Seven women’s cycling races to watch in 2021

Which women's races should you keep your diary clear for?

With 2020 behind us, there’s plenty of reasons to get excited about 2021. Cycling, and specifically women's cycling, is one of them.

The truncated 2020 season saw an almost-halved Women’s WorldTour (WWT) calendar with just eleven events taking place. Should the season go ahead as planned, however, there will be 21 WWT events for the top female cyclists to contest in 2021.

Women’s racing is some of the most exciting and dynamic to behold anywhere in the sport. So if you have the opportunity to watch a race live – regardless of its stature – then we promise you will not regret it. Since it is now a requirement of WWT status for races to provide at least 45 minutes of live coverage, there will be more women’s cycling to watch than ever in 2021. So which ones will be unmissable?

Strade Bianche | 6th March 2021

Photo Credit: D`Alberto-LaPresse/CorVos/SWpix.com

It might seem like a mere five minutes since the 2020 Classics season. The ‘Spring Classics’ became the ‘Autumn Classics’ due to Coronavirus postponements, but as early as March we will be seeing the peloton contest the first in the form of the original gravel race: Strade Bianche.

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Last year’s race took place in August making it a far cry from the usual conditions, which have been known to include snow in previous years. Although sunnier settings in 2020 didn’t deter Annemiek van Vleuten from taking her second consecutive win, there were certainly some for whom a hot, dry and dusty Strade Bianche proved a challenge. Most notably absent from the top 10 in 2020 was former podium finisher Kasia Niewiadoma of Canyon-Sram, as well as South African Ashleigh Moolman Pasio. She crashed badly in training on the day before the race.

Strade Bianche is back in its usual March calendar slot for 2021 and it will prove interesting to see how riders respond to the race reverting to type. Regardless of weather conditions the sections of gravel ‘strade’ will, as ever, make the racing thrilling to watch.

Riders to watch: Annemiek van Vleuten, Kasia Niewiadoma, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini. 

Women’s Paris Roubaix | 11th April 2021

Stealthily slipped into the revised 2020 calendar with no prior warning from ASO or the UCI, the prospect of a women’s Paris-Roubaix had riders and fans rejoicing in equal measure. Those who were planning their October calendar around the historical moment would have to wait a while longer, however, as the 2020 event was cancelled along with the men’s, due to this pesky pandemic. 

Six long months after it was originally scheduled - on the 11th April 2021 - the inaugural Women’s Paris-Roubaix is finally set to be contested. If the course is the same as was intended in 2020 then you can expect a shortened version of the men’s race. It will start not in Paris but Denain, but will still culminate at the iconic Roubaix Velodrome. The 116km course will cover 29.2km of cobblestones over the same final 17 sectors as the men which are sure to bring just as much drama for the women, too.

Riders to watch: Marianne Vos, Ellen van Dijk, Anna van der Breggen, Lotte Kopecky, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak

Amstel Gold Race | 18th April 2021

Kasia Niewiadoma (Photo credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

The Ardennes Classics are likely to be more hard-fought than ever in 2021 as riders look for ways of giving themselves an advantage for the World Championships in Flanders. After being forced to cancel in 2020 (déjà vu), the women’s Amstel Gold Race will return in April for its fourth edition since being reintroduced in 2017. 

Related – A Guide to the 2021 Women’s WorldTour Teams

Kasia Niewiadoma of Canyon-Sram was the last rider to win the race, attacking solo over the Cauberg climb to beat Annemiek van Vleuten. The Polish rider will be looking to repeat her 2019 feat after a season devoid of wins last year. Hot on her wheel, however, will be a peloton stacked with potential winners. Who might those potential winners be? Well, it seems the only constant in women’s Classics racing is unpredictability, so there’s a lot of riders we wouldn't rule out.

Riders to watch: Anna van der Breggen, Kasia Niewiadoma, Annemiek van Vleuten, Demi Vollering, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Lizzie Deignan, Amanda Spratt. 

The Women’s Tour | 7th-12th June 2021

Photo credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

The Women’s Tour, like many races, took a forced hiatus in 2020 with the promise to return better than ever in 2021. It’s been favoured among fans and riders alike for its efficient organisation and communication, professional treatment of riders and well-produced highlights show. So expect the Women’s Tour to be met with a very warm welcome back this season. 

The six stages will run from the 7th to the 12th June and although all of the details around where the stages will be have not yet been released it is sure to attract some of the best riders and some of the most competitive racing. Previous winners include Lizzie Deignan (on two occasions), Marianne Vos, Kasia Niewiadoma, Lisa Brennauer and Coryn Rivera. 2021 will undoubtedly bring a stacked field.

Taking place just over one month out from the Olympics will mean that the Women’s Tour will see riders nearing their peak form for the season, so you can expect some fireworks to go off on those British country lanes.

Riders to Watch: Lizzie Deignan, Marianne Vos, Kasia Niewiadoma, Lizzy Banks, Liane Lippert, Anna van der Breggen, Mikayla Harvey, Demi Vollering. 

La Course by Le Tour de France, 27th June

Photo credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

La Course has been many things; a token circuit race, a two-day event, a one-day event with a mountaintop finish, and a one-day hilly course. Just like the event it runs alongside, the Tour de France, there have been both thrilling and formulaic editions of the race.

The 2020 edition of La Course escaped the fate of reverting to a circuit race on the Champs-Élysées when the calendar was rescheduled and instead transpired as one of the most exciting races of the season to watch. Broadcast live from start to finish, the race followed part of the opening stage of the Tour de France in Nice where Annemiek van Vleuten whittled down the field in a failed attempt to break away. Elisa Longo Boghini and Lizzie Deignan played a perfect hand in the final straight to outfox Marianne Vos as Deignan took the win.

The 2021 event is the longest yet at 130km, including six ascents of the Mûr de Bretagne. If it’s anything akin to the action of 2020 then keep the morning of the 27th June clear in your diary and make sure you watch La Course. 

Riders to watch: Lizzie Deignan, Marianne Vos, Demi Vollering, Liane Lippert, Anna van der Breggen, Annemiek van Vleuten. 

Tokyo Olympic Road Race | 24th July 2021

Photo credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Although some doubts are starting to creep in around the viability of the Tokyo Olympic Games this year, if they are able to go ahead as planned then the women’s road race on the 24th July promises to be spectacular. 

Almost five years ago now, the 2016 Olympic road race in Rio was full of drama; from Annemiek van Vleuten’s terrifying crash on the final descent while out in front, to the heartbreak of a solo Mara Abbott getting caught just before the line by Anna van der Breggen, Emma Johansonn and Elisa Longo Borghini. In 2021 the reigning Olympic champion, and current double world champion, is in her final season as a pro and will be looking to hold on to her title. 

Rivals within her own team might have other ideas, however. Annemiek van Vleuten has unfinished business at the Olympics after her horrific crash in Rio and has gone from strength-to-strength since 2016, while elsewhere within the Dutch squad will be Marianne Vos, who should never be overlooked.

The women’s course in Tokyo bypasses some of the headline climbs of the men’s race – most notably Mount Fuji – but is still a gruelling day out at 137km with 2692m elevation. With three of the favourites within the Dutch squad it will fall to other nations to swing the potential for infighting to their advantage. British rider and 2021 silver medallist Lizzie Deignan, for one, has described the race as her “biggest goal”.

Riders to watch: Anna van der Breggen, Annemiek van Vleuten, Lizzie Deignan, Elisa Longo Borghini. 

World Championships in Flanders | 25th September 2021

The 2020 World Championships in Imola (Photo credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

The 2021 World Championships in Flanders will mark 100 years since the region first hosted the race (which women were not allowed to compete in) and 19 years since the region last hosted a Worlds (Zolder 2002). 

The race will start in Antwerp and finish in Leuven after covering 157km and 1,047m of elevation. Looking at the stats the course doesn’t seem like it covers much climbing but the punchy, typically Belgian, bergs are all packed into the final 100km. Riders will traverse a 56km run-in before completing two circuits, the profiles of which look dauntingly jagged. 

Solo breakaway specialists like Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen might find it tricky to get away without a longer climb to help them so expect plenty of explosive attacks from the punchier riders in the peloton. 

Riders to watch: Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, Lizzie Deignan, Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen, Annemiek van Vleuten.