THE QUEENS OF SPRING
by emily collins
Spring has sprung for the professional peloton over the other side in Europe and what a bang to the season it has been with several weekends of dramatic, action packed racing in some brutal conditions, and it's only the beginning...
The Spring Classics could well be as tough as it gets for a cyclist. It’s not just the challenging technical terrain, but a mixture of everything you can take on two wheels at once. Rain – sometimes snow is the norm, ice cold temperatures, cobbles, echelons, killer climbs that are short yet certainly not sweet and plenty of obstacles in between. To add to that, you have a peloton full of determined, hungry racers fresh into a new season and oh so ready for action. Elbows are out, teeth gritted and smiles wiped. There is a consistent, never ending fight for the front all day long and it’s battle upon battle until the last rider stands and crosses the line arms raised, ecstatic, yet depleted.
Only the toughest of riders win Classics and this Spring should prove no different. Here, we take a look at who the Queens of the cobbles may be for 2018 and who will come out on top of the Women’s World Tour ranks come May. The depth of women’s cycling has certainly taken leaps and bounds in recent years and there is a lengthy list of riders more than capable of coming out on top, however we’ve narrowed it down to our 8 top picks….
1) ANNA VAN DER BREGGEN – BOELS-DOLMANS CYCLING TEAM – THE NETHERLANDS
Anna has flown straight into this season, arms held high. It’s no surprise that the Olympic road champion came in guns blazing, bringing her A game to the first Women’s World Tour event of 2018, Strade Bianche just last weekend as she stormed to victory in dramatic fashion.
Anna has been cycling since the age of 8 and following almost 20 years on two wheels fighting the Dutch winds, she’s turned out to be a pretty phenomenal bike rider. This girl absolutely flies and does so on any type of terrain. She dances up a climb, time trials seamlessly and can hold her own in a sprint. We LOVE to watch Anna race and her recent Strade Bianche performance only strengthened that further.
To top her amazing strength, she it tough as nails and clearly doesn’t mind the odd Spring challenge thrown at her, proven last week as she fought through the horrendously brutal conditions in Tuscany to cross the line first, covered in mud, exhausted.
Anna is no stranger to Spring success and is highly commended for her incredible La Flèche Wallonne hattrick of victories from 2015-17. Yes – she murders the Mur du Huy and has given no other competitor so much as a look in over the past three editions. The question is, will she do it again?
Steep must be her middle name, as she also won the first edition of the Women’s Amstel Gold race last year, powering over the Cauberg to victory, as well as another first for the female peloton - the famous Ardennes, Liege-Bastogne-Liege. So - that’s four gruelling classics that she already has in her Spring collection. All brutally tough and finish on short, yet stinging steep climbs. The trend is there, and we’ll confidently call her one of the best climbers and all-round bike riders in the world.
Let’s see what else she’s got as she tackles the Spring on her S-Works Tarmac. She’s certainly in great company on the Boels-Dolmans squad, so pressure mightn’t be on for every race. Time will tell!
2) KASIA NIEWIADOMA – CANYON-SRAM - POLAND
Niewiadom-inate should be her name. She’s one of the most consistent performers on the World Tour and is renowned for her aggressor, fearless racing style - always on the attack, willing to lay it all on the line for victory. Slight in size, sweet in nature and young in age at just 24, her competitors could easily be fooled at first. However, following multiple seasons of back to back impressive performances, she is no longer a dark horse, but a dominating force within the female peloton.
Kasia is especially well known for her incredible climbing strength. It’s certainly difficult to believe she is suffering as much as her competitors when the road travels up as she is almost instantly on the attack causing wave lengths of pain through the peloton. Not just a climber, but an all-rounder, she will happily polish off a sprint when she needs to in the fight for a hilly stage or GC battle.
She is a force to be reckoned with and will no doubt only continue to perform and eventually reign to the top in the coming seasons. The real question is, how does she handle the Spring?
Let’s just say she loves the podium, steep ascents and following Anna Van der Breggen! In 2017 she had a stash full of bronze medals following the Ardennes classics as she impressively placed 3rd in Fleche, Liege and Amstel consecutively.
Safe to say, we should all watch out for this little bullet of speed this Spring - she’ll certainly be coming in hot.
3) CHANTAL BLAAK - BOELS-DOLMANS - THE NETHERLANDS
Chantal Blaak turned heads with her incredible ride to be crowned World Champion last September in Norway as she rode away from her competitors in the final stages of a gripping, challenging battle to cross the line solo, arms thrown in the air and smiling from ear to ear.
She’s a thrilling rider to watch – strong as ever and with the smarts to match it. Yes, she’s clever and you can see it out on the road. Some may say her tactical prowess comes from years of racing in the professional peloton. She’s only 28 but has been professional since 2008 as she was whipped up almost immediately from the junior ranks where she spent her adolescent years dominating the Dutch racing scene.
Since then, she has progressively climbed her way up the ranks and in recent seasons has been a consistent performer on the World Tour. Her strengths lie predominantly in one day races and it’s no surprise that she doesn’t mind a bit of wind, an echelon or two and tough conditions, having grown up in Holland. Her strength is matched perfectly with her killer sprint that most often gives her an extra edge over her competitors come the finish.
Spring is where you will see her name most often at the top of the results sheet and 2016 was certainly a breakthrough year to prove that. She’s won the Ronde van Drenthe – a true Dutch Classic, famous for its gnarly cobbled sectors and crosswind - gutter action, as well as the famous Belgian, Gent-Wevelgem. To add to her World Tour Spring victories, she’s podiumed at the Ronde van Vlaanderen and when not riding herself to the top step, she’ll be selflessly supporting one of her Boels-Dolmans team mates to.
Fun fact - Chantal has been riding Specialized bikes since 2014 - perhaps a trend to match her rise to success? We're a little biased on this one!
4) ELISA LONGO BORGINI – WIGGLE HIGH 5 - ITALY
The one and only Elisa Longo Borgini…so very well known within the cycling world for her infectious smile and ambitious riding style. She is current double Italian National champion in the road race and time trial and is almost always planted at the pointy end of the results. Put her on a bike and that friendly smile fades and she’s off causing damage, killing legs – most commonly when the road goes up. Yes, a true Italian mountain goat, but also a savvy descender and quick against the clock. She’s got the cycling game pretty well dialled and over the years has proven a huge GC strength, as well as in hilly, one-day races.
She’s no stranger to Spring success and over the years she’s claimed honours and podiumed at numerous prestigious classics. Top of her list would be her Strade Bianche 2017 win and Ronde Van Vlaanderen victory in 2015, closely followed byhome town glory at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda in 2014.
It's almost inevitable that we will see her tricoloured Italian jersey powering up the Belgian bergs this Spring…andiamo!
5) CORYN RIVERA – TEAM SUNWEB – USA
Coryn would best be described as a true pocket rocket. Small is size but packed with power and speed. Let’s just say, when she makes it to the final of a race at the pointy end, her competitor’s chances are significantly lowered. From the second she kicks out of the saddle to sprint, fireworks are lit and the explosion hits and just like that she crosses the line, arms sky high.
This girl is exceptionally quick and to add to that she is a full of guts and determination, which has helped her develop into so much more than just a sprinter, but a real all-round talent. These strengths saw her have a breakthrough 2017 and a stellar Spring. Having come from years of racing throughout the USA, she stepped it up a notch and took on a full time European calendar with Team Sunweb and certainly proved to be a tremendous asset to the team, effective immediately.
Now, at just 25 she has a lengthy list of victories to her name and certainly proved to be a Queen of the Classics last year with her phenomenal wins at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen and Trofeo Alfredo Binda.
Will we get to see that famous kick to the line this Spring?
5) LIZZIE DEIGNAN – BOELS-DOLMANS – UNITED KINGDOM
This former World champion and Commonwealth Games winner has been with Boels-Dolmans Cycling team since the beginning in 2013 and has played a huge part in their incredible success over the years. Today, the squad is almost unstoppable and some would say, Lizzie is too. An amazing rider to watch as she seems to effortlessly pedal along with seamless composure. Perhaps this could be tactical as you can feel her competitor’s frustrations when they glance over mid climb, gasping for breath, dripping beads of sweat, only to see Lizzie gracefully sauntering her way up before putting the hammer down and shredding the race to bits when the time is right. This girl is impressive, and her results prove just that. Not only strong, but another very witty bike rider. She won’t waste energy where unnecessary and will pounce on her competitors when least expected and on the limit. She is famous for her one-day race strengths and is certainly a real all-rounder. Strong as ever on a climb, will happily hold her own on the flats and has a fabulous sprint to add.
She loves the Spring and mustn’t mind the cold as you’ll often see her in single digit temps prancing up and down the peloton, glove-less, warmer-less as her competitors look on in horror! Some would say madness, but we’ll just call her tough. She has already ticked off many Classic wins and over the years has been a consistent top performer, especially in this part of the season. In 2016, in particular she proved to be an unstoppable force, winning Strade Bianche and the Ronde, as well as Trofeo al fredo Binda. Last year she colluded with Van der Breggen, her new team mate and tailed her to 2nd place in all three Ardennes Classics.
No doubt she will be doing damage again this Spring – let’s go Lizzie.
6) MARIANNE VOS – WAOWDEALS PRO CYCLING – THE NETHERLANDS
This list would certainly not be complete without the legendary Marianne Vos. She is THE Queen of women’s cycling and as they say, quite possibly ‘the finest cyclist of her generation’. This girl is an inspiration to any follower of cycling and not just for her all-round strengths on the bike but her determination, fearless competitiveness and continuous fight to return to the top of the sport.
She began racing from the budding age of 8 alongside her other passion of speed skating. At 14, she committed to the bike and never looked back. MTB, Cyclo-cross, track and road – she has dominated them all and her list of honours is far too extravagant to even attempt to record. Let’s just say, she’s won a lot! Perhaps we could make a note of her 3 World road championship titles, 7 World Cyclo-cross titles, multiple world track titles and 3 Olympic medals – two of those being Gold. A standout would be the London Olympic road race in 2012 where she took Gold in tremendous style – her desire to win and lay it all down for the victory was remarkable to watch.
Is Vos’ medal chest getting a little heavy? We’d say so, but are confident she’s got more to add this Spring, assuming she can stick it out injury-free. She’s won almost every race on the calendar, including the Classics, but perhaps she’s still got her eye on the most recent additions…look out for her at Amstel and Liege!
7) ANNEMIEK VAN VLEUTEN – MITCHELTON-SCOTT – THE NETHERLANDS
She’s the current World time trial champion and has been simply unstoppable over the past few seasons. She’s been near the top of the ranks since 2008 when she first turned pro, so that’s ten years of competing against the world's best and she’s only continued to rise.
Since joining the Australian Mitchelon-Scott squad in 2016, her success has been prominent and she’s developed into far beyond just a time trial specialist. Her climbing has improved immensely and her performance at the 2016 Olympics proved just that when she powered away from her fading competitors on the final climb. Much to any follower's horror, her efforts were soon diminished with a heart-breaking crash that left her broken and unable to finish. She shocked the cycling world, however with her tremendous comeback and tenacious efforts to rise to the top since. Her determined attitude to comeback from that has seen her claim some exceptional victories in 2017, including the La Course by Le Tour de France, up the Col D’Izoard. Her immaculate season was completed perfectly with the World Championship title.
Annemiek is fiery and aggressive, always on the attack and up for a fight. Her dominance could very well continue this Spring following a summer of training down under. She won Flanders back in 2011 and has podiumed at Flèche Wallone and Amstel in recent seasons. Can her leading streak be put to a halt, or will she continue to rise?
8) ELLEN VAN DIJK – TEAM SUNWEB – THE NETHERLANDS
Ellen has a serious engine and yes, she’s famously fast. The former World time trial champion is straight up strong and powerful. Her strength is incredible and she’s renowned for causing pain when the wind is present. A true Dutch cyclist, she will almost always be at the front at the right moment, ready for that cross wind and set to pounce on her competitors. When she lays it down in a cross-wind, good luck holding the wheel!
Ellen flies when up against the clock and also specialises in one day-ers, as her strengths shine on classic Dutch/Belgian terrain. Her gutsy nature to pair, has seen her stomp to success on numerous occasions. She won the Ronde van Vlaanderen back in 2014 and has podiumed at the Ronde van Drenthe multiple times, as well as Trofeo alfredo Binda. Definitely not one to underestimate this Spring…
So, that’s our top 8 picks for Spring. Who will yours be and who will ultimately conclude the early season on top?
Be sure to follow along as the peloton fight it out for honours in what we’re sure will be a fine display of gritty, determined bike racing.
SPRING WOMEN'S WORLD TOUR CALENDAR
- STRADE BIANCHE Italy - 03.03.2018
- RONDE VAN DRENTHE The Netherlands - 11.03.2018
- TROFEO ALFREDO BINDA - COMUNE DI CITTIGLIO Italy - 18.03.2018
- DRIEDAAGSE DE PANNE-KOKSIJDE Belgium - 22.03.2018
- AMSTEL GOLD RACE LADIES The Netherlands - 15.04.2018
- LA FLÈCHE WALLONNE FÉMININE Belgium - 18.04.2018
- LIÈGE-BASTOGNE-LIÈGE FEMMES Belgium - 22.04.2018
Emily is a former kiwi road racer based abroad in Spain. She is no longer competing, but still passionate about all things cycling and is currently undertaking a 10 week internship with our Marketing team.