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by Anne-Marije Rook and Simone Giuliani
December 28, 2017
Photography by Cor Vos
WOMEN'S CYCLING BROUGHT TO YOU BY ORBEA
The year 2017 is about to pass on by, but not without leaving us some incredible memories of edge of the seat wins, emotional comebacks, inspired performances and potentially sport changing initiatives. We dug through the memory banks to share some of our favourite moments and top picks. Have we included your favourite women’s cycling moment of 2017?
There were some great strides made in women’s cycling this year to help move things forward. They ranged from Trek delivering the first cyclocross World Cup with equal prize money for the men and women, Movistar adding a women’s team and a first-ever full Ardennes Week with the addition of a women’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the return of a women’s Amstel Gold Race.
But when you look at scale and potential impact there wasn’t even a second thought about what had to slot into top position. It was undoubtedly the new women’s cycling union,The Cyclists’ Alliance which aims to be the cohesive voice for professional cyclists to promote and protect athlete safety and enhance professionalism within the sport.
Hopefully, this banding together of the sport to try and promote meaningful change and improvement is something that in years to come we will look back on as a watershed moment in the development of the sport.
Read: Women’s peloton forms own union seeking fairness, opportunities and wages.
When Annemiek van Vleuten raced up the Col d’Izoard at La Course, the Dutch rider not only powered to a dominant win, she also snatched one of the best Strava times ever. The TT world champion set the third fastest Strava time overall for the segment of the last five kilometres. Only Warren Barguil – the winner of the men’s Tour de France stage which finished atop Izoard later that day – and third placed Romain Bardet sat above her on the leader board.
Read: Van Vleuten climbs to solo victory atop Izoard to win La Course.
One #ferdagirls. Catchy, funny, and empowering all in one. We don’t need to say anymore about this one, just watch.
For a second year in the row Sarah Hammond was the only female competitor in the arduous ultra-endurance race through outback Australia, the Race to the Rock. And for the second year in a row she finished first, making this mixed bike race one that no man has ever won.
Also, despite the tragic end to the 5,500 kilometre Indian Pacific Wheel Race her performance before the racing was bought to an emotional standstill after the death of Mike Hall is one that shouldn’t be forgotten. The race was touted as a showdown between two experienced titans of the ultra-endurance bikepacking world, Kristof Allegaert and Hall. As the Indian Pacific Wheel Race race stretched on there was only one rider that could even get near them, and that was relative newcomer to the world of ultra-endurance racing, Hammond. With the ability to pull off performances like this in only her second year of racing, we can’t wait to see what she does in the years ahead.
First year pro’s with plenty of racing under the belt from outside Europe often tell horrendous tales of their first race, how tough it was and how underprepared they were for what was in store. So just imagine how Leah Thorvilson must have felt when she had to jump into pro-cycling with just a few club races on her resume.
Thorvilson was the first winner of the Zwift Academy, which gave her a spot in Canyon-SRAM in 2017. The American rider had just three local races under her belt when she was signed, which can have done little to prepare her for the cut and thrust of the top level in Europe. Even if you aren’t a fan of the concept of a pro rider being chosen through a virtual reality talent hunt, it’s hard to question the courage of the winner. Finding the mental strength as an inexperienced rider to determinedly front up with a good attitude time after time and fight for position among the best and most experienced riders in the world is a courageous act if ever we’ve seen one. She not only got through it with her head held high, but has even been signed up for a second year.
Read: Sink or swim: How the Zwift Academy winner fared this season
For a while there it sadly looked like the pressure of wearing the rainbow jersey in three disciplines of cycling in the one year may have broken the incredibly talented Pauline Ferrand-Prevot. But it was with glee that we watched the French rider’s performance at the Mountain Bike World Championships in Cairns this year –she managed to stand on the podium despite the hindrance of a poorly timed flat tyre. It was clear then and there with that gutsy and powerful performance that Ferrand-Prevot was back.
Just in case there were any doubts, she launched herself into cyclocross racing for the first time in almost two years in December and grabbed victory in her first weekend of racing. Ferrand-Prevot’s enjoyment of the sport is back and so is her phenomenal ability to move through the disciplines and beat the specialists as their own game.
Read: Awake from a nightmare: How Pauline Ferrand-Prevot got her groove back
Photo TS/PN/Cor Vos © 2017
We decided to go with a national team for this one, because who could go past the amazing assembly of talent on the Dutch World Championship team this year – so much talent and so many riders who had earned the right to go for the win. It would have been understandable if ego’s got in the way, because after all so much of the team had earned the right to think pretty highly of their ability to deliver race wins. But they played the team game to a tee, leaving Chantal Blaak out the front to take the win rather than chasing her down to give the two bigger names in the group behind her a shot.
Read: A generation of dominance: How the Dutch got to be so strong
The Aussie women had to put up a big fight to get a full team at the World Championships in 2017. They easily qualified for a team of seven – being the third-ranked nation in the world at the time – however, when the team list came out only five athletes were on it. After an uproar and two successful appeals ultimately they got their team of seven for the women’s road race, and they used every single one of those riders.
The highly motivated Australians consistently had at least one of its members in just about every break so not suprisingly ended up being in the crucial one. Katrin Garfoot sprinted to second place and, with a silver medal added to her bronze in the time trial, delivered Australia it’s best women’s medal performance since 1999.
Read: Commentary: Australian women’s performance cause for celebration, not turmoil
After Annemiek van Vleuten’s Rio disaster at the 2016 Summer Olympics, where she had been in medal contention until that horrific crash, it was hard not to cheer for her in 2017. Terrible as the fall and appeared on TV, Van Vleuten powered through her recovery and barely seemed to miss a beat. Van Vleuten returned to racing just a month later, winning the 2016 Lotto Belgium Tour in dominant fashion and that was only the start.
This year was unquestionably her best yet as she emerged as one of the peloton’s best climbers and time trialists. She kicked off the UCI season with a win at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, grabbed podiums at the Spring Classics, won the Dutch National Time Trial Championships, came third at the Giro Rosa and then completely dominated at La Course. She then topped it all off with a World Championship’s win in the time trial and the right to wear the rainbow stripes in 2018.
Read: One year after Rio crash
Annemiek van Vleuten climbed over the barriers and straight into her mother’s arms.
The women’s race at the 2017 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Bieles, Luxembourg delivered one of the most dramatic and nail-biting cycling performances in recent years, regardless of gender or discipline. It was a hard-fought battle from start to finish, filled with on-the-edge-of-your-seat excitement, heart-breaking crashes and mechanicals, and courageous performances.
At first, it was a familiar sight: seven-time former world champion Marianne Vos in orange leading the elite women’s field at yet another World Cyclocross Championships. But neither the highly technical course and conditions nor her competition was going to let her run off with an eighth win.
A much-anticipated battle between the Dutch and the Belgians ensued: The all-powerful Vos —making her comeback— against the Sanne Cant, the most dominating woman in cross of the past three years.
Only seconds behind them, a fierce battle for bronze was taking place between Lucinda Brand and Katerina Nash. Any slip, any hiccup and the race would start anew.
Brand fell, Nash stumbled, Cant slipped and Vos ended up suffering a race-determining mechanical. Every lap held a new breath-holding moment, which is why for us, it was the best race of 2017. Haven’t seen it? Catch the replay here.
Read: Tears of Joy
The anticipated battle: Vos vs Cant, The Netherlands vs. Belgium.
At just 22 years old, Ellen Noble may be the most exciting racer in American cyclocross right now. She’s a four-time cyclocross junior national champion, an U23 Pan-American Continental Cyclocross Champion, last season’s U23 UCI World Cup Series winner, and was the silver medalist in the U23 race at the 2017 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Luxembourg this past January.
This season, Noble has joined the elite category, going head to head with big names like Sanne Cant, Sophie de Boer, Katerina Nash and Katie Compton.
But it’s not her results that are gaining her fans far and wide. That memorable moment when Noble jumped the barriers at Jingle Cross, was far more than just an impressive show of technique. It was a crucial moment where she leveraged her skills and platform to tackle issues of inequality in the sport while encouraging fans world-wide to tackle challenges themselves. With an audience of tens of thousands at her fingertips, an always smiling and welcoming demeanour and unapologetically feminist voice, Noble is emerging as the much-needed poster child for the plight of women’s racing.
Read: Bunny hopping the patriarchy: Ellen Noble on making strides in cyclocross.
Polish rider Kasia Niewiadoma has been on the brink of greatness for several years now. Named the peloton’s best young rider numerous times, the now 22-year-old has proven herself more than capable of holding her own in the elite peloton whenever the roads turn up.
Honoured with the role of team leader on Marianne Vos’ WM3 Pro Cycling team, Niewiedoma stepped up, showing promise in the spring when she finished third in all three Ardennes Classics. But it was at the OVO Energy Tour in Britain where we saw her make another stride.
After a massive solo in the first stage of the five-day tour, Niewiadoma finished an impressive 1’42” ahead of the pack. Despite the undulating terrain, unforgiving weather and unrelenting attacks from her competitors, Niewiadoma hung in, defending the jersey day in, day out until finally, the win was hers.
It was an impressive performance from the Polish champ, who proved that she’s as dangerous in a one-day race as she is in a multi-day tour. We can’t wait what she’ll do next year, when she’ll be riding for the Canyon-SRAM squad.
Read: Team leader at 22: Kasia Niewiadoma takes on new role at WM3.
Honourable mention and feature image: Coryn Rivera’s win at Ronde van Vlaanderen. As part of Team Sunweb, the sprinter didn’t just have a breakout ride, she had a breakout season as she added severally WorldTour wins to her palmares. But her win at Flanders was an historic one as she became the first American, male or female, to win the Belgian classic.
WM3’s Kasia Niewiadoma smiles despite the weather.
For Olympic athletes, the year following the Olympic Games can be a tough one. Some retire, others find it hard to continue with the same focus that had consumed them for the past three or four years. For Dutch rider Anna van der Breggen, the 2016 Olympic year had been an absolute dream year, highlighted by a second consecutive Flèche Wallone win, two European championship medals as well as two medals at the Rio Olympics: gold in the road race and bronze in the time trial.
During the previous season, in 2015, we had seen her win the prestigious maglia rosa at the Giro Rosa, Flèche Wallone, the Dutch national time trial title and the hyped-up La Course.
Coming off one career-best season after another, all eyes were on the Olympic champion now riding for her the Boels-Dolmans team. Could she live up to expectations? How would she fare on an already star-studded and dominant team?
But illness plagued Van der Breggen in the early season, and we didn’t see much of her until the start of the Ardennes Classics.
Kicking off the Ardennes Week, the Amstel Gold Race had been hard. Too many favourites were vying for the win and so no break succeeded in getting away. But as the peloton approached the final ascent of the Cauberg, Van der Breggen took her chance. She kicked hard, gapping her chasers and reaching the finish a full 55 seconds ahead of the next rider, teammate Lizzie Deignan.
What followed was a week of déjà vu moments as Van der Breggen attacked solo again and again. She pulled a hat trick at Flèche Wallone when she arrived atop de Mur de Huy alone for a third consecutive year. And when she astonishingly powered to another solo victory in Liège, it was nothing short of legendary.
By winning the Triple Crown, Van der Breggen joins an elite few riders to have accomplished this feat. In cycling’s entire history, only Philippe Gilbert and Davide Rebellion have done the same.
And as if that wasn’t enough of a memorable moment, Van der Breggen continued her reign in the purple colours of the Women’s WorldTour leader with confident wins at the Amgen Tour of California and the Giro Rosa for a second time in three years. She also won the Women’s WorldTour series title and capped off the season with a silver medal in the World Championships time trial.
Read: Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen reigns in new team colours.
Elle Anderson crashing spectacularly in the infamous Zonhoven ‘Kuil’ (or ‘Pit’) sending her bike flying in the process. Elite Women’s Race CX Super Prestige Zonhoven 2017. Photo by Kristof Ramon
Sanne Cant (BEL) in tears after winning the 2017 Women’s UCI CX World Championships. Photo by Kristof Ramon
Photographer Diego Cagnato followed bike journalist Erika Sallum’s battle with cancer.
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. Photo by Cor Vos
Lizzie Diegnan and Anna van der Breggen celebrate their 1-2 punch at the 2017 Amstel Gold Race. Photo by Cor Vos
After winning the penultimate stage of the OVO Energy Tour, Sarah Roy had an unfortunate crash. After posting up in a victory salute, her front tyre caught an edge and Roy tumbled to the ground. She received a medical check-up but was OK. Photo by Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com
Already a four-time TTT world champion, Ellen van Dijk was stoked to win again with her new team. Photo by Cor Vos
Goosebumps as Chantal Blaak (NED/Boels-Dolmans) is the new Elite Women Road World Champion and can’t hardly believe it herself.UCI 2017 Road World Championships – Bergen/Norway. Photo by Kristof Ramon
We know we’ve only scratched the surface of the incredible women’s performances of 2017, so please chime in with the your top picks in the comments.