Words by Amy Jones | Photo by D`Alberto-LaPresse/CorVos/SWpix.com
After a slew of cancellations saw the usual opening races on the women’s calendar lost to the pandemic, and with the fate of myriad races still hanging in the balance, the women’s season will finally begin this Saturday with the 1.Pro Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The first WWT race of 2021 — Strade Bianche — will take place the following weekend.
From starting off at the deep end with Omloop and Strade Bianche, to big riders on new squads meaning a more even spread of talent across teams than we’ve seen for years – there’s plenty going on during the 2021 women’s racing season…
The Omloop Opener
By this point in the season most of the women in the peloton would usually have pinned on a number once or twice, either at the WWT races in Australia or in lower-level events such as the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana stage race. In the absence of these — more gentle — season openers the only riders to have stood on a start line this year are those who raced in various national championships.
As a result, the tension that usually permeates the peloton in these fraught and nervous first races will play out on the Belgian cobbles instead of the smooth tarmac of Spain which will undoubtedly make for thrilling viewing (if you manage to find a live stream.)
Many riders, however, will also forgo one type of rough surface in favour of another and wait to open their 2021 accounts at Strade Bianche on the 6th March. The iconic white roads will at least be fresh in riders’ minds considering their last outing there was a mere six months ago rather than the usual 12.
Annemiek Van Vleuten a casa Movistar
It’s easy — and also wrong — to characterise Annemiek van Vleuten as an unstoppable force who transcends the realm of human possibility, yet when she takes second place in the world championships with a broken wrist it’s possible to see why one might.
Van Vleuten herself, however, recognises that her seemingly unstoppable success is capable of rendering women’s racing predictable and this — by her own account — formed part of her motive for joining Movistar this year.
The 38 year-old Dutchwoman might be a force to be reckoned with on her own but she will still need a strong team around her if she is to pull off her usual winning style. Her Movistar team mates have potential, but whether they can match her ex colleagues remains to be seen. It will be interesting to see how this change of scenery affects the racing landscape, if at all.
Women’s Paris Roubaix, finally?
Save the date and manifest positive thoughts that history will be made as the inaugural Women’s Paris Roubaix will finally go ahead this year.
Tantalisingly dangled in front of both the women’s peloton and fans last year before suffering the fate of a thousand races before it and getting cancelled, it can be said with confidence that the much-anticipated women’s Paris Roubaix will be a spectacle not to be missed.
Riders such as Lizzie Deignan have already openly declared their intentions to target the race, but — if past men’s editions are anything to go by — it won’t be over until it’s over.
Going Jumbo (Visma)
Another transfer that looks set to shake things up for the women’s peloton is Marianne Vos’ move to the new Jumbo Visma women’s team. Vos hadn’t changed team organisations for her entire career, until now. Clearly, for one of the (if not the) most successful cyclists ever, the phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ stopped resonating.
Led by manager Esra Tromp, the new team will not have WorldTour status just yet thanks to a quirk in the UCI rules but their results by the end of the season will no doubt belie their Continental rank.
Van der Breggen’s Victory Lap
Anna van Der Breggen has a lot to defend in this — her final — season. In 2020, the 30 year-old became the Dutch national road champion, the European ITT champion, and the world champion in both road and ITT. In addition to all that, in 2021, there’s the small matter of defending her Olympic road title from Rio. All of this comes before retiring at the end of the season ready to take up her new job next year as DS for SD Worx (the team she currently rides for.)
The fact that this is the final year of van der Breggen’s cycling career means we are likely to see her pursuing these titles with renewed vigour. The looming curtain call on her dominant and decorated reign will undoubtedly stoke the fire for that holy grail of ‘ending on a high’ that all athletes dream of.
Although van der Breggen and her teammate Chantal van den Broek-Blaak have announced the end of their careers in the next few years, there are plenty of the so-called ‘old guard’ who are still very much in their prime. Marianne Vos is showing no signs of slowing down, nor is her 38 year-old compatriot Van Vleuten and Lizzie Deignan has already backpedalled on her intention to retire after Tokyo.
Yet, the sustained prevalence of established champions hasn’t stopped a new generation of young talent from pushing their way to the top. Indeed, this coming together of youth and experience will undoubtedly only serve to add to the ever-increasing strength-in-depth of the women’s peloton and make racing even more explosive and aggressive.
Look out for, to name just a few: Megan Jastrab, Mikayla Harvey, Niamh Fisher-Black, Liane Lippert, Shirin van Anrooij, and Ella Harris.
Photo: Riders take the line at the 2020 women’s Strade Bianche – D’Alberto-LaPresse/CorVos/SWpix.com
If you enjoyed this, why not try our review of the 2020 season
‘Racing in the Time of Covid’ – available to purchase here >