day of the Women’s Tour to a third and final bonus Aquitaine Futuroscope’s Grace Brown to take the overall victory.
While the parkours of the UK race were very different to Italy, Longo Borghini has shown that the Grand Tour. Although it is racing both the Giro and the Tour, Cyclingnews: “It’s nice, I love there’s a women’s Tour de France. It looks like we’re going to the moon. We’re going to France and racing, no different to what we do anywhere else in the world.”
Longo Borghini Lucinda Brand who showed herself in excellent climbing form at the Swiss stage race. The Trek-Segafredo team will be searching for stages with their fast-finishing, world champion Elisa Balsamo, but they have a strong GC contender in the form of Longo Borghini.
Of the reigning Italian world champion Elisa Balsamo is almost obligated to race her home ‘Grand Tour’. The 24-year-old saw any notion of the rainbow jersey just weeks after winning it when he took a stage of The Women’s Tour.
This season she continued that trend, opening her 2022 account by winning the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and later running a hat-trick of Women’s WorldTour wins at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Brugge-De Panne, and Gent-Wevelgem.
Balsamo is more than capable of climbing as he has won the second stage.
With Balsamo’s main sprinting rival, Lorena Wiebes, sitting the Giro d’Italia Donne out, the Italian looks to have won some of the sprint stages in her Giro debut.
Former world champion Marta Bastianelli is one of the most established names in the women’s peloton and despite her many years of racing is showing no signs of slowing down.
The 2022 season so far has seen the 35-year-old place within the top-10 in almost all of the races she has entered including some of the most prestigious spring classics. In addition, the UAE Team ADQ rider has racked up five wins including the overall Elsy Jacobs Festival and two stages of the Bretagne Ladies Tour.
Unfortunately, Bastianelli was forced to abandon the recent tour of the Giro.
As well as Bastianelli, UAE Team ADQ have two potential Italian GC options in the form of talented climber Erica Magnaldi and all-rounder Sofia Bertizzolo.
Soraya Paladin’s move to Canyon / SRAM from Liv Racing for the 2022 has proven to be a successful one. The 29-year-old all-rounder is no stranger to the Women’s WorldTour but in 2022 he has made an impression on the highest level of racing whether by working for Kasia Niewiadoma or securing a podium spot at 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 contender Kasia Niewiadoma and Pauliena Rooijakkers.
They may not have confirmed their roster for the race just yet but any combination that Valcar Travel & Service put together is sure to be a strong one.
Unmissable in their bright pink jerseys the Italian team has seen some of the most talented graduate from its program, not least the 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 over the road, achieving top-10s in the likes of Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Strade Bianche, and Gent-Wevelgem. The 24-year-old also promoted her versatility, coming 6th overall at the hilly Vuelta and Burgos Feminas and 7th at the pan-flat RideLondon Classique.
Consonni, meanwhile, is a consummate sprinter. Armed with the pure speed and gutsy riding that sprinting requires she has become one of the few challengers to Lorena Wiebes’ reign on women’s sprinting on the road.
She may have settled for a second place where the Dutchwoman is concerned but Consonni has still had a fair share of podiums and wins this season. The 23-year-old is among the strong pool of Italian riders challenging for a win on home soil.