Epic Climbs That Have Defined the Giro d’Italia Women

The Giro d’Italia Women, also known as the Giro Rosa or Giro Donne, has featured a range of challenging climbs throughout its history. Although many of the legendary climbs date back to an era over a decade ago, recent editions have continued to test riders with demanding courses, albeit with fewer of the iconic ascents like the Stelvio.

Recent Climbs and Changes

In 2019, the race was set to finish atop the Passo di Gavia, but landslides forced a reroute to Lago Cancano in Valdidentro. Annemiek van Vleuten would go on to win the stage by nearly 3 minutes. The 2021 edition saw Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio winning on Monte Matajur and also featured the Prato Nevoso, a climb previously used in the 2008 Tour de France where Simon Gerrans emerged victorious. Other notable past winners of Prato Nevoso in the men’s Giro include Pavel Tonkov (1996), Stefano Garzelli (2000), and Maximilian Schachmann (2018).

2022 saw the inclusion of Passo del Maniva, a huge climb that Juliette Labous conquered with a solo move, marking her first win in five years. That climb, despite being a massive 1742 metres above sea level has never actually featured in the men’s Giro d’Italia but a number of smaller Italian races.

Evolution of the Giro d’Italia Women

Over its 35-year history, the Giro d’Italia Women has seen numerous changes in organisation and structure, now entering a new era under the management of RCS, the organisers of the men’s Giro. Despite these changes, one constant has been the inclusion of tough and iconic climbs, integral to the race’s character.

The Giro d’Italia Women, known by various names over the years – Giro d’Italia Femminile, Giro Rosa, Giro Donne, and now Giro d’Italia Women – has a rich history. Established in 1988, this premier stage race quickly became the cornerstone of women’s professional cycling, with some of the sport’s finest talent on parts of Italy’s most challenging terrain. The inaugural edition was won by Maria Canins, an Italian star cyclist who set the tone for the high level of competition and dramatic racing that would come to define the event.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the Giro Rosa, as it was commonly known, saw legendary riders dominate the general classification. Fabiana Luperini, an Italian climbing specialist, made her mark with five overall victories (1995-1998, 2008), such was her climbing dominance in the mountains. Another iconic name from this era is Jeannie Longo of France, who claimed the title in 1997, adding to her particularly extensive list of career achievements. These early years established the Giro as a proving ground for the best female cyclists in the world.

Moving forward a decade, the race continued to attract top-tier talent, with the likes of Emma Pooley, Mara Abbott, and Marianne Vos contesting fiercely for the general classification. In 2010, Mara Abbott became the first American to win the Giro Rosa, a feat she repeated in 2013. Marianne Vos, known for her versatility and sprints, won the race in 2011 and 2012. At that time Vos was a solid climber, not quite as fast as the purest climbers but able to contest enough stages to always be in the mix for the GC. This period highlighted the evolving nature of women’s cycling, with more international competitors making their mark on the race and specialists just making the smallest beginnings of coming to the fore.

In more recent years, the Giro d’Italia Women has seen a blend of established stars and emerging talents. The 2019 edition was notable for Annemiek van Vleuten’s dominant performance, where she won by a significant margin, thanks to her extraordinary time-trialling and climbing abilities. The race in 2021 was marked by Anna van der Breggen’s victory, her fourth and final win before retiring. Her return to racing in 2025 will be interesting to see if she’s able to add more editions to her palmares.

Anna van der Breggen in the 2021 Giro Donne
(Photo Credit: Getty)

It hasn’t all been plain sailing. The Giro faced a significant challenge in 2021 when it was demoted from the UCI Women’s WorldTour, reflecting broader issues within the race’s organisation and infrastructure. However, 2022 marked a return to the WorldTour calendar after just one edition, recognising the improvements made to race management. This reinstatement was crucial, not only for the prestige of the event but also for the visibility and support of women’s cycling globally. With RCS, the organisers of the men’s Giro, taking over in 2024, the race is poised for a new era, promising greater consistency, security and hopefully the inclusion of more iconic climbs.

Legendary Climbs in the History of the Giro d’Italia Women

Blockhaus

  • Length: 17.7km at 7.8%
  • Altitude: 1,663m

Blockhaus, a mainstay in the men’s Giro, makes its inaugural appearance in the women’s race this year. Known for its challenging gradient, it will serve as a crucial point in the race. The likes of Eddy Merckx, Moreno Argentin, Franco Pellizotti, Nairo Quintana and Jai Hindley have all won on its summit. We’ll see another legendary rider join them in this year’s Giro d’Italia Women.

Monte Zoncolan

  • Length: 10.1km at 11.4%
  • Altitude: 1,730m

The Zoncolan is renowned for its steep gradients, making it one of the most feared climbs. It has been featured twice in the Giro d’Italia Women. Once in 1997 when Fabiana Luperini was first at the summit and then Annemiek van Vleuten’s solo victory 11 years later in 2018. That year being famous for another solo move on the Zoncolan but done by Chris Froome to win the men’s Giro. Two GC legends winning on the same climb just 2 months apart.

Mara Abbott (USA) of Wiggle Hi5 Cycling Team digs deep in the last, few hundred metres of the Mortirolo during the Giro Rosa 2016 – Stage 5. A 77.5 km road race from Grosio to Tirano, Italy on July 6th 2016.

Mortirolo

  • Length: 12.2km at 10.8%
  • Altitude: 1,890m

Synonymous with the Giro, the Mortirolo has been a significant challenge. Mara Abbott’s solo win in 2016 saw the peloton tackle the Mortirolo mid-stage before descending to Tirano for the finish. That makes it a rare time that one of these climbs wasn’t a summit finish. For the men, it’s a regular visitor in the Giro d’Italia with the likes of Marco Pantani, Ivan Gotti, Wladimir Belli, Ivan Basso, Steven Kruijswijk, Luis León Sánchez, Giulio Ciccone, Koen Bouwman, Christian Scaroni all cresting it first.

Prato Nevoso

  • Length: 13.1km at 7.2%
  • Altitude: 1,607m

Prato Nevoso, though not as famous, provided a dramatic early summit finish in 2021 where Anna van der Breggen’s dominant performance effectively sealed her victory. It’s featured a few times in the men’s Tour de France and Giro d’Italia over the years as well.

Passo del Maniva - Italy - cycling - Juliette Labous (FRA -  Team DSM) pictured during 33rd Giro d’Italia Donne (2.WWT) stage 6 Prevalle > Passo del Maniva (113.4KM) - Photo: Massimo Fulgenzi/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022
Juliette Labous wins on the Passo del Maniva
(Photo Credit: Massimo Fulgenzi/SCA/Cor Vos)

Passo del Maniva

  • Length: 15.7km at 6.4%
  • Altitude: 1,743m

In 2022, Juliette Labous achieved a memorable victory on Passo del Maniva with a solo move, marking her first win in five years and a just reward for rolling the dice and pacing herself alone to the summit.

Monte Serra

  • Length: 12.2km at 7.1%
  • Altitude: 873m

Monte Serra has been featured multiple times, with victories by legends such as Fabiana Luperini and Mara Abbott, highlighting its role in the race’s history. It’s a rare example of a major climb used more in women’s cycling than in men’s racing. Luperini won in both 1998 and 2008, helping to secure her GC wins in those years. No race, men’s or women’s, has returned since Mara Abbott won in 2009.

Passo dello Stelvio

  • Length: 24.1km at 7.6%
  • Altitude: 2,757m

The Stelvio is one of the most iconic climbs, with Mara Abbott’s 2010 victory standing out as a testament to its difficulty and her climbing ability. 14 years later, and despite regular inclusion in the men’s Giro, the 2010 visit remains the only time that women have been able to race the legendary Passo dello Stelvio.

Main photo credit: Getty

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