As we’re heading toward the sixth round of the Women’s WorldTour next week at the Fleche Wallone, it’s time to reflect a little bit on the first five races of this new women’s cycling series.
Looking back at the start of the inaugural Women’s WorldTour, five conclusions can be drawn.
1. Unrivalled thus far, Boels-Dolmans is the team to beat
Although Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) performed well in the World Cups in both 2014 and 2015, securing the overall World Cup twice in a row, the dominance of Boels-Dolmans this season is probably only rivalled by Marianne Vos’ (Rabo-Liv) domination until the 2015 season.
All wins in the inaugural Women’s WorldTour have gone to only two Boels-Dolmans riders: Armitstead won the Strade Bianche, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Tour of Flanders, while Chantal Blaak crossed the line first in the Ronde van Drenthe and Gent-Wevelgem (plus finishing third in Flanders alongside her teammate).
Whatever is behind their success, it’s working. Although Armitstead has stated that her focus after Flanders now turns to the Olympics in Rio, she has enough teammates to continue the Boels-Dolmans dominance in the races to come. And don’t be surprised if Armitstead takes another UCIWWT win, even if it’s just a ‘training race’.
The only non-Boels-Dolmans rider to have worn the WWT leader’s jersey so far has been Anna van der Breggen (Rabo-Liv), after the Ronde van Drenthe. The 25-year-old Dutchwoman had an absolutely stellar season in 2015, and 2016 was looking promising. But with fourth in the Ronde van Drenthe being her best result this year, her form seems to be hard to find early in the season.
Rabo-Liv do have more cards to play and Kasia Niewiadoma has been wearing the WWT young rider jersey for most of the season, but better results were expected of the team. Marianne Vos is back racing and in winning form, set to race her first Women’s WorldTour race in the Fleche Wallone this Wednesday.
Other teams have been unsuccessful in challenging the Boels-Dolmans team as well. Emma Johansson (Wiggle-High5) finished third in the Strade Bianche and second (only just!) in Flanders, but the team missed out completely in the Ronde van Drenthe while four riders were in the front group.
Orica-AIS’ Annemiek van Vleuten has been able to get in a top 10 result in each of the Women’s WorldTour races and her teammate Gracie Elvin finished second in the Ronde van Drenthe, but neither are a serious threat to the Boels-Dolmans’ dominance at the moment.
Over at Canyon-SRAM, Tiffany Cromwell showed promising form when she won the sprint of the chase group in the Omloop het Nieuwsblad, finishing second behind Armitstead, but she hasn’t been able to get in a great result in any of the WWT races so far. For Lisa Brennauer, it looks like she has found her sprinter legs again, finishing second in Gent-Wevelgem and in two stages of last week’s UCI2.2 Energiewacht Tour, so who knows whether she’ll be able to beat Blaak in sprints to follow.
Cervélo-Bigla’s best result in a Women’s WorldTour race was Carmen Small’s fifth place in Gent-Wevelgem, which is not what both her and Ashleigh Moolman are aiming for. They now rank 11th in the team ranking, even below much smaller teams like Lotto-Soudal, Servetto-Footon and Alé Cipollini. We’re sure the team is eager to set things right in the upcoming Women’s WorldTour races.
2. The races have been a great showcase for the sport
Yes, there is only one team that won all Women’s WorldTour races. And yes, the wins have gone to two riders only. And yes, it’s becoming more and more of a challenge for journalists to write something interesting and new on another win for the orange squad.
But the races in the Women’s WorldTour have been far from dull. We have seen some incredible action throughout all five races.
The sprint up to the Piazza del Campo of Armitstead, Johansson and Niewiadoma in the Strade Bianche made for an exciting finale to the first ever Women’s WorldTour race.
There was the four woman sprint of Blaak, Van der Breggen, Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS) and Trixi Worrack (Canyon-SRAM) in the Ronde van Drenthe, with tactical manoeuvres between the different type of sprinters.
Jolanda Neff’s (Servetto-Footon) late and almost successful attack in the Trofeo Alfredo Binda got everyone excited, with Armitstead adding to the suspension when she made the decisive move to bridge the gap.
It was Blaak arriving solo in Gent-Wevelgem almost a minute and a half ahead of the chase group.
And the head to head sprint of Johansson and Armitstead in the Tour of Flanders was the climax of a hard race, at a point where the chasers almost caught the duo in the final straight towards the finish line.
All of them were marvelous women’s races and have been a great showcase for the sport.
3. The introduction of the Women’s WorldTour was off to a rocky start
In the initial announcement of the introduction of the Women’s WorldTour, the UCI stated that each race would have either a live broadcast, live streaming or a highlights package, a statement repeated in a news article that was published just days before the first event at the Strade Bianche.
What it didn’t clearly specify, however, was that this was just a guideline established by the UCI and it was up to organisations to provide for such things – which is a step back from last year, when the UCI itself provided extensive highlights video’s of all World Cup races.
Throughout the first weeks of the Women’s WorldTour, much criticism has been directed towards the UCI and a lack of communication from the organisation to those raising questions only made things worse.
On March 1st, a women’s coordinator was appointed by the UCI (which was kept inconceivably quiet), who has a proactive approach to what needs to be done to get women’s cycling to the next level. Morgane Gaultier comes over from cycling events organiser A.S.O., so she has experience in cycling. But with a newly created function at the UCI, both her and the women’s cycling world need to figure out the best way forward together.
I have met her at the Tour of Flanders and have to say she seems really nice and willing to learn. I believe she has something to bring to the game and is a welcome addition to the women’s cycling family. I sincerely hope she and the UCI will be able to set things right for the Women’s WorldTour in order to give it an honest chance.
4. The future of women’s cycling is looking promising
As is often the case in an Olympic year, quite a few big names are set to retire after Rio. We’ve heard the names of Johansson and Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-High5), as well as Kirstin Armstrong (Team Twenty16), Emma Pooley and Nicole Brändli (Servetto-Footon), who have all returned for the Olympics specifically. There will probably be other riders too that haven’t yet announced it, who will quit their professional careers after the Olympics.
Although it’s always sad to see these familiar and often friendly faces leave the sport, their voids will most definitely be filled with promising talent. Just take a look at the Women’s WorldTour young rider classification and it’s apparent these women are ready to take-over from the valued athletes that have helped develop the sport to what it is now, Floortje Mackaij (Liv-Plantur) and Niewiadoma first.
Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM) has had a successful European campaign so far, while U23 world road & TT champion Chloe Dygert (Team Twenty16) has been performing well at the World Track Championships back in March. Her compatriot Emma White (Rally Cycling) took silver in both U23 World Championship races last year and featured in one of our Faces of the Future articles.
Other names that will probably figure high in results in years to come are Jip van den Bos (Parkhotel Valkenburg), who currently holds the young rider jersey in the UCI2.2 Euskal Emakumeen Bira, Danish champion Amalie Dideriksen (Boels-Dolmans) and, without a doubt, U23 Dutch road champion Demi de Jong (Boels-Dolmans) and her sister Thalita de Jong (Rabo-Liv).
5. We still have a ways to go
If the Women’s WorldTour ever wants to become an equal counterpart to the men’s WorldTour, the introduction of official WorldTour teams is a necessity.
The top 20 UCI teams, established at the beginning of the year, could be considered unofficial Women’s WorldTour teams, as they have to be invited to all one day WWT races (top 15 for stage races).
But with a mere 13 of those teams deciding to start in the Philadelphia Cycling Classic and only 9 of the 15 automatic invitees lining up at the AMGEN Tour of California, the Women’s WorldTour is devalued, which is not a good thing for further development.
It’s understandable that a number of women’s teams cannot afford the transport to the United States – although I am a little surprised that Topsport Vlaanderen-Etixx do not cross the Atlantic, as they have boasted about their top notch budget earlier this year.
I do not have the solution for this problem and believe a mandatory presence at Women’s WorldTour races or a minimum wage is not possible at this point, but there are some things that can easily be done.
The UCI should take a bigger responsibility in making organisations comply with their obligations.
Organisations are well aware of the obligations that come along with organising a Women’s WorldTour race, so at a minimum the following things should happen:
- A live broadcast, livestream or highlights package should become available at each race;
- Information which of those three will be provided need to be announced beforehand;
- And basic race information (route, start list) should become available well ahead of the race, for both press and riders.
If organisations are unable or unwilling to comply with the obligations that are required of Women’s WorldTour races, the UCI should take action in pointing out their responsibilities or either not allowing them to be a Women’s WoldTour race the following year.
It’s better to have a Women’s WorldTour with ten races that can provide everything you’d expect of a true WorldTour race, than to have a number of races in this event series that don’t belong there.
The Women’s WorldTour continues at the Fleche Wallone next Wednesday. Be sure to come back before then for a preview of this race.