Top 10 performances of the 2021 women's road season
There were many incredible rides in 2021, but which were the best?
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The 2021 season brought with it a raft of phenominal rides. But of course, some will always stand out more than others.
Here are out top 10 performances of the women's road season...
10. Marianne Vos - Paris-Roubaix
A Paris-Roubaix riddled with rain and mud for riders who had never before raced over such perilous cobblestones was such a challenge that even finishing second-place was one of the performances of the season. Unsurprisingly, Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) looked sublime on the cobbles, gliding over them while so many around her came a cropper, and dropping everyone from her wheel on the famous Mons-en-Pevele sector 20km from the finish. She rode like a woman possessed when trying to chase Lizzie Deignan down, and although she could not make the catch, the fact she finished more than 30 seconds ahead of everyone else demonstrated just how powerful and accomplished a ride this was by the greatest of all time.
9. Riejanne Markus - Tour of Norway stage 2
Everyone loves seeing a plucky underdog triumph against the favourites, and the odds Riejanne Markus (Jumbo-Visma) overcame to hold off a charging peloton on stage two of the Tour of Norway made hers a special ride. The tension was palpable as the bunch bore down on her in the final kilometres, and when she at last reached the finish line, by now with only a matter of metres ahead, she immediately clasped her hand over her mouth in a stunned gesture. What made the ride even more impressive was the fact she had not even been in the day’s original break, but joined the leaders with her own speculative attack 50km from the finish, then dropped them both 25km from the finish to solo to what was her first ever World Tour victory.
8. Elisa Longo Borghini - Trofeo Alfredo Binda
From her aggressive win at GP de Plouay to her bold near miss at Gent-Wevelgem, 2021 featured plenty more vintage Elisa Longo Borghini’s trademark attacking rides. The one that stood out above all was the Trek-Segafredo rider’s triumph at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, where one of her typically bold moves was rewarded handsomely with a massive victory. Everyone is aware of the danger the Trek-Segafredo rider poses, and Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) tried desperately to follow when she struck out 25km from the finish. But they failed to latch onto her wheel, and by the time Borghini reached the finish her advantage was a huge 1-42.
7. Anna van der Breggen - Liege-Bastogne-Liege
As in every season, 2021 saw multiple brilliant rides from Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx), from her overall success at the Giro Donne and Vuelta a Burgos to her victorious solo move at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and seventh consecutive Flèche-Wallonne title. But her masterwork from the 2021 season was not one of her many wins, but rather in a supporting role, when she guided teammate Demi Vollering to victory at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Spending almost the entire final 14km setting a searing pace at the front of the leading group, she single-handedly dropped the dangerous Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) and ensured she couldn’t bridge back, prevented anyone else from attacking, and lead-out Vollering for the sprint victory. Such selflessness is what has helped make her such a fantastic rider for DS Worx over the years.
6. Annemiek van Vleuten - Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta stage 3
Nobody does long-range attacks like Annemiek Van Vleuten (Movistar), who obliterated the fields and rode away alone for her victories at the Tour of Flanders and San Sebastian. In stage three of the Ceratizit Challenge, the distance of her victorious attack was 50km, with the Dutchwoman recognising the need to do something special to prize the overall lead from Marlen Reusser (Ale BTC Ljubljana), who held a lead of over 1-30 on GC having gotten into a successful breakaway on the opening stage. Where other riders would have cowered at the challenge and maybe focussed on defending a podium finish instead, Van Vleuten relished the opportunity, and rode 50km alone to win the stage by a huge 2-48, and comfortably overturn a deficit that had seemed unlikely even for her.
5. Elisa Balsamo - World Championships road race
To defeat a force as powerful as the Dutch line-up at the World Championships, you have to ride a perfect race, which is exactly what Elisa Balsamo had in Leuven to win gold. First she managed to survive within the front group after an onslaught of attacks from the women in orange and some of the other nation’s top puncheurs, despite having come up against a series of steep climbs that put paid to the chances of most of the other sprinters. Then in the sprint, she still had the legs to hold off a charge from the one and only Marianne Vos. For a rider who had only once before won at World Tour level, it was a revelatory performance.
4. SD Worx - Giro Donne stage 2
SD Worx dominated the stage two summit finish of the Giro Donne to such an extent that there simply wasn’t a contest for the overall honours. They absolutely pulverised the opposition on the Prato Nevoso climb, with Niamh Fisher Black, then Ashleigh Moolman, then Anna van der Breggen each attacking in quick succession inside the final ten kilometres, and the latter riding away to victory while Moolman rode at her own pace behind to finish second. Having marshalled the chasing group behind, Demi Vollering even managed to break clear for third place, completing a 1-2-3 for the team on the stage, ahead of what would be another clean sweep of the GC podium finishes.
3. Annemiek van Vleuten - Olympics time trial
It was obvious from Van Vleuten’s ride in the road race that she had arrived at Tokyo with sensational form. A miscalculation in chasing Anna Kisenhofer meant she had to settle for silver that day, but she rallied three days later in the time trial to be crowned Olympic champion for the first time in her career. As well as the mental fortitude required to put the disappointment from the road race behind her so promptly, what really impressed about this time trial victory was the margin of victory: despite the course only being 22km, she won by almost a whole minute, putting almost three seconds per kilometre into Marlen Reusser and Anna van der Breggen in silver and bronze respectively, and over three seconds into everyone else. Considering this race featured the creme de la creme of women’s time trialing, these were astonishing numbers.
2. Anna Kiesenhofer - Olympics road race
Sure, the confusion brought about by the absence of race radios played a part in Kiesenhofer’s shock win at the Olympics. But to win the lottery you have to buy a ticket, and the Austrian was rewarded for her courage and persistence with one of the grandest prizes of all — Olympic gold, something even most of the all-time greats never earn. Even taking into account the issue with the chase behind, she showed extraordinary strength, spending the entire race out in front, and dropping all the other breakaway riders with over 40km still to ride. By hanging on for victory, she sent an inspiring message about perseverance, and exemplified the romance that we love about sport.
1. Lizzie Deignan - Paris-Roubaix
A historic ride for a historic occasion, we’ll be telling our grandkids about Lizzie Deignan’s truly epic 82km ride to win the first ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes. Long-range attacks in cycling are notoriously difficult to pull off whatever the race, given just how hard it is to ride for long stretches of time without anyone to share the workload. At Paris-Roubaix, and a wet one at that, these difficulties are compounded by a myriad of other challenges, from keeping your balance over the perilously slippy cobblestones to navigating the lumps and bumps with your handlebars — something that was made viscerally clear from her heart-stopping save while sliding across a muddy patch, and the sight of Deignan’s bloodied hands at the finish. To overcome all of that to win by a huge margin of 1-17 made this one of the all-time great rides.
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.
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