6 breakthrough stars of the 2021 women’s racing season

This season proved to be an important one for several up-and-coming riders.

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The 2021 Women’s WorldTour season was jam-packed with new and seasoned winners, exciting racing, and changing tactics and dynamics from various teams. The Olympics midway through the season created a clear distinction between the first half and the Spring Classics, and the second half with stage racing and the end-of-year one-days.

Along with legends like Annemiek van Vleuten, Marianne Vos, and Anna van der Breggen, a few names regularly graced the top results of the biggest races. Some completely new, never heard of before, and some who have been around the peloton but found new inspiration in 2021.

This season allowed a handful of new and exciting women to make their presence known. All six of the riders below are either not part of a WorldTour team, or 2021 was their first season in a WorldTour program.

Here are the top six breakthrough riders of 2021.

Demi Vollering

Not entirely new to a WorldTour podium, Demi Vollering joined SD Worx for the 2021 season with third in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the OVO Energy Women’s Tour, La Flèche Wallonne, and La Course by the Tour de France. Vollering was yet to win a WorldTour event in February of 2021. But she didn’t have to wait long once she joined the top team in the business.

From the start of the season, it was clear Vollering was the top signing for the Dutch team. She was one of the many SD Worx riders always present at the end of hard races, but for the first handful of races, she was resigned to working for the likes of Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and Van der Breggen.

After a phenomenal performance at La Flèche Wallonne that saw Van der Breggen win on the Mur du Huy for the seventh straight year, Vollering was finally handed the reigns for Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Vollering didn’t miss a beat and won the final Ardennes Classic by outsprinting Van Vleuten and Elisa Longo Borghini.

Following her victory, she was named to the Dutch Olympic team – no easy feat – won La Course by the Tour de France, and finished second overall at the Giro Donne behind her teammate Van der Breggen. Vollering wrapped up 2021 by winning the final WorldTour stage race of the season, The Women’s Tour.

Throughout the year Vollering was a consistent force that not only secured multiple WorldTour wins but also helped other teammates achieve iconic results. She was a promising rider in 2020 and 2019, but 2021 is when she became the next big thing.

Emma Norsgaard

In 2016 and 2017 Emma Norsgaard was a promising young junior. After placing second in the road race at the Junior World Championships she was picked up by Cervélo-Bigla and continued to ride with the team through 2020. The move to Movistar saw Norsgaard take what promise she had as a junior and mould it into a quite impressive season.

Norsgaard started the season with second at both Le Samyn and Omloop Het Nieuswblad, not WorldTour-level races but both with stacked fields. Afterwards, she notched some podium spots at the Healthy Aging Tour and won the bunch sprint for second at the Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne, her first WorldTour podium.

She finally got to throw her arms up again and again when she won both road stages of the three-day Ceratizit Festival Elsy Jacobs. The back-to-back victories secured her the overall, points, and youth classifications.

After claiming the Danish time trial title and being named to her national Olympic team Norsgaard won the sixth stage of the Giro Donne. She rounded out the season with sixth at Paris-Roubaix after a gnarly crash on one of the final cobbled sectors.

Overall, Norsgaard’s season started off hot and lost some steam near the end, which is completely normal, especially for a 22-year-old rider. Due to her fall campaign, Movistar extended Norsgaard’s contract through the next Olympic Games in 2024. Norsgaard will only continue to grow as a rider, possibly honing her sprinting skills to fight against Lorena Wiebes and Lotte Kopecky, but it’s in the Spring Classics where Norsgaard will be a real contender in the years to come.

Marlen Reusser

Marlen Reusser spent her first two years racing with the World Cycling Center team in 2019 and Équipe Paule Ka (formerly Bigla) in 2020. In 2021 she joined Alé BTC Ljubljana and quickly became their top rider.

Before switching teams Reusser had won herself a silver medal in the world championships time trial and finished near the top in some other big races but hadn’t been competitive in the WorldTour events. She eased into the 2021 season with some mid-pack results at the Classics but she really started to shine near the Olympics.

After claiming both Swiss national titles she also won silver in the Olympic time trial behind Van Vleuten. She then rode incredibly well in the hills of Norway – not her normal time-trialist-friendly terrain – to finish fourth overall. She nearly won the Simac Ladies Tour when she took out the stage two time trial, and then took her revenge by winning the first stage of the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta. Finally she won the European championships time trial, so she will get a fancy blue and white jersey to wear in 2022.

Her string of results and her attacking style caught the eye of team SD Worx who signed Reusser for the 2022 and 2023 seasons. And once the Swiss powerhouse gets the full support of Specialized and SD Worx behind her, silver isn’t the medal she’s going to be walking home with.

Elise Chabbey

Prior to 2021 Elise Chabbey’s most notable results were at the Giro Rosa in 2020 where she managed a handful of top 25s but the Swiss newcomer was promising enough that when her 2020 team, Bigla, folded at the end of the season, Chabbey was picked up by Canyon-SRAM on a two-year deal.

The 2021 season saw Chabbey take a huge leap forward as Kasia Niewiadoma’s last-woman-standing in most of the Spring Classics. She was particularly impressive at La Flèche Wallonne where she threw down multiple attacks in the final third of the race. She made the winning move on the first stage of the Vuelta a Burgos and then got to wear the leader’s jersey for a stage before it eventually changed hands.

Chabbey’s first big victory was in the first stage of the new Tour de Suisse Women where she outsmarted Lizzie Deignan in a two-up sprint.

In the second half of the season Chabbey finished third overall at the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, won the mountains classification at the Women’s Tour, and finished fifth in the final WorldTour event of the year, the Ronde van Drenthe.

Her entire season spoke of a promising future and with the results she managed, she surely guaranteed a little freedom in the packed 2022 calendar.

Elisa Balsamo

Elisa Balsamo is one rider on this list who is definitely not new to the women’s peloton and not at all new to winning, but the 2021 season saw the young Italian skyrocket to being one of the top competitors in the field.

Balsamo won the Junior World Championship road race in 2016, so she’s no stranger to the rainbow jersey, but her incredible victory at the 2021 Elite World Championships, where she outsprinted the out and out favorite Marianne Vos, was one of the highlight victories of the whole season. Balsamo had been up in the mix in a lot of bunch sprints – she even won the GP Oetingen earlier in the year – so her world championship victory shouldn’t have been a surprise.

She was consistently on the podium in hard races like Scheldeprijs and Brabantse Pijl and after she won the Worlds she then won the final stage of the Women’s Tour.

For the 2022 season Balsamo is leaving her long-time home Valcar-Travel & Service, where she has been riding since turning pro in 2017, to join one of the best women’s teams in the peloton: Trek-Segafredo. In the new environment and under the leadership of legendary sprinter Ina Teutenberg there’s no telling what Balsamo can accomplish in the years to come.

Kristen Faulkner

Who knows where Team Tibco-SVB found Kristen Faulkner, but she ended up being one of their top performers in 2021. Her 2020 season was her first full time season racing … period. Not just racing professionally. Not just racing in Europe. Check her ProCyclingStats page; there is nothing prior to 2020. In her first season she won a stage of the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche, her first race in Europe.

Faulkner didn’t wait to test the waters in 2021 and immediately dove in, finishing 16th at Strade Bianche and then seventh at Gent-Wevelgem. She also managed 10th at the Tour of Flanders. The Spring Classics campaign was good enough that she felt she deserved an Olympic spot and when the team was announced she arbitrated for one of the road starts, although she did eventually drop the suit.

Faulkner’s first WorldTour victory was the first stage of the Ladies Tour of Norway, after spending much of the day in the break and then barely staying away to win ahead of the chasing peloton.

Near the end of the season Faulkner scored another WorldTour podium, finishing third at the GP de Plouay. And the year of her consistent results won her a two-year deal with Team BikeExchange. With someone so new to the sport as Faulkner there’s really only one way to go, and that’s up.

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