Sarah Connolly picks five of the best race finishes in women’s cycling this year for you to vote for!
There were so, so many fantastic racing moments this season, and it was especially exciting as we got more live racing, and long highlights, than ever before. In chronological order.
The women’s Strade Bianche is only on its second year but, like the men’s race, was an instant classic from day 1, with gorgeous white gravel roads, incredibly tough, hilly racing, and that gorgeous finish up the narrow streets of Siena. It was the rightful opener for the first ever Women’s World Tour and gorgeous to watch.
After a typically attacking race, around 40 riders were left at 30km to go, when Anna van der Breggen attacked. When she was caught, her teammate Kasia Niewiadoma took off, in that beautiful Rabo-liv trademark move. Only Lizzie (Armitstead) Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) and Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5) could follow her, and the trio raced to the finish, Niewiadoma and Deignan trading turns, while Johansson played mind-games, sitting on, knowing that with Niewiadoma’s climbing skills, and Deignan’s explosive punch, she could only win this one with guile. It all came down to the trio playing cat-and-mouse at the bottom of that final climb…
Deignan was so clever there, playing chicken with the other two, so they almost came to a standstill, which gave her the upper hand. Had they hit that climb at speed, Niewiadoma could have taken her – but she was only 21, still learning, and once she’d pulled on the first WorldTour Best Young Rider jersey, she never took it off again. More videos, media and results from the race.
Trofeo Alfredo Binda
The Trofeo Alfredo Binda is a long-running women’s race, with the best climbing Classics stars competing – and a junior women’s race on the same roads, just beforehand. It’s in the beautiful Varese hills and, throughout its time as a keystone of the Road World Cup, has never failed to entertain us, having been won every way – from long-range solo suicide attacks to large group sprints, and everything in between. The start of the race varies, but it ends with laps around Cittiglio, with a treacherously steep descent that’s often more important than the leg-biting climb before it.
It’s a massively attritional race and, this year, by the time the race hit the final lap, there was a group of 8 riders in front: Lizzie Deignan and Megan Guarnier of Boels-Dolmans, Anna van der Breggen and Kasia Niewiadoma for Rabo-liv, Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5), Alena Amialiusik (Canyon-SRAM), Annemiek van Vleuten (ORICA-AIS), and the wildcard of the group, young Swiss rider Jolanda Neff.
Neff is primarily known as one of the very best mountain bikers in the world, a two-time winner of the Cross Country MTB World Cup, but she will occasionally ride for small Italian squad Servetto Footon, where she has no pressure. So she does things like this – as Van Vleuten and Deignan were both dropped, she launched an attack and headed up that final climb solo, giving it everything in a death-or-glory move that was glorious to watch.
Behind her, somehow Deignan had come back to the chase group, accelerating past them on the climb, to catch Neff, and the pair of them screamed down the descent, towards that uphill finish-line.
Deignan’s second WorldTour win, with teammate Guarnier in second and, no shame to Neff, who was caught just before the line for third. It’s that kind of riding that make her fans want to see more of her on the roads. More videos, interviews, media and results from the race.
Rio 2016 Olympic Road Race
It seems strange to include what was such a traumatic race to watch at the time, after Annemiek van Vleuten crashed out of the lead, and fans and commentators unable to focus on the finish for worry about the Dutch rider. However, now that we can look back with confidence, that finale was spectacular.
With Van Vleuten out, Mara Abbott was leading for the USA, chased by three of the top Classics riders – Emma Johansson of Sweden, Dutch Anna van der Breggen and Italian Elisa Longo Borghini. And with AvdB and ELB two exceptional time triallers, it looked very hard for Abbott indeed.
The catch was inevitable, but it was to Abbott’s credit that it took until the final 500m. The big question was which of the trio could make it? Johansson generally has the fastest sprint, but it was impressive she’d made it over the climb with the other two mountain goats. Longo Borghini had tried to get away on the run-in, knowing that was her best chance, and started her sprint early, to try to shake the others off – but Van der Breggen was ready, becoming the fourth Dutchwoman to take the gold. More videos, interviews, media and results from the race.
Like the Trofeo Binda, Plouay has always been one of the most exciting races on the Road World Cup, so it was a natural to be included in the first WorldTour. It’s one we get to watch live, and it never disappoints, with stunning countryside, fun climbs, and endless attacking, especially up that last long climb, and like Binda, has been won in every way possible, but most often from groups.
This year, it was an unusually large group coming into the last 13k lap, and despite some killer attacks, especially by Kasia Niewiadoma on that final climb that broke the group into bits, they re-formed and came together for the slightly uphill drag of a finish.
Some huge names were in that group, Classics stars like Longo Borghini, Niewiadoma and Amialiusik, Megan Guarnier, who’d by this time already won the WorldTour, Canadian sprinters Joëlle Numainville and Leah Kirchmann and, most dangerous of all, two-time race winner Marianne Vos. All eyes were on Vos…
…but while Vos made an unusual error, getting boxed in, Polish underdog Eugenia Bujak launched her suicide-move. Better to try and fail, than sit on and come tenth, right? And in this case it worked, with Bujak taking everyone else by surprise, and showing that if you don’t try, you can’t win.
A surprise winner, but certainly a worthy one. Bujak’s team, BTC City Ljubljana, is a very small development squad, set up to help Eastern European, and specifically Slovenian women become pro cyclists. They’re known for attacking, attacking, attacking, and most of the time it doesn’t pay off – but this time it did, giving Bujak by far the best result of her career. More videos, interviews, media and results from the race.
2016 Road World Championships
We all know the Qatar course was a bad one. The women’s peloton are well-known for taking the long, flat, corner-less Ladies Tour of Qatar course, and using the slightest breath of wind to cause utter carnage and provide scintillating racing. But for Worlds, all’s they had were weird, twisty, roads on the Pearl through the post-zombie apocalypse/JG Ballard-ian landscape – nowhere near the desert winds.
But they tried to make the best of it, and the Dutch showed why they were the favourites on paper, with constant yet futile attacks, yet no other teams were willing to take a risk and work with them. Of course, getting in a break with Marianne Vos is always dangerous, but then so is getting into a bunch sprint on a power course against Kirsten Wild, especially in Qatar, where she dominates.
Amber Neben of the USA, already ITT World Champion, tried for a double with a late flyer, but was dragged back, and then that formidable orange sprint train took over, lining up beautifully, ready to launch Wild at the line….
The Dutch did everything right, but behind them was a ferocious battle for Wild’s wheel, won by two-time Junior World Champion, 20-year old Amalie Dideriksen of Denmark. Dideriksen had nothing to lose and doubtless had excellent advice from team coach Catherine Marsal, the first ever Junior Road World Champion, and one of only 5 women before Dideriksen to be Junior and Elite Road Race World Champ. It was a strange turn of events, the Scandinavian countries ending up the most successful in Worlds in the desert climate of Qatar. So what will they all do next year, when it’s Worlds in Norway? More videos, interviews, media and results from the race.
Honourable mention : Ronde van Vlaanderen
Oh Flanders, always a beautiful race, and one that every cyclist longs to win. This year should have been a special one, as it was meant to be streamed live for the very first time – but technical problems meant the stream never began, so we only had clips. Although a gorgeous race, it is not in the running for “Best of”, as unlike all the rest, which were live or had significant highlights, most of it took place in our imaginations. When it is race sponsor and major telecoms company that can’t stream it, there’s no excuse, really. But still, for another Lizzie Deignan, Emma Johansson and Elisa Longo Borghini showdown, here’s a collection of Videos, interviews, media and results.
It was the women’s Rio 2016 road race with 39% of the vote; Worlds, 22%; Strade Bianche, 17%; GP Plouay, 12%; Trofeo Alfredo Binda, 11%