More teams have options
The depth within the women’s peloton is increasing year-by-year and this spring saw more teams than ever with different cards to play in the races. In particular, Movistar and FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope rode effectively as teams in a way that we have rarely seen from those two squads in previous seasons.
Arlenis Sierra has proven to be a valuable signing for Movistar, and Katrine Aalerud and Jelena Erić have also been visible in working for leaders Annemiek van Vleuten and Emma Norsgaard.
FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope went into the season heralding a four-leader approach that raised some eyebrows. With the Covid-enforced absences of Grace Brown and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig at Amstel Gold, and La Fleche Wallonne, however, plus excellent teamwork from Brodie Chapman, 24-year-old Marta Cavalli was the clear leader and went on to win both races. On Brown’s return at Paris Roubaix Cavalli rode to 5th and the pair worked together at Liege-Bastogne-Liege for the Australian to win the sprint for second.
Canyon//SRAM’s two new signings of Pauliena Rooijakkers and Soraya Paladin have also stepped up and showed that the team have more options beyond their leader, Kasia Niewiadoma.
SD Worx don’t always get it right
While it’s fair to say that SD Worx have had a successful season so far, with Lotte Kopecky winning Strade Bianche and Flanders and taking second at Roubaix, Demi Vollering, despite being on the podium at Fleche, Liège, and Amstel Gold, might not be so pleased with her spring campaign.
The pressure of stepping into Anna van der Breggen’s hard-to-fill shoes may well be a contributing factor to the 24-year-old’s lack of a WorldTour win so far this season, but her biggest achilles heel during the Ardennes was an apparent lack of cohesion within the team. The finals of Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège all came down to the duo of Vollering and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and at each race neither rider appeared to be committed to working for the other. Indeed, at times, Moolman Pasio looked like the stronger rider who was resigned to domestique duties while Vollering was unable to finish the job.
Having relied on van der Breggen’s pure strength in previous seasons, the team may need to go back to the drawing board ahead of the upcoming stage races.
Never underestimate Annemiek
Until Liège, it looked like Annemiek van Vleuten may have been slightly off the mark so far this season. The 39-year-old had yet to win a WorldTour race and her typically devastating attacks did not seem to be having their usual effect on the rest of the peloton. It was less a question of whether Van Vleuten was no longer at the top — she has been quoted as saying that she is pushing her best-ever numbers this season — but that the rest of the peloton have risen to her level.
At Liège-Bastogne-Liège, however, the former world champion showed that she can never be underestimated. Laying down two huge attacks on the final two climbs, Van Vleuten finally managed to snap the elastic and pull off one of her signature solo wins. It is unlikely to be the last time we see the Movistar rider pull off this tactic this season, however, as she said herself post-race “winning has become harder in women’s cycling.”
New teams are struggling to make their mark
The newly-formed WorldTeams and those who have just made the step up to the WorldTour this season have yet to win any races. Uno-x, Human Powered Health, Roland Cogeas Edlweiss Squad, and EF Education–Tibco–SVB all seem to have struggled to keep up with the demands of WorldTour racing and travel, too, with some of those teams missing WorldTour races.
Of course, being an entirely new team is almost guaranteed to come with its own teething problems and riders may still be getting accustomed to racing with one another. Plus, it is not only the new teams who seem to be struggling. Jumbo-Visma were forced to field just four riders at Paris-Roubaix, La Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège after Covid ripped through their squad. Without their leader, Marianne Vos, as well as Riejanne Markus, the team appeared to have few options left.
With 71 WorldTour race days left this season there is still plenty of time for these teams to earn their place at the top.