Things are moving fast in women’s cycling. Whether it's through the iteration of new races or new teams, people are waking up and seeing the potential in the sport. In 2021, things were more exciting than ever. Be it due to impressive solo breakaways, uproar among the Dutch national team, tight photo finishes or the first ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes, it was a season to remember. But hold on tight people, because in 2022 things are set to get a whole lot hotter.
The Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift
Undoubtedly the most highly anticipated race on the calendar is the new women’s Grand Boucle. Though the announcement of the return of a Tour de France for women was met tentatively by some based on the quality of La Course, ASO’s previous offering to the women’s peloton, the recent announcement of the route has confirmed that it will be a landmark event in women’s sport.
The race will span 8 days and is likely to attract riders of the very highest calibre, with the variation of parcour meaning there is something on offer for everyone. The race will begin on the iconic Champs Elysees, the day after the men’s event finishes, meaning the first yellow jersey will likely be awarded to the fastest sprinter in the race. Expect to see the likes of Lorena Wiebes, Chloe Hosking and Marta Bastianelli storming towards the finish line in a fiery bunch gallop.
La Course 2021 (Image: Aurelien Vialatte/ ASO)
A gravel stage on the fourth day is also set to be a spectacle, with six climbs and four off-road sections packed into the last 60km. Positioning will be crucial and we can expect a suitable amount of drama – it might be one that favours the cyclo-cross riders with supreme bike-handling skills like Marianne Vos or Lucinda Brand.
The heavy-loaded back end of the race sees some seriously challenging mountain stages and a summit finish on La Super Planches des Belles Filles which has slopes touching an eye-watering 24%. Annemiek van Vlueten will be in her element here, but without Anna van der Breggen to challenge her, who will be able to pose a threat to the Olympic Time Trial Champion? More on that to come…
Above all, the greatest thing about the Tour de France Femmes is that we’ll be able to watch it, live and direct, every day of the race. Unlike the Giro Rosa, where coverage has been sporadic and shoddy at best, the organisers of the Tour de France Femmes announced late last year that Discovery Sports will broadcast the race across Europe. With a €250,000 prize fund across the different stages, the race is shaping up to be a historic moment, even if it is long overdue.
Van der Breggen’s successor
The retirement of 3x World Champion and 7x Flèche Wallonne winner Anna van der Breggen is undeniably a loss for the sport. Her aggressive racing style and rivalry with her compatriot Annemiek van Vlueten has provided big entertainment in recent years, and the dynamic of races will surely change without her.Anna van der Breggen’s racing career concluded at the 2021 World Championships in Flanders. (Image credit: Alex Broadway/SWpix)
Without her in racing Flèche Wallonne, though, the door is open for a new winner, for the first time in seven years. There will be plenty of riders ready to take over the mantle and her younger teammate, Demi Vollering, is likely on the top of that list. Winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, the younger rider is an all-rounder with a fast and punchy finish – she’ll start as the favourite to win. Taking that elusive victory won’t be an easy task, though, with riders like Kasia Niewiadoma and Elisa Longo Borghini also being well-suited to the steep finish on the Mur de Huy.
With Van der Breggen heading into a new role with SD Worx as Director Sportif, the Dutch squad may have the upper hand at Flèche Wallonne 2022. Thanks to so many victories in her pocket, Van der Breggen is now regarded as the “Queen of the Huy” and knows how to ride that crucial final climb to perfection. Whoever she’s to pass that knowledge on to will have a multitude of tricks up their sleeves. We will be watching with anticipation...
New teams on the block
As more women’s races commit to live TV coverage, more sponsors are beginning to see the return on investment that female cycling can offer. The lower set-up cost for a Women’s WorldTeam compared to a Men’s WorldTour team is another factor that has contributed to 6 additional squads in this category for 2022. The new Women's WorldTeams include EF Education-TIBCO-SVB, Team Jumbo-Visma Women, Human Powered Health, Roland Cogeas Edelweiss Squad, UAE Team ADQ and Uno-X Pro Cycling Team.Image credit: Sean Hardy
With a minimum wage stipulated for those part of a WorldTeam, the introduction of so many more teams at this level will mean that more riders in the peloton will be earning a living wage. This will give them the opportunity to dedicate themselves full time to racing, rather than having to work part-time to subsidise it. Hence, the strength in depth of the women’s peloton should be raised to an all time high, and competition will be fiercer than ever.
The wiz kids
Each year, young new talent joins the Women’s WorldTour, and 2022 is no exception. American rider Kaia Schmid, who finished second in the Junior World Championships last year, will ride for Human Powered Health. An attacking rider well suited to the punchy parcours of the early season Classics, we could well see her animating races in her first year among the elites.
Team DSM and Team Jumbo Visma have both snapped up riders who showed promise in the junior ranks, signing Elise Uijen and Linda Riedmann respectively. It’s going to be a big ask for these riders to perform when they are still finding their feet as professionals, and focus will likely be on their development as they progress into what they hope will be a long career. However, for the first time, a women’s U23 World Championship jersey will be awarded at the Wollongong World Championships in 2022.
Germany's Linda Riedmann sprints to third place over the Netherlands' Elise Uijen at the World Championships 2021 (Image credit: Ramsey Cardy/SWpix
The U23 riders will be in the same race as the elites, but will have a separate podium ceremony after the race. It’s not yet enough, and calls for a standalone women’s U23 race continue, but it shows some progress with the UCI and will be an interesting indication of the next generation of talent.
Paris-Roubaix Femmes last year was a defining moment in the history of women’s cycling. Lizzie Deignan entering the velodrome with blood on her handlebars and mud on her face as she gave a victory salute to the crowd not only highlighted her own strength, but also silenced the naysayers who had any doubts of on the ability of the women’s peloton to complete this iconic race.Paris-Roubaix Femmes 2021 (Image credit: Peter Stuart)
The thrills and spills of Roubaix will come round again in just over three months' time, and it’s unlikely that we will see a repeat winner. Deignan’s solo attack in 2021 took the rest of the peloton by surprise, and we doubt they will make the same mistake again. With everyone more familiar with the cobbles, and with the race being held at a time of the year which tends to have more favourable conditions, it’s possible that we will see a much closer battle for victory. Big contenders include Lucinda Brand, who had to miss out on the race last year due to her focus on the cyclo-cross season, Marianne Vos, who finished a close second to Deignan in last year’s race, and Lisa Brennauer, who proved herself to be a real specialist on the cobblestones, finishing 4th in 2021.Paris-Roubaix Femmes 2021 (Image credit: Peter Stuart)
The position of the race on the calendar could also mean some newer riders coming to the fore. With it being at the beginning of the season, rather than at the end like last year, some will come into the race with much fresher legs, and there is every chance it could be a surprise winner.
It was disaster for the Dutch team in both the World Championships and Olympics this year, with a lack of communication between the team leading to silver medals in each event, when they’d entered both races as hot favourites to win. At the Olympics, the orange-clad squad failed to keep track of who was up the road, with Van Vlueten celebrating as she crossed the finish line in Tokyo, believing she’d taken the gold medal. Later that year in the World Championships, a disorganised leadout lost Marianne Vos the chance to outsprint Elisa Balsamo for the rainbow bands.Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix
With most of the Dutch squad being on different trade teams and often competing as rivals throughout the season, creating a harmonious national team is challenging — especially with so many potential winners in their roster. Could 2022 be the year that Dutch cycling takes the rainbow bands again? Or could it be a case of too many leaders, with the 2022 World Championship course suiting a multitude of their options? Watching their potential change of approach is going to make for a fascinating race.