Giro d'Italia Women 2024: Leadership at last for Niamh Fisher-Black?

Even without the presence of Demi Vollering, SD Worx-Protime look capable of dominating the Italian race

Coming into the Giro d’Italia Women, SD Worx maintained that they were taking an “open” approach to the race. With Lotte Kopecky in the last phase of her Olympic campaign and in the absence of Tour de France Femmes defending champion, Demi Vollering, the team weren’t – for once – outright favourites to take the GC win. 

Our focus is on stage wins, and Niamh Fisher-Black might be able to make a nice impact in the last tough mountain stages. Whether she can also ride a good classification remains to be seen,” team manager Danny Stam said in a team pre-race press release. 

Just three stages in, however, and Fisher-Black has already made that impact. A rider brimming with talent but seemingly lacking somewhat in confidence, the 23-year-old has had very few chances to race for her own ambitions since joining SD Worx in 2021. As a climber and GC specialist, when your teammate is the outright favourite for almost every race it’s tough to test your own potential, but that’s exactly what Fisher-Black was able to do on stage three of the Giro. 

Niamh Fisher Black Giro d'Italia Women 2024

As Mavi Garcia of Liv Alula Jayco set the pace on the climb up to Toano, Fisher-Black sat comfortably in the group alongside her teammate, Kopecky. The New Zealander rode a smart race, calmly following wheels while others attacked and chased before countering a move from Garcia with 2 km to go. The SD Worx Protime rider made light work of Garcia’s gap and proceeded to glue herself to her wheel until around 800 metres to go where she used the steeper gradient to shake off Garcia and ride across the line solo – the first Giro win for New Zealand and the biggest of Fisher-Black’s career.

Crossing the line in second, Lotte Kopecky cheered for her teammate’s win, but the world champion had more than just Fisher-Black’s victory to celebrate. While Elisa Longo Borghini kept herself in the maglia rosa, finishing fourth in the same group as Kopecky, the Belgian rider moved herself up to second on GC. After the first summit finish of the race the Dutch squad are dominating even without Vollering in their midst. 

“We know she’s a really strong climber and we tell her so many times that she needs to take her chances,” Kopecky said of Fisher-Black after the stage. “Today she did and it worked out very well.” 

Fisher-Black has pedigree at this race. In the 2020 edition, at just 20 years old, the Kiwi came close to winning the final stage against fellow emerging talents Évita Muzic and Juliette Labous. The following year, racing for SD Worx, she was part of a team that helped Anna van der Breggen, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and Demi Vollering sweep the GC podium while claiming ninth overall and the young rider’s jersey for herself. She turned ninth overall into fifth in 2022 and defended the white jersey, excelling in the mountains before taking ninth again last year.   

Lotte Kopecky, Giro d'Italia Women 2024

Meanwhile, Kopecky’s capabilities are seemingly boundless. The world champion also made an impact at this race in 2020, winning stage seven in a sprint ahead of Lizzie Deignan and has since gone on to prove herself to be the consummate all-rounder. After her performance on the Tourmalet at last year’s Tour de France Femmes and on the Jebel Hafeet climb at this year’s UAE Tour Women, the 28-year-old can’t be ruled out when it comes to the mountainous stages towards the end of this Giro. 

Still, of the two, Fisher-Black is the only one who could truly be considered a ‘pure’ climber which the parcours of the latter end of this race are likely to require. Kopecky should easily hold on to her GC position over the next two stages but the final weekend, especially the Blockhaus climb on stage seven, has Fisher-Black’s name written all over it. If the young Kiwi lacked the confidence to truly believe in her capability to lead a GC campaign at a race like this then today’s stage should have buoyed her for the days to come. 

Before the start of this year’s Giro, Longo Borghini bemoaned the tendency to discount the quality of any stage race that doesn’t have Vollering’s name on the start list. The Italian rider was keen to defend her home Grand Tour and the quality of the field who have shown up for it. Longo Borghini and her Lidl-Trek squad have been strong throughout the race so far, but despite her pre-race plea to move the focus away from the absence of Vollering it is still SD Worx-ProTime who are primed to dominate this race as they have so many others.  

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