Words by Amy Jones | Photo by Thomas Maheux / A.S.O. / SWpix.com
The race has a new look, a new name, and new management — but is it really going to change?
The 10-day Giro Rosa is the longest stage race on the women’s calendar. At 33 years it’s also the longest-running, a survivor of the period of contraction that followed the heyday of the late 1980s and 1990s during which multiple stage races above one week existed for the women’s peloton.
Sadly, in the case of the Giro Rosa, longevity hasn’t equalled commitment to providing a grand tour befitting the quality of the women’s peloton. Last year, the race was demoted from Women’s World Tour (WWT) status for failing to meet the UCI’s requirement of 45 minutes of live coverage — amongst other organisational failings. While viewers see wall-to-wall live pictures of the men’s peloton cruising their way over 200km to a sprint finish, fans of women’s cycling scramble to get their grand tour updates from Twitter.
Organisational blunders and a lack of live images of the race is what weary followers of women’s cycling have come to expect, but it’s not what the women’s peloton deserve. So, when a new website emerged earlier this year promoting the ‘Giro d’Italia Donne’ hopes were raised that the race might be turning a corner. As more details emerged of the new organisers, their commitment to live coverage and to bringing the race back to WWT level, some dared to imagine that the Giro Rosa — now Giro d’Italia Donne — might truly be stepping up.
So far this incarnation of the race surpassed the very low bar set by their predecessors by releasing details such as stage profiles, timings, and even a provisional startlist ahead of time. A road book of sorts, if you stuck all of the disparate information together yourself. Then, during a presentation it was confirmed that there would be live coverage of this year’s race — it was looking good.
That is, until Tuesday, when the organisers told Cycling News that they would be showing no more than the final 15km of each stage. “It’s better than nothing” you might say, but women’s cycling seems to constantly toe the line between being forced to express gratitude for every scrap off the table, or risk rocking the boat by scrapping for more of them.
Of course, what the 15km slot has not accounted for is the possibility of the ever-strengthening women’s peloton smashing the fastest time schedule to pieces and reaching less than 15km to go before the cameras turn on. A similar fate befell Vuelta a Burgos Feminas in May, when, on the final stage up to the HC climb of Lagunas de Neila we saw no more than 4km of the race.
With 2.Pro status, the Giro d’Italia Donne has no obligation to broadcast live at all, however similar races have done much better and with their aspirations to rejoin the WWT for 2022 fans would have been forgiven for expecting more from the Giro. Being able to watch just 15km of the closest thing to a grand tour on the women’s calendar is, quite simply, disappointing.
Although it’s possible to overstate the potential power and weight of the upcoming Tour de France Femmes, with the shortcomings of the Giro in mind, the prestige and promise it brings might see riders snubbing a trip to Italy due to the proximity of both races — with the Giro d’Italia Donne from 1st-10th July and the Tour de France Femmes from the 24th-31st.
For all of the flaws of ASO, at least the tokenistic nod to equality that was La Course was broadcast live from start to finish, meaning we can possibly expect more than the mandated 45 minutes from next year’s stage race. All of that remains to be seen next year, however.
For now, the Giro d’Italia Donne starts on Friday with the one and only team time trial on the 2021 calendar. A few of the top riders including Annemiek van Vleuten and Kasia Niewiadoma will be absent, but World Champion Anna van der Breggen will be there to defend her 2020 Giro Rosa title and there are a host of young pretenders snapping at her heels including her own teammate, Demi Vollering.
The riders make the race, and whatever failings the organisers might throw at them the women’s peloton will put on a good show, the question is: will anyone be able to see it?