Words by Amy Jones | Photo by SWpix.com
The Giro d’Italia Donne so far has been dominated by Anna van der Breggen, who currently leads the race by 2:51 to her nearest rival – teammate Ashleigh Moolman Pasio. The World Champion is in the form of her life, but she is still adamant that she will retire after this season and pick up her new role as DS for her team, SD Worx.
The question of who will replace van der Breggen and her generation has in part been answered already this season through stellar performances by the likes of her 24-year-old teammate Demi Vollering.
At the Giro Donne, with talented young riders coming to the fore on all types of parcours, the future of women’s cycling is looking very bright. The increasing professionalisation of the women’s peloton is contributing to the rise of more young talent as riders are able to make cycling their full-time career. So, who are the up and coming talents who are set to take over?
Demi Vollering – SD Worx, 24
The hole that the imperious van der Breggen will leave in her team already looks set to be filled more than comfortably by Demi Vollering. The 24-year-old has shown herself to be more than capable of delivering, which has instilled enough confidence in van der Breggen for the World Champion to ride for her young teammate at the likes of Liege-Bastogne-Liege and La Course — both of which Vollering won.
An all-rounder of similar capability to van der Breggen — but with an even faster finish — Vollering is a real threat to anyone who might have their eye on either a punchy classic or a stage race GC.
The question of whether the 24-year-old might be left vulnerable at the pointy end of races in the absence of her experienced compatriot is answered by one glance at an SD Worx squad full of decorated champions waiting to take up the superdomestique mantle.
Niamh Fisher-Black SD Worx, 20
One such rider waiting in the SD Worx wings is 20-year-old Kiwi Niamh Fisher-Black. The tiny climber possesses an altogether different skillset to her Dutch teammate but is a talented rider in her own right who is currently wearing the white young rider’s jersey in the Giro Donne.
Fisher-Black came to prominence last season as the New Zealand national champion. She only managed 22 race days in 2020 but nine of those were at the Giro Rosa, during which she made an impression by riding for teammate Mikayla Harvey to defend her white jersey and taking second on the final stage.
Her Giro performance was enough to catch the eye of Danny Stam at SD Worx and Fisher-Black signed a two year contract with the team. The move has proven to be mutually beneficial with the young Kiwi learning from her experienced teammates whilst also frequently making herself useful on the front or in breakaways. There is no doubt that a top result awaits Fisher Black in the future should she be given the opportunity to ride for herself.
Evita Muzic – FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, 22
A similar rider to Fisher-Black, it was Muzic who narrowly edged her out to win that final stage in 2020. To complete the Giro as a 21-year-old with the likes of Annemiek van Vleuten and van der Breggen in the race is an impressive feat in itself, but to retain enough form to win the final stage goes one step further.
This year, Muzic and her FDJ team had a tumultuous start to the race, with leader Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig crashing during the team time trial and the team finishing 1:46 down. Muzic has been slowly clawing back time and now sits third in the young rider classification and 14th overall.
The 22-year-old has spent her entire career with FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, first joining the team in 2018 at the age of 18. This season, the young French rider will wear her national colours after denying the experienced Trek-Segafredo rider Audrey Cordon Ragot a second year in the jersey at the national championships last month.
Mikayla Harvey – Canyon//SRAM, 22
Harvey took the young rider’s jersey at the 2020 edition of this race by 4:55. This year, in the absence of Canyon//SRAM team leader Kasia Niewiadoma, she looked set to lead her team into another strong performance. However, after a solid TTT from her team, the 22-year-old Kiwi lost almost nine minutes on her rivals on the stage two summit finish and lost her GC hopes.
While the GC race she wanted may not have transpired, Harvey can take comfort in an impressive 2021 season belied by her results on paper. The former junior national champion has spent some key races attacking and riding on the front for her team leaders, as well as managing top-10s for herself at the one-day Spanish races in May and last month’s Tour de Suisse Women.
With another season left on her contract with Canyon//SRAM, Harvey looks set to develop into the type of all-rounder climber that her team’s leader, Kasia Niewiadoma, has before her.
Marta Cavalli – FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, 23
FDJ have a wealth of young talent in their midst, and Italian rider Marta Cavalli is a standout example. An exciting all-rounder, Cavalli has had some impressive results since moving over to the French squad from Valcar Travel and Service.
This season, the 23-year-old has had a series of top-10 results in some big races including 8th at Strade Bianche — after a gutsy attack at the bottom of the final climb — as well as 6th at Flanders.
Her Giro Donne ride this season has been equally plucky when, after losing even more time than the rest of her teammates in the TTT, she moved up 72 places on GC after the summit finish on stage two — coming across the line in fourth place. Had she and her team not experienced such bad luck in the opening team time trial, Cavalli would undoubtedly be sitting comfortably within the top-10 on GC.
Juliette Labous – Team DSM
Juliette Labous, will be the sole representative of her country in the women’s road race and time trial events at the Tokyo Olympic Games, with French selectors overlooking the more experienced Audrey Cordon Ragot in favour of the DSM rider.
Labous is shaping up to be a talented all-rounder with a strong time trial — she won the U23 national title in 2020 — and currently sits 8th overall in the Giro Donne GC thanks to three top-10 finishes including a strong 6th place on the individual mountain time trial. With another summit finish coming up on stage 9, Labous could cement her top-10 results even further if she continues to show the same climbing form.
Lorena Wiebes – Team DSM, 22
It’s not just the new generation of climbers and all-rounders who are making their mark at this race. When it comes to fast-finishes Labous’s teammate Lorena Wiebes is almost unbeaten this season. Barring some crashes and bad luck, the 22-year-old Dutch rider has claimed nine wins so far this season — including her first Giro Donne stage — and could surpass her total of 14 from 2019.
The former Dutch national champion is one of few pure sprinters in the women’s peloton and is well-supported by her DSM teammates including a talented and decorated sprinter Coryn Rivera. Having already taken the win in the flat run-in to Carugate, Wiebes will have her eye on stage 8 which looks made for her.
Emma Norsgaard – Movistar, 21
That is, unless Emma Norsgaard can stop her. Wiebes has beaten her Danish colleague three times this season so far but Norsgaard has yet to surpass her Dutch rival’s speed. That hasn’t stopped her from winning an impressive 10 sprints so far this season, however.
It has been a breakthrough year for the 21-year-old, who moved to Movistar from the now-defunct Equipe Paule Ka. Like Wiebes, she also claimed her first Giro Rosa stage win this week, beating none other than Coryn Rivera and Marianne Vos to cross the line first in Colico. If stage eight comes down to a bunch sprint it is likely to be another head-to-head battle between Wiebes and Norsgaard, and the question will be whether the former Danish national champion can find those extra few watts to finally conquer the DSM rider.
The Dutch dynasty of Anna van der Breggen, Annemiek van Vleuten, and Marianne Vos might not be around forever, but with the young talent coming through in their wake, women’s racing looks to be as exciting and dynamic as ever in the years to come.