Words by Amy Jones | Photo by Thomas Maheux/A.S.O./SWpix.com
The race was demoted from the World Tour last season for failing to meet minimum standards, and live coverage of certain stages has also fallen through this year. Will the Giro Donne ever change?
Last year, the Giro Donne was demoted from Women’s World Tour (WWT) status to 2.Pro. Myriad failings led to the UCI taking action, however the deciding factor appeared to be the organiser’s failure to provide a live broadcast of the race — a requisite of all WWT races. There were plenty of other issues relating to the general organisation, or lack thereof, and even questions of safety.
Few dared to believe that the race would learn from past mistakes and come back better in 2021, fewer still expected live coverage of the action. The travesty of not being able to watch the toughest race on the women’s calendar — the Giro Donne is the longest race at 10 stages — looked set to continue.
Then, in February, a new website emerged boasting of a new and improved version of the race under new organisers PMG Sport. They had an ambitious new plan for a bigger and better version of the Giro, including live coverage, with the overall aim of returning the race to WWT status.
In a statement released on the race website, Giro d’Italia Donne General Director, Roberto Ruini said: “When in February of this year we chose to take on this three-year project, shared with FCI [Italian Cycling Federation], our mission was exactly to bring the Giro back into the Women’s World Tour. After this choice by UCI, we will always continue to give our best, both in terms of organization and production and of media distribution”.
It sounded promising, like the race would be turning over a new leaf and waking up to the existential threat posed to it by races such as the upcoming Tour de France Femmes and the Battle of the North. In addition, a race website featuring a road book and details of every stage ahead of time was more than the previous organisers had managed in the past, but the bar was low.
The new organisers also claimed to have ‘doubled’ the prize money from the previous year, which — while they did increase it — did not turn out to be precisely the case. Unfortunately, €8,000 for the GC winner still pales in comparison to men’s races and even some women’s races. Of course, that particular, divisive topic has already been extensively turned over this season in the wake of Omloop het Nieuwsblad.
As the race got closer to starting the reality behind the promises was revealed. Yes, there would be live coverage of each stage but it would merely consist of the final 15km and at what time it might start could be anyone’s guess. The organisers created a Twitter page but no race updates were provided other than retweets from team accounts.
After the first few stages, it became clear that the duration and timing of the live coverage would be sporadic — ranging from 6km on the first stage to 34km on stage 8. PMG were operating with 4G signals which can be patchy and unreliable in the mountains and the resulting complete lack of live images from the Queen stage to Monte Matajur were reportedly down to signal failure.”
On the organisational and safety level, some riders have commented that the race has seen an improvement: “I definitely think that there is a step up, when it comes to the organisation,” said Ashleigh Moolman Pasio after winning the Queen stage. However, elsewhere, there were multiple reports of a dangerous neutral rollout on stage five from Milan in which the roads were not fully closed and the peloton were forced to ride over large cobblestones through the city centre.
At present, the Giro is on the 2022 WWT calendar, however in a press release, the governing body was adamant that this hinged upon “the 2021 edition meeting the specifications for the series” which includes at least 45 minutes of live coverage among other minimum standards. In its current iteration, the Giro Donne doesn’t pass the test.
With the Tour de France Femmes on the way next year, as well as the Battle of the North and the return of The Women’s Tour, there are bigger and better options for the women’s peloton on the horizon. While confidence in Tour de France organiser ASO’s commitment to women’s cycling hasn’t traditionally been strong, a high-profile race like the Tour de France Femmes must live up to ASO’s current standards or risk its reputation. Races that continue to meet, or even surpass, the minimum standards will make the Giro look even more archaic in its laissez faire approach by comparison unless real improvements are actually made by the race. Whether the 2022 edition will keep its WWT slot remains to be seen, but the race’s track record doesn’t particularly instil confidence in its potential to deliver an event worthy of the increasingly professional women’s peloton.