Words by Amy Jones | Photo by SWpix.com
The post-Olympics part of the season is a frustrating time to be a sprinter in the women’s pro peloton. With a series of stage races post-Tokyo looking promising for the chances of at least a few sprint showdowns, the return of the battle between the two young rivals, Lorena Wiebes and Emma Norsgaard, looked set.
It wasn’t to be, however. Because while it’s a bad time to be a sprinter, it’s a great time to be a chancer. A rider who thrives on the challenge of a high risk, high reward breakaway. It started with Anna Kiesenhofer at the Olympic Games, then at the Ladies Tour of Norway it was Kristen Faulkner and Riejanne Markus who continued the trend to take their first Women’s WorldTour wins. Chloe Hosking took what could have been the last chance for the sprinters for a while on stage four in her first race back since March after a case of Covid.
Next, at the Simac Ladies Tour a gutsy breakaway ride by Alison Jackson and Maëlle Grossetête yielded a first win for Jackson, too, thwarting the sprint finish and leaving Wiebes to settle for third. Stage three of Simac should have ended in a bunch sprint — and was heading in that direction — before a huge crash took down the majority of the peloton. The remaining six women were not so much a breakaway as a group of well-positioned and lucky riders who avoided the carnage. Strewn across the narrow Dutch farm roads was a who’s who of the peloton’s top-tier sprinters, Lorena Wiebes, Emma Norsgaard, Chloe Hosking, Kirsten Wild, and Alice Barnes (pictured).
The unfortunate incident not only left some of the fastest women in the bunch nursing varying degrees of injury and skin loss but also robbed Wild of her last chance at a bunch sprint in her road career. The 38-year-old has 109 career wins to her name on the road, a number that is now set in stone as — even if she were not injured from the crash — her team, Ceratizit-WNT, were forced out of the race with a Covid positive.
The final stage of Simac would have seen a similar showdown to the one we were headed for on stage three had Wiebes, Norsgaard, Wild, and Hosking not already exited the race. As it happened, Marianne Vos gave yet another display of her sheer dominance on all terrains by outsprinting Barnes to take her third win of the tour.
Since July, when at least three stages of the Giro Donne resulted in a bunch kick to the line, the fast finishers of the peloton have had very few subsequent opportunities to battle it out. Women’s cycling doesn’t lend itself to specialists in the same way as the men’s side of the sport. Few riders can truly be labelled as ‘pure’ anything but Wiebes in particular is the closest to a ‘pure sprinter’ that the women’s peloton has. For her and others like her, there are very few chances remaining for them to unleash their strengths this season.
The cancellation of the Tour of Guangxi and Tour of Chongming Island spelled even further disaster for the chances of pure spritners. The pan-flat races are usually a chance for fast-finishers to sweep a stage race in a way that they usually aren’t able to. As it stands, there are just a few days of racing left on the calendar that are likely to come down to a sprint — if a breakaway doesn’t get there first. They are: stage four of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta — although riders need to first navigate two hilly road stages and a mountain time trial — and perhaps a stage or two of The Women’s Tour, as well as Ronde van Drenthe at the end of October. The World Championships course is the flattest for a long time but couldn’t be considered a pure sprinter’s race.
Of course, there are still lower-ranked events to choose from but, when it comes to the Women’s WorldTour, it looks like the best chance for success as a sprinter between now and November is to get into a break, and make it stick.