The jump from junior - do we need a women's U23 world championships?

With no U23 category for women at the road cycling world championships the step up from junior to elite is even greater so who are the riders that have made the jump work?

Although it exists in the men’s side of the sport, there is no U23 category for women at the world championships. While the women miss out on this developmental step both at the worlds and on the international calendar there is, however, a junior category.  

No junior races were held at the 2020 world championships in Imola after the original venue and dates were moved due to Covid. As such, the defending champion is 19-year-old American Megan Jastrab, who took the title in Yorkshire in 2019. Since then, Jastrab has gone on to sign with Team DSM as well as winning an Olympic gold medal in the team pursuit in Tokyo. 

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Jastrab’s predecessor, 2018 junior world champion and Austrian multidisciplinary rider Laura Stigger, recently went on to take fourth place at the U23 European road race. This year, Stigger also won a silver medal in the U23 cross country race at the mountain bike world championships. 

Megan Jastrab wins in Yorkshire 2019 (Image: Pauline Ballet/SWpix)

Women have contested a junior world championship race since 1998 and, like the two most recent title-holders, many past winners have gone on to achieve great things in the sport. Here, we look back at the precocious talents who went on to deliver on their promise. 

They might now be two of the sport's most dominant figures of recent years, but neither Annemiek van Vleuten nor Anna van der Breggen have ever won world titles at junior level on the road. 

Nicole Cooke - Great Britain (2000, 2001)

Cooke won two junior world road race titles which is in keeping with the rest of her staggering career. At the time of her first junior title, the Welshwoman had already started to achieve results beyond her years, winning the senior national road race title as a 16 year old and repeating the same feat the following year. 

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In 2001, after her first road race title the previous year, Cooke took junior world titles in the time trial, road race and mountain bike. The following year she turned professional and won a number of international races as well as taking the Commonwealth Games road race  the first rider (male or female) to do so for Wales. Cooke wins Gold at the Beijing Olympics (Image: Getty)

Cooke went on to win some of the most prestigious races on the women’s calendar, take the overall World Cup lead, and won multiple world titles. In 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, she won the road race the first ever Olympic gold medal won in a road discipline for Great Britain by any athlete, male or female. 

Although Cooke’s career was hugely successful it was also fraught with injury and a chronic lack of support from national federations as well as navigating a time in the sport when doping was rife. That she managed to overcome these obstacles to achieve what she did is testament to Cooke’s talent. She retired aged 29 and in doing so made a speech in which she lambasted “drug cheats”. The following year, her memoir The Breakaway was published in which she detailed her career and the challenges she faced throughout her career.

Marianne Vos - Netherlands (2004)

Marianne Vos needs no introduction. Widely referred to as the ‘GOAT’ (greatest of all time) including by Mark Cavendish the 34-year-old has won pretty much all there is to win across myriad disciplines -- and she’s not finished yet. 

The Dutch rider has crossed the line first on so many occasions during her 19-year career that it is almost impossible to tally her total number of career wins. On the road, it is as many as 238 but that total does not include her victories across cyclocross (where she has been world champion on seven occasions), track, and mountain bike. The Dutch rider, who currently heads up the Jumbo-Visma women’s team, has also won almost every Classic on the calendar. 

In addition to her many world titles and prestigious wins, Vos has also been an Olympic champion twice, winning the gold medal in the points race on the track in Beijing 2008, and the road race at the London 2012 Games. Indeed, Vos’s career achievements are so expansive that they have their own Wikipedia page dedicated to documenting her results.Vos at the Giro Donne 2021 (Image: Getty)

The longevity of Vos’s career is part of what makes her consistency at the top of the sport so impressive. This season, she won both Gent-Wevelgem and Amstel Gold Race and her record 30th Giro Donne stage win. 

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There is no sign of the GOAT hanging up her wheels just yet, in a recent interview with Velonews Vos revealed that despite her vast achievements, she is still motivated to continue, saying: “we have such a beautiful calendar in so many beautiful races that there is always a next goal to go for.” 

Jolien d’Hoore - Belgium (2008)

Another rider who balances her career across more than one discipline is Jolien d’Hoore. The Belgian won the junior world title on the road in 2008 and has divided her talent between both track and road for the majority of her career.

D'Hoore and Kopecky at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)

She has been hugely successful both on the road and in the velodrome winning 29 national titles on the track and four national road titles. One of the peloton’s most prolific sprinters, d’Hoore took no less than thirteen victories during the 2015 road season while racing for Wiggle-High 5. The following year, she went on to take the bronze medal in the omnium at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. 

In 2017 d’Hoore became Madison world champion on the track alongside teammate Lotte Kopecky. The 31-year-old is still one of the fastest women in the peloton and in 2020 she took the win at Gent-Wevelgem as well as a stage at the 2021 Healthy Ageing Tour. The Boels Dolmans rider will race the inaugural women’s Paris Roubaix next month before retiring from the sport. 

Pauline Ferrand Prevot - France (2010)

In 2009, as a first year junior Pauline Ferrand Prevot won her first junior title at the cross country mountain bike world championships, the following year she both defended her cross country title and took the world junior road race title. 

Ferrand-Prevot attained her elite world championship road race win at the end of a hugely successful 2014 season which included a victory at La Flèche Wallonne, second overall at the Giro Rosa and her first stage race victory at Emakumeen Euskal Bira. 

Pauline Ferrand Prevot wins 2020 Mountain Bike World Championships (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)

The following season— five years after winning her junior road world title  the multidisciplinary French rider made history at the age of 23 by becoming the first rider to ever hold simultaneous world titles across road, cyclocross, and cross country mountain bike.

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Between 2016 and 2018 Ferrand-Prevot struggled with injury whilst contracted to team Canyon//SRAM. In November 2018 she revealed that she had been diagnosed with iliac artery endofibrosis and underwent surgery in both legs the following year. Since then, the 29-year-old has focused almost exclusively on mountain biking, taking her second elite XCO title in 2019 and defending it the following season. 

Amalie Dideriksen - Denmark (2013, 2014)

Danish track and road rider Amalie Dideriksen has twice been junior road race champion. Alongside Cooke, Vos, Ferrand-Prevot, and Catherine Marsal she is one of just five former junior world champions to have gone on to win an elite world road title. Dideriksen took her elite title in Doha in 2016 within two years of winning her second junior world championship title.  

Amalie Dideriksen at the 2016 Road World Championships (Image: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix)

Dideriksen has won 18 national titles across both track and road including the 2021 title. Still only 25-year-old, Dideriksen now rides for Trek-Segafredo on the road and continues to achieve success on the track including at the Tokyo Olympic Games where she took the silver medal on the track in the Madison alongside Julie Leth. 

Exceptional, but not the rule

Although their achievements are impressive, it is important to note that the riders on this list are exceptional talents who have been able to achieve success from the very beginning of their careers. However, for every Marianne Vos there are multiple girls who drop out of the sport between their years as a junior and elite rider without the key development step of an U23 category. 

Cover image: Pauline Ballet/SWpix

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