Words by Amy Jones | Photo by SWpix.com
This year, perhaps more than ever, the women’s transfer market is wide open. New teams are forming, prominent riders are retiring, and for 2022 the UCI wil make 15 Women’s World Tour licenses available — an increase of six from 2021.
For next season,the Women’s WorldTour (WWT) will see other changes including an increase in the minimum salary for Women’s WorldTeam riders from €20,000 to €27,500 a year, the introduction of pension pots, a 10% increase in prize money and changes to the awarding of prize money at stage races to bring women’s races in line with men’s. From 2023, the minimum salary for WWT teams will be equal with men’s ProTeams, and neo pro status will be introduced.
The advent of the Tour de France Femmes for 2022 appears to have galvanised sponsors to invest in the women’s side of the sport with the Tour de France effect meaning everyone wants a piece of the increased publicity. As a result, more teams want to enter the sport at the top, and existing Continental teams are taking the step up to WorldTour status. Thanks to this movement, the number of riders in the women’s peloton who will benefit from the improved conditions in WorldTeams will also increase.
Away from new teams, the calibre of some of the riders who will be stepping away from the sport after this season will change the racing dynamic in 2022. SD Worx alone have Anna van der Breggen, Chantal van den Broek Blaak, Jolien d’Hoore, and Karol Ann Canuel all retiring after 2021. Demi Vollering may be waiting in the wings but the team are likely to want to replace the significant loss in domestique firepower from van den Broek Blaak and Canuel.
Elsewhere, former US national champion Ruth Winder of Trek-Segafredo will retire at the end of 2021 although the team look to have already found a replacement in the form of Leah Thomas.
Until this year, teams were required to spend one season at Continental level before they were able to apply for a WWT license, however from 2022 women’s squads will be permitted to enter at WorldTeam level meaning the likes of newly-formed Uno-X and Cofidis will be able to start at the top level.
The Norwegian outfit have already acquired both Hannah Barnes and Hannah Ludwig from Canyon//SRAM as well as 23-year-old Norwegian rider Susanne Andersen from DSM. The team have said that Barnes will “lead and guide the way as an experienced rider,” implying that the British rider will be given more chances at her new team than in her current role at Canyon//SRAM — where she is often riding in support of the likes of Kasia Niewiadoma.
In the same vein as the equivalent men’s team, the Uno-X women’s team is largely based on development, with the riders signed so far aged between 17 and 24. Andersen and Ludwig have both shown promise with Andersen coming second in the first stage of the Tour of Norway and Ludwig, who is the current U23 ITT champion, recently taking 6th at the Baloise Ladies’ Tour.
With eight riders currently signed, the team will likely be looking to add to the roster, however it appears that Barnes is their headline act. The question will be whether she will be able to be supported at the top level by such a young team.
In addition to Uno-X, the General Manager of Team Cofidis, Cedric Vasseur announced earlier this year his intention to form a women’s team for 2022. At the time it was unclear as to whether the team would apply for a WorldTeam license, however Vasseur said: “Our goal is to be invited to all of the main Women’s WorldTour events. We want to race the Belgian events and of course the French events.”
Despite hinting that the roster would be revealed during the Tour de France, so far, no signings have been announced however Vasseur also declared his intention for an “international” roster.
At least three teams currently registered at Continental level are likely to step up to WorldTour for 2022. Team Tibco-SVB have been a regular presence at most of the Women’s WorldTour events for many seasons, however a recent announcement from the team revealed “increased partnership commitments from its co-title sponsors, TIBCO and Silicon Valley Bank, that will enable it to file for Women’s World Tour.”
In line with the requisite support that WWT teams must provide such as higher salaries, Tibco-SVB promised to deliver ”critical resources needed to achieve their goals, including improved infrastructure, specific training camps, a performance director, and additional coaching and directing staff.”
Current US National Champion Lauren Stephens and cyclocross specialist Clara Honsinger have both signed with the team until 2023 taking Stephens up to a 10-year career with the squad. If Tibco-SVB can keep the likes of Kristen Faulkner, who recently won stage one of the Ladies’ Tour of Norway, alongside Stephens — as well as bringing on new talent — their results are sure to match their newly-elevated stature.
The second of two US-registered squads to announce their intention to enter the WWT for 2022 is Rally Women’s Team with managing director Charles Aaron saying: “this has been the goal since the formation of the women’s WorldTour.” However the team have yet to disclose a single rider for next season.
Although Jumbo Visma have not announced anything themselves, with their bike sponsor Cervelo extending their support of the team indefinitely and having spent the requisite year at Continental level after their inception it seems likely that the Dutch team will apply for WorldTeam status. The team of Marianne Vos have yet to confirm whether they will hold on to their leader however with most of the squad structured around her it seems likely that Vos will stay. Elsewhere, British rider and valuable domestique for Vos, Anna Henderson, has recently renewed her contract with the squad until 2024.
There is plenty of movement between the existing WorldTour squads, too. One of Team BikeExchange’s best assets, Grace Brown (pictured above, in action at the Olympic Games in Tokyo), was recently revealed to be heading to FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope where she will ride alongside Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Evita Muzic to create a formidable trio. Brown is known for her attacking style and gutsy solo wins and, according to FDJ manager Stephen Delcourt “represents everything there is to love about cycling: boldness, pushing limits, dedication.” The addition of Brown will make FDJ one of the most powerful Women’s WorldTeam squads.
Filling the Anna van der Breggen-shaped-hole in SD Worx was always going to be a hefty challenge for the team, however the addition of Belgian national champion Lotte Kopecky is a good place to start. The 25-year-old has had an impressively consistent season, only finishing outside the top-10 on three occasions after 22 days of racing. Her trajectory since moving from Lotto Soudal to Liv Racing has continued to rocket upwards and with the support of SD Worx around her Kopecky will no doubt be an invaluable asset to the already formidable squad.
While there has been plenty of movement so far, many riders who are out of contract after this season have yet to announce new squads for 2022 and beyond. Notably, Swiss sensation Marlen Reusser, who took silver in the ITT in Tokyo, has yet to reveal her next moves as well as Italian sprinter Elisa Balsamo. Equally, Liv Racing’s 2022 roster currently only comprises two riders, Jeanne Korevaar and Sabrina Stultiens, and Team Cofidis have an entire roster to fill.
The time for transfers in cycling is not so much a window as a door constantly left slightly ajar, but with the potential of 15 Women’s WorldTeams needing to sign riders it is now wide open.