New races, more television coverage and added media interest ensured that women’s cycling enjoyed more attention than ever in the 2022 season. There were many outstanding displays from the peloton’s top stars, especially Annemiek van Vleuten, who enjoyed the best year yet of her great career. But several performances still went under the radar over the course of the season, some of which we’ve picked out below.
Elisa Balsamo, Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne
Only looking back now, knowing the astonishing 18-race winning streak in sprint finishes Lorena Wiebes would go on in its aftermath, can we appreciate just how well Elisa Balsamo did to get the better of the Dutchwoman to win the Brugge-De Panne classic. This was the only occasion all year that Wiebes was defeated in a sprint (her second and third places at GP Eco-Struct and the Simac Ladies Tour sprints came when leading out teammate Charlotte Kool), and, though she was hampered a little by a broken spoke, she was simply outgunned by Balsamo, who showed incredible strength to prevent Wiebes from jumping off her wheel to pass her. Even more impressively, Balsamo’s sprint was an improvisation after designated sprinter Chloe Hosking was one of several riders held up in a crash, and she had no teammates to help lead her out.
Ellen van Dijk, Gent-Wevelgem
2022 was a year of great personal success for Ellen van Dijk, as she broke the hour record, won the overall classification at the Baloise Ladies Tour, and retained her World Championship individual time trial title. But as always, she also resumed her role as a selfless, invaluable servant for her teammates throughout the season, with her best domestique performance coming at Gent-Wevelgem. She was indomitable that day, controlling the race for the final 50km and closing down every attempted attack made virtually single-handedly, at one point even dropping back to the peloton from a strong, sizeable group that had gone clear, and bringing them back with her Trek-Segafredo leader Elisa Balsamo within just a few hundred metres. The effort was worth it, as Balsamo sprinted to victory in the finale.
Kristen Faulkner, Tour de Suisse stage four
Not yet a part of the WorldTour, the Tour de Suisse went somewhat under the radar, but produced thrilling racing over the course of its four stages culminating in a nail-biting final duel between Kristen Faulkner and Lucinda Brand. For those who did watch it, the abiding memory will be Faulkner sliding out around a twisty final corner at the end of the final stage, and consequently losing her two second advantage and condensing the overall title to Brand. But this shattering ending shouldn’t totally take away from how well she had defended her lead earlier in the stage, as she clawed her way back to Brand’s wheel slowly but surely on the final climb, having fallen almost a minute adrift, a task made even harder by the dramatically rainy conditions.Image: Getty
Marta Cavalli, Giro d’Italia Donne
With Annemiek van Vleuten operating on a whole other level to everyone else in the stage races this year, some credit should go to the riders who, though didn’t achieve the seemingly impossible task of actually beating the all-conquering Dutchwoman, did manage to finish runner-up behind her. Demi Vollering’s second at the Tour de France Femmes was impressive, especially considering the substantial gap of 2-47 she held over Kasia Niewiadoma in third, but it was Marta Cavalli at the Giro that really gave Van Vleuten something to think about.
Not only did the Italian finish within two minutes of her rival on the final GC (while finishing a huge 4-04 ahead of the next best rider, Mavi García), she even managed to put her under pressure on the penultimate stage, dropping her on a descent to gain several seconds. Had Van Vleuten not been riding, all the talk instead would have been about a huge win for major new talent Marta Cavalli.
Annemiek van Vleuten, Tour de France Femmes stage three
The real story of Annemiek van Vleuten’s overall victory at the inaugural Tour de France Femmes wasn’t the trademark long-range solo wins she delivered on the final two stages, but the fact she managed to overcome a serious bout of illness in the opening days. Unable to eat and drink properly and being totally drained of energy, it’s a miracle she even managed to get through these stages, let alone end up winning overall. To overcome an emergency nature break, stay with the favourites on a steep 11% climb in the finale, return to them after being dropped on the next one, and after all this lose only 20 seconds on a hell-for-leather uphill sprint at the end of stage three, reveals just how deep she was willing to go in order to win the race her season had been centred around.Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
Riejanne Markus, Simac Ladies Tour stage four
Four days into the Simac Ladies Tour, Lorena Wiebes and Team DSM seemed almost impossible to beat — Wiebes won the first two stages in bunch sprints, then, in a reversal of roles, led Charlotte Kool out to victory the following day. Riejanne Markus figured out a way to beat the Team DSM duo the following day, however, when she picked her moment perfectly to attack the reduced peloton 6km from the finish and solo to victory, ensuring Wiebes only placed second when she again won the sprint in the group behind. Considering Markus’ attacked into a headwind, rode the whole finale by herself, and still won by 14 seconds, it was some ride.
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Tour de Romandie Féminin stage two
Tucked away at the very end of the season, two weeks after the World Championships and a whole month after the penultimate event of the World Tour, the inaugural Tour de Romandie Féminin felt a bit buried in the calendar, but provided plenty of action thanks to a career-best performance from veteran Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, and a rare moment of weakness from Annemiek van Vleuten. Despite never having won a WorldTour race before, Moolman-Pasio showed a new ruthless streak when battling with Van Vleuten on the fearsome Thyon 2000 climb, and dropped her a few kilometres to the top to win by a whole 26 seconds, and set herself up for the overall victory too. Not many riders got the better of Van Vleuten this year, let alone a fully fit Van Vleuten, so this feat ought not to be underestimated.
Cover image: Getty