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Thanks to a later than usual world championships, us cycling fans got to enjoy a few extra weeks of racing, but for the riders it’s been a long and taxing season, and now that a new world champion has been crowned, the season has finally come to a close.
But what a season it was! From the inaugural UCI Women’s WorldTour to the Rio Olympics and the desert-based world championships, this season was extraordinary.
Like a good book that spanned over nine months, we got to know all the characters and for a brief period of time they became a part of our lives. From the euphoria of a race victory to heartbreaking losses and inspiring comebacks, we have gone on an emotional journey with the riders, and we’ve now reached the last page. This chapter of women’s cycling has ended and a new one will open up soon.
After following the women’s peloton for the past nine months –burning the midnight oil and working odd hours to bring you all the race coverage –we present you our 2016 Ella Awards, a tip-of-the-hat to extraordinary performances, events and highlights of the incredible season we’ve had.
1. Best overall season
It’s a rare rider that can perform well throughout the entire season. The winner of this award achieved impressive results throughout the season, not just in one particular part of the season.
Winner: Megan Guarnier
It was a tough pick this year, with Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) absolutely smashing the Spring Classics, Anna van der Breggen (Rabo-Liv) timing her fitness just right to become Olympic road champion and Olympic TT bronze medalist, and Evelyn Stevens (Boels-Dolmans) kicking off the season by setting a new UCI World Hour record and then continuing on to make her last season a memorable one.
But in the end, we’re awarding the Best Overall Season award to Women’s WorldTour winner Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans).
Consistently strong all season, it was clear in the early spring that Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) was gearing up for some season. She took second at the Trofeo Binda, fourth in Flanders and third at La Fleche Wallonne, and she was just warming up.
The 31-year-old American then went on an impressive winning streak, claiming the overall victory at the Amgen Women’s Tour of California, her third American national road race title in North Carolina, the Philadelphia Classic and the Maglia Rosa at women’s cycling’s only grand tour, the Giro Rosa.
All this led to her topping the UCI world ranking –the first American woman to do so –and being crowned the first ever Women’s WorldTour winner.
2. Most impressive breakout performance
All it takes is one big result and suddenly everyone is talking about you. The winner of this award hit the big-time with a memorable result this season and will be talked about for the next few years.
Winner: Amalie Dideriksen
The world championships are a pretty amazing place to have a breakout performance. In her second world championship road race as an elite racer, 20-year-old Danish rider Amalie Dideriksen dreamt of finishing in the top 10. But she surprised herself and her competition when she came out of the wheel of Kirsten Wild at the perfect moment and nipped the Dutch powerhouse sprinter at the line to become the new women’s world champion.
Dideriksen is a two-time junior world road race champion, a two-time elite Danish national road race champion as well as the 2015 U23 European Champion in the individual pursuit and omnium on the track. But on the star-studded roster of the Boels-Dolmans team, the youngster had yet to be given a chance to get her own results. So riding for her country, without her Boels-Dolmans teammates, Dideriksen was given an opportunity which she seized with both hands. And what a time to do it!
– Chantal Blaak for her Spring performances, which saw her in the Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey for a stint after two WorldTour victories and several podium finishes.
– Chloe Hosking for having a fantastic 2016 season, with wins in three Women’s WorldTour races, including La Course and a stage of the Giro Rosa.
3. Ultimate team player
Only one rider can take glory at the end of a race but, invariably, there’s a whole team of riders behind that winner, deserving of just as much praise. The winner of this award is the perfect teammate; a rider who excels at their job of supporting their leader.
Winner: Marianne Vos
This season we witnessed a new Marianne Vos. Coming back after having been sidelined for a whole season, Vos took on a new role.
The multiple World and Olympic champion is the winningest cyclist of all time, and while she added a few more wins to her lengthy palmares, her most memorable performances this year were perhaps when she became world’s best bottle-getter in Rio, and Wild’s final lead-out in the world championship road race.
In Rio, many looked to Vos as a race favourite, but instead Vos played the role of domestique, dropping back to the team car to load her jersey with team bottles before launching a counterattack that would find her in the first potentially race-winning move of the day. Even though it wasn’t, it was a strong performance, switching from super-domestique to race leader and back to domestique within minutes.
In Doha, she again was a crucial part of the orange squad as she fired attacks, ramped up the pace and ultimately led Wild out for the final sprint.
Off the bike, she was a major support for teammate Annemiek van Vleuten after she crashed horrifically in the Olympic road race. Vos spent time in the hospital with Van Vleuten, was present for Van Vleuten’s difficult first interview with the media, and was spotted running around the Olympic Village collecting signatures and well-wishes for her injured teammate.
4.The year’s biggest feel-good victory
We all have our favourites but sometimes there’s a winner that everyone can get behind. It might be the journey the rider’s been on to get to that point, it might be something to do with the race itself – regardless, this win was a popular one.
Winners: Anna van der Breggen
When it comes to emotions, the Olympic road race in Rio had it all:excitement, horror, heart-break and joy. It was a true emotional roller coaster for fans tuning in from around the globe. And we can only imagine what it must have felt like for eventual winner, Anne van der Breggen.
As the race was coming to an exciting finale, the peloton had been shattered into little groups. Riding in the first chase group, Van der Breggen was within reach of the two race leaders Mara Abbott (USA) and compatriot Annemiek van Vleuten as she started the descent down the Vista Chinesa. Turning a corner, Van der Breggen was given a terrible fright when there, on the side of the road, she spotted her teammate, Van Vleuten, laying facedown and motionless.
All sense of place and Olympic glory forgotten, it wasn’t until her chase group companion, Sweden’s Emma Johansson, gave her some encouragement that Van der Breggen could focus again on the race at hand.
The finish was nearing and the chasing trio of Johansson, Van der Breggen and Italy’s Elisa Longho Borgini was running out of time to catch the now lone race leader, Abbott.
Refocused, Van der Breggen played the game patiently. Exerting as little energy as possible while Borgini did the lion’s share of the work, she waited. The moment the trio reached Abbott, Van der Breggen launched a long and early sprint, a risky move as being the first to go cost her the World Championship race in Richmond last Fall when she lost the sprint to Lizzie Armitstead. But this time, it was the correct call, and Van der Breggen managed to hold off Johansson to the line.
In doing so, Van der Breggen gave the Dutch something to celebrate just minutes after watching Van Vleuten crash so horrifically. And it was our feel-good moment of the season.
That moment, on the other side of the coin, was also the most heart-breaking moment of the season.
After Van Vleuten crashed out on the descent, Abbott was now in the lead, making it to the bottom of the Vista Chinesa on her own and facing the 6-kilometre flat run-in to the finish by herself. Behind her a strong trio was chasing with all their might. She had already pushed herself to the limit ten times over in the past 3.5 hours and now the numbers were stacked against her. As the kilometres dwindled down, so did the gap between her and the fierce chasers.
With just 200 metres to go, Abbott saw her Olympic dreams crumble around her as the chasing trio sped by her in the final sprint for the finish. Abbott had given a truly heroic performance and it was pure heartbreak for the Americans to miss out on a medal after coming tantalisingly close.
5. Best race of the season
Most bike races provide an element of drama and excitement somewhere along the way but occasionally there’s a race that just stands out from the rest. It might have been a tight finish, an explosive selection or some other moment that stood out. Here’s our pick of the year.
Winner: The Olympic Road Race
For the edge-of-your-seat excitement, and the emotional rollercoaster described above, the road race at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio was the highlight of the season. A race so thrilling that you didn’t dare going to the bathroom out of fear you might miss something.
Everyone raced their hearts out and we’ll surely be talking about this nail-biter of a race for some time to come. If you missed it, we highly encourage you to find the full replay.
6. Future star award
You can tell some riders are going to be a star just by looking at them. Their focus, their attention to detail, their results – they all point towards future success. We expect the winner of this award to attract plenty of attention in the years to come.
Winner: Kasia Niewiadoma
It seems hardly fair to give this award to Katarzyna “Kasia” Niewiadoma as she’s already more than capable to hold her own among cycling’s biggest stars, but she’s still only 22 years old.
While riding for Rabo-Liv, we’ve grown accustom to seeing her in the blue U23 European champion jersey or the UCI Women’s WorldTour young rider leader’s jersey, which she sported most of the season and ultimately won –along with just about every other young rider jersey that was to be had.
Other season highlights include winning the Polish national road and time trial titles; getting second only to Lizzie Deignan in the first Women’s WorldTour event, Strade Bianchi; finishing second also in the elite UEC European Championship road race; and taking out the General Classification at Festival Elsy Jacobs and Giro del Trentino Alto Adige.
A climber, Niewiadoma was hoping for a Top 3 in the overall classification at the Giro Rosa. While she finished seventh in the overal, she did win the young rider classification, and is a favourite for the win in years to come.
7. Most surprising victory
Sometimes the winner of a race is one of the last people you would have picked for that victory. But often it’s the unlikely victories that are the most impressive and memorable.
Winner: Eugenia Bujak winning GP de Plouay.
Yes, we knew she was quick, as she had already won two stages in La Route de France, finished third in stage 1 of the Festival Elsy Jacobs and won a stage in the 2015 Thüringen Rundfahrt. But when 14 women sprinted to the line in the penultimate Women’s WorldTour race GP Plouay, no-one expected BTC-City Ljubljana rider Eugenia Bujak from Poland to cross the line first. She did, however, beating compatriot Kasia Niewiadoma (Rabo-Liv) and other strong riders like Leah Kirchmann (Liv-Plantur), Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) and Carmen Small (Cylance Pro Cycling).
She was joined on the podium by Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM) and Joëlle Numainville (Cervélo-Bigla), who were both looking very happy with their result. But the biggest smile was for Bujak, who had just won the biggest race in her life.
8. Best victory salute/celebration
If you’re going to win a race, you might as well do it in style. The winner of this award went the extra mile to make their win memorable, rather than just sticking their hands in the air.
Winner: Chloe Hosking after winning La Course
Pure, genuine emotion beats a prepared victory salute every time, and that’s exactly what we got when Australian Chloe Hosking sprinted to her third Women’s WorldTour win this season on the cobbles of the Champs-Elyées in Paris, edging out Lotta Lepistö (Cervélo-Bigla) and Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv).
“I don’t think I quite believed it when I crossed the finish line,” said a teary-eyed Hosking post race. “I had my hands over my mouth. These are iconic roads and this is a huge victory for me and my team. I won a stage at the Giro a few weeks back but this tops it.”
– Lizzie Deignan (then Armistead) winning the Trofeo Binda and pointing to her chest when she crossed the finish line as a way of saying “no rainbow curse here”.
– Deignan again in the Aviva Women’s Tour when she crossed the line pointing towards the sky for the deceased MP Jo Cox, who was stabbed and shot the day before.
9. Most impressive team
It’s reasonably easy to work out which team achieved the most victories for the season, but the team that won this award did more than that. Their success is attributed not only to the number of races they won, but which races they won, and how they did it.
Pure domination. That’s what the orange squad of Boels-Dolmans did this year. World champion, UCI’s top ranked rider, UCI World Hour Record holder, national champions, WorldTour leader — the team’s roster was super stacked and while each rider individually was a formidable force to deal with, collectively they were unbeatable again and again and again.
They won 15 out of the 17 Women’s WorldTour events as well as the team time trial in Vårgårda and at the world championships in Doha where their young rider, Amalie Dideriksen, was crowned world champion as well, keeping the rainbow stripes within the Boels-Dolmans team.
For 2017 they’ve added Olympic road champion and silver TT medalist, Anna van der Breggen, to their roster as well. It hardly seems fair to the competition…
10. Greatest injury comeback
Getting injured is part and parcel of being a professional bike rider. Everyone gets injured, but not everyone comes back at the same level they were at beforehand, if not at a higher level.
Winner: Annemiek van Vleuten.
Annemiek van Vleuten wins this award for a second year in a row. It’s both impressive and unfortunate. Last year, she received this Ella Award after getting hit by a car during a training ride in Italy, in August of 2015, and then making a comeback at the Giro Toscana Int. Femminile, just weeks later where she won the prologue and finished third overall.
This year, her horrific crash at the Olympic road race in Rio scared everyone to bits, with riders and spectators alike fearing the worst. But she was ‘lucky’, suffering a bad concussion and three broken vertebrae. And just 30 days after the horrific crash, Van Vleuten returned to the peloton at the Lotto Belgium Tour. Many were surprised to see her line up so soon after the crash, and what she did next was nothing short of astounding: she took the win in the prologue and then went on to win the overall after winning the final stage after a stunning attack, arriving at the finish line solo, an impressive 1’04” ahead of the field.
Although we grant Van Vleuten wholeheartedly, we don’t want to see her top this list again!
Honorable mention: Trixi Worrack (Canyon-SRAM). After crashing out the Trofeo Alfredo Binda on March 20th and subsequently losing her kidney, Worrack was unsure whether she was able to continue her career. But with her sights firmly set on the Rio Olympics, the German national champion worked hard on her rehabilitation and returned to the peloton for the Auensteiner Radsporttage tour in Germany. She went on to win the German national time trial championships, represented her country at the Rio Olympics and again in Doha Qatar, where she competed at her 16th world championships.
We’d love to hear from you if you agree or if you would have picked someone else. Let us know in the comments below.