It was after recce'ing the course with the pros a few days before September's junior road Worlds in Flanders that Zoe Bäckstedt knew she would be going all in for victory.
"I came back from that ride, and I had that fire inside of me. I was like, I feel like I can win," says Cycling Weekly's new Rising Star of the Year, as she looks back over her outrageously successful season. "Then the day came and I was just ready for it."
Bäckstedt broke clear with Kaia Schmid of the USA after three of five laps of the Leuven course. The pair worked together and held on for a nail-biting drag race to the line, with Bäckstedt outsprinting her breakaway partner for the win.
She celebrated with pizza and her team-mates and a re-run of the race, chatting through the event about how they were riding and how they felt as it unfolded.
Had that been the 17-year-old's only achievement this year, she could have finished the season an extremely happy cyclist, but there was plenty more besides for the girl from South Wales. Bäckstedt has in fact won so many medals and set so many new records this season that you need a chart to keep track of them.
Judge John Herety says...
"I saw a post race interview with her after she won the European Cross Champs. I was struck how elegantly spoken she was, which is great to see in someone so young. A credit to her parents Megan and Magnus."
Who else was on the shortlist?
A rapid rise into the team pursuit squad for Tokyo has been matched by Vernon’s road racing ascent. While the Olympics didn’t exactly go to plan, his standout result on the tarmac was his stage win at the Tour de l’Avenir, which helped him secure a contract with Deceuninck - Quick-Step for 2022. While we’re sure he’d have wanted more from the world championships, on track and road, than a bronze in the team pursuit he did more than enough to show he belongs in the sport’s elite.
Hayter success in the latter half of 2021 is all them ore remarkable considering he took a break from riding in the middle of year as he became disillusioned with the sport. With a heavy block of training in the legs and a joy for riding refound he won the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege and a stage of the Tour de Bretagne then he capped it off the national U23 TT title. We’re glad Hayter decided to continue riding as we’re going to enjoy seeing more performances like those.
About the Cycling Weekly Awards
The Cycling Weekly Awards recognise the best from the international and UK domestic racing scenes, as well as highlighting readers who have provided inspiration worthy of celebration. Each year our club of the year and local hero awards uncover the immense work being done at grass roots level up and down the country.
A new winner will be announced daily, from Monday December, 6. Keep track of the announcements here.
For a full account of Bäckstedt's 2021 season, and her interview reaction to winning the Rising Star Award, pick up a copy of Cycling Weekly magazine, in stores from Thursday, December 9. Subscribe online and get the magazine delivered to your door every week. (opens in new tab)
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Having trained as a journalist at Cardiff University I spent eight years working as a business journalist covering everything from social care, to construction to the legal profession and riding my bike at the weekends and evenings. When a friend told me Cycling Weekly was looking for a news editor, I didn't give myself much chance of landing the role, but I did and joined the publication in 2016. Since then I've covered Tours de France, World Championships, hour records, spring classics and races in the Middle East. On top of that, since becoming features editor in 2017 I've also been lucky enough to get myself sent to ride my bike for magazine pieces in Portugal and across the UK. They've all been fun but I have an enduring passion for covering the national track championships. It might not be the most glamorous but it's got a real community feeling to it.
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