The 2020 Giro Rosa concluded on Saturday after nine days of racing with Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) securing the overall victory for a third time in her career.
The race marks the only women's Grand Tour on the calendar, which was rescheduled this year from it's usual July spot to September 11-19 as part of the revised season calendar due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It wasn't thought to be as challenging as previous editions, but its punchy terrain and long stages through Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, Campania and Puglia offered gripping performances all the way into finale in Motta Montecorvino.
Cyclingnews looks at some of the biggest takeaways from the 2020 Giro Rosa.
Giro Rosa: A demand for live TV
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The Giro Rosa is the biggest and most prestigious women’s race in the world, but it is also the most challenging for cycling fans to follow and the sport’s media to cover because it is not shown live on television.
Organisers faced criticism for not offering live television of the race, which effectively put this year’s nine-day edition behind closed doors. It was also a decision that went against the requirements to be part of the Women’s WorldTour.
The UCI announced last year that organisers which wished to be part of the Women's WorldTour must provide 45 minutes of live television. It was intended to help raise the level of viewership and professionalism of the races and to meet the fast-growing demands of fans interested in watching top-tier women's cycling on live platforms.
Pulse Media Group (PMG Sport) reached an agreement with Athletic Sports Group (ASG) for the media rights to the Giro Rosa in what seemed a boon of women’s cycling, however, when it became clear that there would be no live pictures of this year’s race during the opening team time trial, cycling fans, teams, riders and members of the press expressed their frustration.
Organisers hit back at the complaints, explaining that there wasn’t space for the Giro Rosa on the live TV schedules and that, on a whole, COVID-19, which forced the race to move from July to September, had affected their initial plans for live broadcast.
Fans of the sport might have given the organisers a break for not offering live television in light of this year’s pandemic, however, the race has historically been tough to follow, and they expect more from the organisers of the calendar’s only women’s Grand Tour.
Despite frustration at the lack of live television coverage, cycling fans tuned in to text play-by-plays offered on social media channels and post-race broadcasts on Flobikes, SBS, Eurosport and GCN.
Cyclingnews reached out to the UCI to find out if the Giro Rosa organisers are at risk of losing their WorldTour status or face a fine or penalty after breaking registration requirements, however, we did not receive a response before the publishing of this story.
Van Vleuten: It’s a cruel sport
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Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) has won seven races since securing the rainbow jersey in a dramatic solo victory in Yorkshire last year. She went into the Giro Rosa as the favourite to win the overall title for a third consecutive season, and looked to have sewn up that title after a dominant stage 2 victory where she took the maglia rosa. She maintained a nearly two-minute lead through the subsequent stages, and it was supposed to be smooth sailing all the way to the finale stage 9.
Bike racing is bike racing, however, and it showed its unpredictability in a vicious way after Van Vleuten came down in an unavoidable crash and broke her wrist at the end of stage 7. She was forced to abandon the Giro Rosa and has potentially been sidelined from defending her title at the UCI Road World Championships next weekend in Imola.
"On my way to hospital. Stupid crash in front of me in last 500m I could not avoid," Van Vleuten posted to Twitter following the crash and later added, "It’s a cruel sport sometimes."
Here’s what is predictable: Van Vleuten’s capacity for recovery and her intrinsic motivation to get back to the top of the sport.
She has proven her resilience time and time again after crashes and debilitating injuries, and has come back stronger than ever. Think back to her horrific crash on the final descent at the 2016 Olympic Games, and after she sustained a shoulder dislocation at the 2018 Tour of Flanders, and a broken knee at the 2018 World Championships.
Van Vleuten will recover and she will be back - to win.
Van der Breggen primed for Imola Worlds
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Anna van der Breggen secured her third overall title at the Giro Rosa, after also winning the 2015 and 2017 editions. She also showed prime form heading into the UCI Road World Championships in Imola where she will participate in the time trial on September 24 and the road race on September 26.
She has already shown winning form after securing the elite women’s road race title at the Dutch Championships and the time trial title at the European Championships, both in August, before going on to win the overall title a the Giro Rosa.
She will line up with a powerful Dutch team in Imola that, for the moment, includes Marianne Vos, Demi Vollering, Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak, Amy Pieters, Ellen van Dijk and Floortje Mackaij.
However, Van Vleuten has indicated that she will give every effort to be on the start line after undergoing an operation to correct her wrist fracture, which has now been placed in a special brace.
Van der Breggen won the world title in Innsbruck in 2018 and said she was aiming to win a second rainbow jersey on the 143km road race course that features 2,800 metres of climbing in Imola next weekend.
“I’m going to fight for it and see where it goes,” Van der Breggen said.
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The organisers of the Giro Rosa are notorious for pushing the boundaries when it comes to course designs. The event is the longest on the calendar, normally 10 stages but was reduced to nine days this year. It has also traditionally included iconic mountain passes such as the Stelvio, Zoncolan and Mortirolo, and the Gavia, which was cancelled from the route late year due to a landslide.
This year's route did not include any of those iconic mountain passes, but the organisers pushed the limits on stage 4 with a 170km stage, which went beyond the maximum allowable distance of 160km for a Women’s WorldTour race set by the UCI. In doing so, the organisers showed, once again, their commitment to go above and beyond when it comes to tougher racing for women.
The distance was met mixed reaction with some riders applauding the organisers for breaking through the maximum race distance barrier set by the UCI, while others cautioning that longer races weren't necessarily more exciting.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) was happy to see the organisers include a longer stage saying, "Finally, we're being taken seriously, and they don't think our uteruses will fall out if we ride long stages."
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv) approved the longer distance as well, but also said that short races tend to offer more excitement. "There’s always the danger that the longer the races become the less exciting it becomes, and I think that is one of the key factors of women’s cycling, is that it is exciting, more aggressive and less predictable than men’s cycling,"
Lizzie Banks (Equipe Paule Ka), who won stage 4 into Tivolia, said she didn’t want to race such a long distance. Nonetheless she went down in history as the winner of the longest-ever women’s race since the inception of the Women’s WorldTour in 2016.
Vos dominates with 28 career stage wins at the Giro Rosa
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We expected Marianne Vos to once again dominate the punchy stages of the Giro Rosa, after an exceptional performance at last year’s edition that saw her win four stages, and she did not disappoint.
The CCC-Liv rider won three stages this year and brought her total tally up to 28 career stage wins at the Giro Rosa.
She showed her versatility with a victory on the steep ascent to Assisi on stage 3, then again the flat run-in to Terracina on stage 5, and yet again in Nola on stage 6. She was in perfect position to secure another victory on stage 7 in Maddaloni but was the first to go down in a crash inside the final kilometre.
She came away from the crash with abrasions but no fractures, while Annemiek van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt (both Mitchelton-Scott) were forced to abandon with more significant injuries.
Vos finished the Giro Rosa with another victory in the points classification, while CCC-Liv won the overall team classification.
Dreams come true in Italy
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The Giro Rosa is one of the most coveted races on the women’s calendar and a place where winning a stage is a dream come true for even the most seasoned professionals.
Trek-Segafredo opened their account with an inspiring victory in the team time trial that put Elisa Longo Borghini in the maglia rosa, the first Italian to wear the leader’s jersey since Fabiana Luperini in 2008. It marked a special moment for Italian cycling and for Longo Borghini. The celebration was short-lived, however, as she lost the jersey to Van Vleuten through the gravel roads of Tuscany the following day.
After impeccable team work from Trek-Segafredo, Longo Borghini went on to secure her first victory at the Giro Rosa on the steep ascent to San Marco la Catola on stage 8. It was her first individual stage win in her ninth participation in the Italian Grand Tour. She also went on to finish third overall behind Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM).
“I want to thank my team Trek-Segafredo, the Italian police, my family - all my beloved ones. If I am here and able to perform so well it’s because my family, friends, and the ones I love made it possible so thank you very much!”
Longo Borghini was one of several riders to race to stage victory at this edition of the Giro Rosa.
Lizzy Banks (Equipe Paule Ka), who won her first Giro Rosa stage last year, and secured the stage 4 victory in Tivoli.
Lotte Kopecky (Lotto Soudal) won the sprint into Maddaloni in stage 7 after placing second on stage 5 and third on stage 6.
Evita Muzic (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) closed out the Giro Rosa with a stage 9 victory at Motta Montecorvino after being set up to perfection by her teammate Brodie Chapman.
"I didn’t have a choice because with all she [Chapmnan] did I had to win" Muzic siad. "I am really happy to bring this first WorldTour victory back to the team, especially with the work that everybody has done, we finished this Giro Rosa in a beautiful way!"