While 2021 had its moments, with the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes, the last hurrah of Anna van der Breggen and the rise of her protégé Demi Vollering, 2022 could arguably be said to be the year that the Women’s World Tour took a historic leap forward, both in terms of exposure and the strength and depth of the peloton, and an expansion of the racing calendar saw the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift offer the first yellow jersey in over a decade. It was a big year. But which races really marked the course of the season?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before summer, came spring…
Strade Bianche Donne set the tone for what would be a truly gripping season of racing for the women’s peloton. On the white gravel roads of Siena, newly minted SD Worx rider Lotte Kopecky was the initial aggressor as a strong leading group pulled clear and battled up steep climbs into the final kilometres, and when two-time winner Annemiek van Vleuten called upon her trademark power to try and distance the Belgian champion, she was unable to do so. It foreshadowed a final punch-up to the line with the two neck-and-neck almost all the way, but Kopecky had the resilience to eke out a narrow gap and score the most significant win of her career to date.(Picture by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
Trek Dominate Paris-Roubaix
Two years, two wins for the American team at Paris-Roubaix Femmes – a 100% record at the race, and this year they showed once again how they could work as a team to dominate a challenging parcours, with the mettle to succeed at the Hell of the North. Last year Lizzie Deignan dug in and rode solo for the final 80km, this year, Elisa Longo Borghini made her winning move with 38km to go, and even better, after frustrating the chasing group in support of her leader, Lucinda Brand finished third to make it 2 out of 3 for Trek on the podium. (Picture by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
Mur de Cavall-Huy
2022 was the season that FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope stepped up from bridesmaids to brides, as they took on the top teams and began to stack up some serious wins. Marta Cavalli hit peak form in the Spring classics, winning Amstel Gold Race and two weeks later, lining up to make it two at La Flèche Wallonne Féminine. The sight of the Italian tearing up the Mur de Huy ahead of a struggling Annemiek van Vleuten yet another sign that things weren’t going to go all the way of the Dutch legend this season.(Picture by ANP via Getty Images)
Season of Sprinting
Sprinting took on new significance in 2022, with larger teams capable of supporting their sprinters to the bitter end, and a wealth of talent competing in fast finishes. There was no better example of this than the mouth-watering battles between former World Champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) and Team DSM’s rising star Lorena Wiebes, the two powerhouses of women’s sprinting. While they were evenly matched early on the season, trading blows in the Ronde von Drenthe and Classic Brugge-de-Panne, Wiebes was in the ascendancy from late Spring, beating Balsamo into second twice at the RideLondon Classique, before arguably her most significant victory of the season on the Champs-Elysée, taking control of the first yellow jersey well clear of Balsamo who finished in 7th that day.(Picture by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
You’d have to have a heart of stone and a soul of dust not to enjoy the effervescent character that is FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope’s Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. Knocking at the door in the past couple of seasons, Uttrup Ludwig is one of an elite group of riders who are always there or thereabouts but most often find themselves on lower steps of the podium. Her form peaked at the absolute perfect moment this summer, though, on stage 3 of the Tour de France Femmes into Épernay, as the usual suspects – the likes of Marianne Vos, Kasia Niewiadoma, Elisa Longo Borghini and Annemiek van Vleuten – attacked the final steep climb to the finish line. The Danish champion showed true grit to pull away from the best in the world and take a precious victory, and the cycling world celebrated alongside her, before enjoying one of her trademark effusive interviews. (Picture by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
Rainbow Van Vleuten
It’s safe to say that Australia did not agree with the Dutch. From Bauke Mollema’s run-ins with the local attack magpies to Annemiek van Vleuten’s bizarre crash just a few metres into the mixed team relay, there was seemingly no end to the misfortunes suffered by the team from the Netherlands during their stay in Wollongong for the World Championships this September. That didn’t mean they didn’t also have some moments to remember, though. Ellen van Dijk took victory in the time trial, and Annemiek van Vleuten pulled off the unthinkable, just days after fracturing her elbow in the aforementioned crash.
Despite the losses of the early season, Van Vleuten was the out-and-out favourite for the race prior to the crash, having doubled up at the Giro Donne and Tour de France Femmes, and adding the Cetirazit Challenge by La Vuelta for a Grand Tour triple of sorts. There were questions over whether she should race at all, but the Movistar rider has mettle beyond most mere mortals and she opted to ride, in support of new team leader Vos. On the day though, Vos couldn’t maintain the effort required on the repeated climbs of Mount Pleasant, and just when the Dutch thought their Australian adventure would end in further disappointment, Van Vleuten pulled off the move of the season, perhaps the move of her career, to storm past the final selection in the final kilometre and claw her way to an unprecedented victory. (Picture by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
Curtain Falls at Romandie
The season finished with veteran climber Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio taking the first WWT victory of her career, in a thrilling two-up fight against Van Vleuten on one of the toughest climbs of the season for the women’s peloton, the peak presumably named after a cyborg supervillain, Thyon 2000. Van Vleuten came off second best of probably the two most experienced climbers in the peloton, and it’s interesting to note that both have decided against retirement and move towards another season of top-level competition in 2023.(Picture by Baz Czerwinski/Getty Images)
It’s strange that in a season where she won all three Grand Tours and the World Championships, 2022 has been shaped by Van Vleuten’s losses as much as it has by her wins. It proves the ever-increasing strength of the women’s peloton, and gives hope to other riders that she isn’t always unbeatable, but should never be under-estimated.