Seven talking points from the first half of the Women’s WorldTour

by Anne-Marije Rook & Jeanine Laudy


 

As the pro peloton is enjoying a little down time due to the cancelled Philadelphia International Cycling Classic, it’s time for us to reflect on the first half of the 2017 Women’s WorldTour. There have been 10 events, of which two were stage races, so far this season and we have 10 more still to go.

Looking back on an exciting spring season, we saw breakout performances, new races, unpredictable race finishes and inspiring teamwork.

We can’t wait to see what the second half of the season holds. But until then, here are six talking points from the Women’s WorldTour thus far.

 

1. The first four races had four winners from four different teams

After a win and a fourth place finish in the first two rounds of the WorldTour, Elisa Longo Borghini was the first to lead the 2017 Women’s WorldTour.

After Boels-Dolmans dominated the Women’s WorldTour last season, cycling fans and the women’s peloton were preparing for another dominant performance by the Dutch-registered team in the 2017 Spring Classics.

But while Boels-Dolmans certainly was part of the action, the first races of the 2017 Women’s WorldTour were pleasantly unpredictable. The first four races – Strade Bianche, Ronde van Drenthe, Trofeo Binda and Gent-Wevelgem – saw four different winners from four different teams.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) took that much wanted win in the opening race, Strade Bianche, which also made her the first Women’s WorldTour leader. She donned the purple leader’s jersey in the Ronde van Drenthe, where she made it into a four-rider group that sprinted for the win, but it was world road champion Amalie Dideriksen (Boels-Dolmans) who took the win there.

Next was Trofeo Binda, where the bunch sprint was won by American pocket rocket Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb). She would come close again in Gent-Wevelgem, but there it was Finnish road champion Lotta Lepistö (Cervélo-Bigla) who took the win.

Unpredictable outcomes are a very good thing. The level of women’s cycling is very high at the moment, which means more teams are vying for the win and it makes the racing more exciting for all of us to watch.

2. Women’s cycling first-ever Ardennes week

After a very exciting and unpredictable start to the 2017 season, the women’s peloton geared up for their first-ever full Ardennes Week.

Back in the fall of 2016, the UCI announced that the 2017 Women’s WorldTour calendar would see the return of a women’s Amstel Gold Race – the first in 14 years – as well as a first-ever women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Held in combination with La Flèche Wallonne Femmes, this meant that the women’s pro peloton would compete in its first full Ardennes Week.

Characterised by the steep short climbs, mixed pavement and hard racing, the Ardennes Week is a series of three prestigious classics style races held in Holland and Belgium within an eight-day span.

The news of this development was met with a lot excitement and anticipation and many riders circled the dates on their calendars to highlight them as a target. Two-time Flèche Wallonne winner, Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans), was no exception. After an illness-filled start to the season, the Olympic and European road champion was hoping to prove to her new Boels-Dolmans team just what she could do.

And that she did.

With a formidable solo attack Van der Breggen won the first women’s Amstel Gold Race in 14 years. Teammate Lizzie Deignan sprinting to second and – in a Women’s WorldTour first –  two third place finishes were awarded when Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) and Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) finished with the exact same time behind Deignan.

At the Flèche Wallonne, Van der Breggen pulled a hat trick: three wins in three consecutive years. She escaped a three-rider lead group with Deignan and Niewiadoma and again soloed to the finish.

The conclusion of the Ardennes Week, the inaugural women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, saw Van der Breggen make history. She won the triple crown after again besting Deignan and Niewiadoma in a performance that brought on a feeling of déjà vu: same break, same solo, same winner, same podium.

Related: Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen reigns in new team colours

3. Boels-Dolmans returns to winning ways. Who’ll stop them?

Boels-Dolmans-HAT17

While Van der Breggen crowned herself Queen of the Ardennes, it also kicked off an ongoing winning streak for the Boels-Dolmans squad.

Following the Ardennes, Christine Majerus won the Festival Elsy Jacobs stage race in her home country of Luxembourg while former world champion Lizzie Deignan soloed to victory in front of her home crowd at the Tour of Yorkshire.

The team didn’t travel to China for the Tour of Chongming Island, but on the other side of the world, at the Amgen women’s Tour of California, it was again Boels-Dolmans taking out the win after a four-day hard-fought battle with United Healthcare. The battle literally came down to one single second, but in the end, Boels-Dolmans came away with a stage win for US road champ Megan Guarnier, the GC win for Van der Breggen as well as the purple Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey.

Did Boels-Dolmans and Van der Breggen know when to peak, or will they continue this dominant form for the remainder of the Women’s WorldTour? One thing is sure: the anticipation as we head toward the OVO Energy Women’s Tour and Giro Rosa is high.

4. Coryn Rivera is having a breakthrough season

Halfway through the season, American Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) is already one of the biggest stars of the year. With well over 70 national titles, the 24-year-old American was already a proven star State-side, but as part of her first European team, she has sprinted to new career heights.

It started in March, when she took her first-ever Women’s WorldTour win at Trofeo Binda in an historic bunch sprint. But that was only the beginning.

She went on to win the prestigious Tour of Flanders in a historic first for any American, male or female. With this victory she also took over the Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey and was able to keep that halfway through the Ardennes week, taking sixth and seventh place in the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne Femmes – no small feat for a sprinter.

Related: Coryn Rivera unfazed by European success: “Not much has changed for me”

In her home state of California, the ‘pocket rocket’ put down an impressive ride to hang with some of the strongest climbers over the first two hillier stages. Then, on the flats, it was her time to shine. She took the win in downtown Sacramento on day three, her third win on the Women’s WorldTour stage this year. On the final day of the women’s Tour of California, Rivera again was in the mix for the exciting finale, but a second place finished had to suffice after she was nipped at the line by multi-time world champion Giorgia Bronzini.

Rivera tells us that her only big goal for the rest of the season is to make the USA World Championships squad at the end of the year, but don’t be surprised if Rivera takes another win (or two) in the second half of the season.

5. The rise of Team Sunweb

It’s not just Coryn Rivera showing off the Team Sunweb colours on camera. The team, formerly known as Team Liv-Plantur, had a reshuffle over transfer season, saying goodbye to four riders and welcoming five new ones, including Ellen van Dijk, Lucinda Brand and Rivera.

The team is stronger than ever with three new leading ladies added to the team’s existing talent of Leah Kirchmann, Floortje Mackaij and Rozanne Slik.

Halfway through the season, the black and white squad has already won six big races and appeared on the podium on half a dozen other occasions as well.

“Everyone is giving 200% every race, and rides completely selflessly for the team. It’s pretty special to see how quickly we learned to work together,” commented Brand. “We settled in easily and we’ve got a great group of riders who complement each other well and click on and off the bike.”

Related: Out of the shadows and onto the podium: meet Team Sunweb’s playmaker Lucinda Brand

While it’s been Rivera and Brand taking out the wins most frequently for the Sunweb squad, it takes teamwork to bring finishers to the finale. Dutch TT specialist and super-domestique Ellen van Dijk has played a major role in many of the team victories, most memorably in the  Tour of Flanders when she reeled in the breakaway just a couple of hundred meters from the line to let Rivera finish it off.  She in turn got to go for the win at the UCI2.2 Healthy Ageing Tour where the teamwork resulted in not one, but six yellow leader’s jerseys.

6. Where is Vos?

After a dominant cyclocross season, in which she won the national title and nearly the world title, we were all expecting Marianne Vos (WM3 Pro Cycling) to be back to her old winning ways. With a new team and a new set of races to go after we were looking forward to having the old Mariane Vos back but she’s been sadly absent.

Related: The comeback star: Marianne Vos on her stellar cyclocross season

We have only seen Vos compete at a handful of WorldTour races so far this season, with little success. She finished nowhere near the leaders at Strade Bianche, Alfredo Binda and Amstel Gold Race, and pulled out of  Tour of Flanders and Flèche Wallonne altogether. This has sparked some whispering in the cycling world, but her team management assured us that the overuse injury that sidelined her so long in previous years has not resurfaced.

And things are looking up again for the muli-time, multi-discipline world champ.

While the WM3 Pro Cycling squad stayed at home – choosing to not travel to California or Emakumeen Bira in Spain – we saw Vos winning smaller UCI events like the Trofee Maarten Wynants and the eponymous Marianne Vos Classic (a.k.a 7-Dorpenomloop Wijk en Aalburg).

Was this the build-up and training Vos needed to get back to where she should be? We shall see when the Women’s WorldTour continues in June.

7. Now if only we could follow all this on TV…

Women’s cycling is growing. The level of professionalism and performance continues to be elevated year after year and we now have a growing calendar with more women’s races held in tandem with classic men’s events. However, we still can’t watch them.  Of the 10 events held thus far, less than half had partial live coverage.

Even the most prestigious Spring Classic of all – Ronde van Vlaanderen / Tour of Flanders – wasn’t going to be broadcast until a twitter campaign, #WeWantRVVLive,  ultimately led to @proximus and @sporza stepping up to show the final hour-and-a-half of the women’s event.

Yet for races like the  inaugural Liège-Bastogne-Liège and return of the Amstel Gold Race, women’s cycling fans were left hanging, flocking to Twitter updates and highlights instead.

The UCI highlights are an invaluable asset and so is the Twitter-verse, but if a UCI 2.2 event like the Healthy Ageing Tour can provide such  great live streaming with wonderful commentators, why is there such little coverage of the WorldTour which is supposed to be the pinnacle of the sport?

With the OVO Energy Women’s Tour and the Giro Rosa still to come, we hope there will be more women’s cycling coverage coming our way.


The 2017 UCI Women’s WorldTour picks up again on June 7th with the  OVO Energy Women’s Tour (formerly Aviva Women’s Tour), here are the current standings:

General classification
1. Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) – 544
2. Coryn Rivera (Team Sunbweb) – 528
3. Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) – 469
4. Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) – 429
5. Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) – 393

Young rider classification
1. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) – 28
2. Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal) – 10
3. Alice Barnes (Drops Cycling) – 10

Team classification
1. Boels-Dolmans – 1458
2. Team Sunweb – 850
3. Wiggle-High5 – 845

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What do you think of the second edition of the Women’s WorldTour so far?

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