Sarah Connolly’s nominations for our women’s Unsung Hero Award – with a few surprises!
This category is meant for domestiques, but you might be surprised to see some big names in here. One of the things that is special about women’s cycling is that because their trade teams are limited to six riders, they can’t specialise as much as the men can, so you’ll find riders who are TT experts and climbers, GC riders who race sprint lead-out, and of course, superstars supporting their teammates. So don’t be surprised if you see wins from these riders as well as sterling support.
Wiggle High5 was one of the biggest teams of 2016, absolutely stuffed with stars, who provide us with entertainment on and off the bike – and while they have huge names like two-time Road World Champion Giorgia Bronzini, Olympic silver- and bronze-medallists Emma Johansson and Elisa Longo Borghini, WorldTour winning sprinters Chloe Hosking and Jolien D’hoore, they also have some wonderful domestiques – including Audrey Cordon.
Cordon is a Classics-type and the French ITT Champion, who has said “I always thought that it’s better to be a perfect teammate instead of a bad leader”, and who lives by that, attacking and chasing, and doing all the unglamourous work. She had a disappointing Classics season, with illness and bad luck, but you’ll see her Wiggle team-mates praise her endlessly.
On top of that, she has a fantastic tweeter, where she is not afraid to call out things she sees that she doesn’t like – and fans love her because when she can’t race, you’ll often finding her cheering her team-mates on with us on Twitter.
Ellen van Dijk
Ellen van Dijk is such a fun rider to watch – former Scratch World Champion on the track, and 2013 ITT World Champion, who’s won the Ronde van Vlaanderen among a fantastic palmares – but she’s an integral part of Boels-Dolmans’ huge success this year (over 40 UCI wins this season!), and the Dutch winning the Olympic Road Race because she’s also a super-domestique, who’ll turn herself inside out for her teammates, considering their victories as important as her own.
She’s said in the past that she attacks and rides on the front because she doesn’t like pack riding, and the power she can put out is phenomenal, whether chasing down rivals with a team-mate on her wheel, or going for her own win. I always hear “Ride of the Valkyries” in my head when there’s a classic Van Dijk move – like when she won Stage 3 of this year’s Tour of Qatar.
She loves the Classics, so was gutted to break a rib in a crash while racing for Lizzie Deignan’s win in the Omloop het Niewsblad but came back fast, to support Deignan to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Her biggest solo wins were the GC at the first European stage race of the season, Energiewacht Tour, and the European ITT Championships, which didn’t really make up for her mistake in the Olympic ITT, where she was a top favourite, but slipped off the course into the jungle just before the final climb, leaving her 4th overall.
But she’ll be remembered most for 2016 because of her incredible domestique-ing – in so, so many races for Boels, her contributions to Anna van der Breggen’s Olympic Road Race win, when she attacked all over the Grumari Circuit and chased down rivals, her attacks and lead-out in the Road World Championships, and her role as cornerstone of Boels-Dolmans Team Time squad, winning the WorldTour TTT at Vårgårda, and of course, the TTT World Championships.
Another Boels rider, who’s been part of a ridiculous number of those 40 UCI wins this season. It’s very hard to get selected for races for the Boels riders, as once you’ve got the possible race winners like Deignan, Guarnier, Van Dijk and Blaak, there aren’t many spots left – but Christine Majerus is consistently picked because she’s an absolute workhorse who doesn’t care about her final position, as long as her teammates are up there.
You can get an idea of what kind of rider she is from her highlights of 2016 blog, and from her comments about the TTT World Championships, where even though she was part of the winning team, she wasn’t happy about the conditions.
When she’s not working her heart out for her teammates, she gets her own chances as Boels’ bunch sprinter. She has a reputation in the peloton as a risk taker in the sprints, such as when she won Stage 1 of this year’s Aviva Women’s Tour – and this is exactly why the Boels riders give so much to the team, because they know if they do, they’ll get their chances.
Marianne Vos in a domestique category? The absolute best all-round cyclist we’ve ever seen, with twelve World Championships and two Olympic golds to her name, from road, track and cyclocross? THE Vos, who’s won pretty much every major road race, and owns her own team, Rabo-liv? When we look back at 2016, we’ll see her wins, including Stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California, Stage 4 of the Aviva Women’s Tour, three stages at Thüringen Rundfaht and one at the Lotto-Belgium Tour, but it’s her domestique work where she’s shone brightest.
Vos has always loved racing for teammates because, above all, she loves bike racing. We saw it way back in 2011, when she was ridiculously strong, working for Annemiek van Vleuten’s GP de Plouay win, and in 2014, when she said that Pauline Ferrand-Prévot winning Flèche Wallonne meant more than her own 5th win the year before. It’s what makes her so dangerous to her rivals, because when Vos attacks, they absolutely have to follow, as give her the smallest gap, and before you know it, she’s likely to be way down the road. Off the bike, she’s this quiet, friendly, lovely person, who works really hard for her sport – but on the bike she’s all about the mind games and psychological warfare.
It’s been a hard few years for her, as a serious of injuries, over-training and recovery problems kept her off the bike, and so 2016 saw her taking it slowly, her goals the Rio Olympics and the Worlds at Qatar. Like Van Dijk, she rode her heart out for Van der Breggen’s Olympic Road Race victory, first being über water carrier, and then launching a killer attack before the final Vista Chinesa climb that made everyone scramble, because while long climbs aren’t her speciality, she is one of the very best descenders alive. Again, in the Road World Championships, she attacked and attacked, then was the perfect last lead-out rider for Kirsten Wild. It’s been fantastic watching her work for others – and set up her new team Fortitude for 2017 – but here’s hoping her medical problems are behind her, and next year she’s back to her brilliant best.
With one of the longest careers in the women’s peloton, Trixi Worrack is always a wonderful rider, and would usually be heading up this category, as road caption and tactical genius for her team but this year was devastating. Racing Trofeo Binda in March, she was hit by another rider on the steep descent, and had a horrific crash, where one of her kidneys was so badly injured that it had to be removed completely.
This was obviously awful for her, and for her team, as they’re a very tight squad, with Worrack at the heart. Incredibly, she was back racing in June, winning the German ITT Championships, and paying her usual role in the women’s Grand Tour, the Giro Rosa, and the tough Thüringen Rundfahrt and Boels Rental Ladies Tour, and attacking for her German teammates in the Olympic Road Race, and working for their silver medal in the Team Time Trial Worlds – picking up 7th in the ITT. It’s amazing she’s back, and of course, here’s to many more years of her career.
It was another decisive victory, this time for Audrey Cordon-Ragot with 41% of the vote, followed by Christine Majerus (21%), Marianne Vos (14%), Trixi Worrack (13%) and Ellen van Dijk (12%).