Words by Amy Jones | Photo by SWpix.com
The previous two seasons have brought about huge changes for women’s cycling, and 2022 looks set to herald the biggest leap forward yet.
It feels like just yesterday and also a lifetime ago that we were watching the final races of the 2021 season – the latter part of which was back loaded with excitement thanks to some hard-fought stage racing, a surprise world champs winner and, of course, the thrilling inaugural Women’s Paris Roubaix.
While the men’s peloton have already amassed multiple race days this season, the women are only just finishing up their training camps and waiting to debut their 2022 form. Of course, In a ‘normal’ season, we would have already seen some WorldTour racing get underway in Australia with the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and Tour Down Under, but with Covid restrictions rendering travel to those races impossible for the last few years, we now have had to wait until February for the European action to start.
At the start of the 2022 road racing season we are on the precipice of a groundbreaking year for the women’s peloton. Since the inception of the Women’s WorldTour in 2020, the level within the top teams has risen exponentially as more and more riders are able to make a solid living out of racing their bikes. Although the inaugural WWT season was marred by the fact that the pandemic put paid to most of the racing, there has been a palpable increase in the depth of talent within the women’s peloton.
The new Tour de France Femmes is the headline event of the season and, over winter, five new Women’s WorldTour teams have emerged with some almost certainly stepping up as a direct result of that race as sponsors vy to guarantee their team’s participation.
But the Tour de France Femmes isn’t the only new race on the calendar. Riders have had the prospect of an additional 34 days of WorldTour racing to motivate them through winter training (albeit with 10 of those belonging to the Giro Donne which has risen back to WWT after a year in the sin bin of .Pro level for failing to supply live images in 2020.)
It is not only the level of racing that is improving, however. Working conditions in the form of team support including the introduction of mandatory maternity pay for WWT riders have meant that women are increasingly thinking about incorporating starting a family into their careers. Such is the difference between that first season and now that Chantal van den Broek Blaak, having announced back in 2020 her intention to stop racing this Spring, has decided to extend her career until the end of 2024 with the hope that she can do exactly that.
Although van den Broek Blaak is staying, there will still be a changing of the guard at her team, SD Worx after Anna van der Breggen retired at the end of 2021 to take up her position as directeur sportif. Demi Vollering is the obvious heir to that dynasty, but the team have a wealth of talent in their midst including new signings Marlen Reusser and Lotte Kopecky, and uber-talented multi-discipline Hungarian youngster, Kata Blanka Vas.
Elsewhere, off-season transfers such as Coryn Labecki’s move to Jumbo-Visma, Grace Brown’s to FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope will finally get to prove themselves in their new team colours. The most high-profile move comes from Trek Segafredo, who have bolstered their already formidable roster with the new world champion, Elisa Balsamo – who is set to debut her rainbow stripes at the 4-day Setmana Ciclista Valenciana on the 17th.
As ever, with growth comes some growing pains. There still exists an increasingly large chasm between the Women’s WorldTour and Continental tiers and a desperate need for a concerted development structure within women’s cycling. With the WorldTour well on its way the focus must now turn to improving structure and conditions in the second of the two tiers – and indeed the possible creation of a third. The lack of a coherent U23 calendar and no sign of a standalone U23 world championships are big stumbling blocks to development as more and more young riders are able to see a viable career path in professional cycling. This, and subsequent seasons, may hopefully see improvements in this area.
The European women’s peloton already made their debut in Valencia for the one-day 1.1 Vuelta CV Feminas last weekend. With only four WWT teams present, it wasn’t the most prestigious or exciting race on the calendar, but as the riders got off the startline it marked the beginning of what is set to be the biggest women’s race season yet.
For more reading from the lacourseentete.com team, why not buy our review of the 2021 season, Racing in the Time of the Super Teams, available through here.