One of my very favourite games is helping people who are new to women’s cycling find riders to cheer for, so that people who have maybe loved men’s cycling for years but never really seen women’s racing, or are new to cycling completely, can become an instant fan
How this works is you can tell me why you like one of the male cyclists, or a trackie, or MTB rider, for example, or what kind of person you like to support. This can be for riding style (the hard-working team player, the mountain goat, the one who makes the craziest doomed attempts to escape) or for personality, or even for interests (Do you want to cheer for riders doing science PhDs? Or have a miniature pig as a pet? I can help you with that!). Basically, tell me in the comments, or on twitter, and I’ll bespoke you up, with riders who should feature in the 2015 Road Race Worlds. And of course, if you’re reading this and have different suggestions and equivalents, tell or tweet me and I’ll put them in a future post!
Previous year’s Equivalenting posts are here, but let’s start with what people have asked this year…
Riders who have fun
Dan Maize likes “riders who have fun, and interact with their fans, like have fun & interact w/fans, like Ted King and Adam Hansen”, and this is hard, because so many of the peloton are so great with fans, but in terms of having fun, I’m going to start with Valentina Scandolara and Tiffany Cromwell.
Tiffany Cromwell is Australian, and is known for her fantastic attacking, and road captain-ing for Velocio-SRAM. She has great diaries on Ella Cycling Tips, and videodiaries on the Cyclingnews youtube, but she’s especially fun on her own social media, especially her twitter and instagram. Crazy poses, clever things to do on the bike, never taking herself too seriously – and she’s a rider guaranteed to pop up photo/video-bombing other riders too. She has a huge fan following, and is one of the big personalities of the sport, with the road skills to match!
And then there’s Valentina Scandolara, loved by fans of the crazy attacks and do-or-die style everywhere. She’s the only Italian on ORICA-AIS, and she’s been so much fun to follow around the world, especially when she was posting the best rider videos I’ve seen of her adventures.
She’s definitely one of the riders who interacts with her fans, talk to her on twitter and I bet she’ll reply! And as a fan myself, I love how open she is – check out her answers to my Q&As from this year’s women’s Giro, after coming second on Stage 3, and about grupetto life on Stage 7, and listen to my podcast interview with her from back in January – she’s awesome! Watch out for her no doubt attacking and making other teams chase in the Road Race on Sunday.
Other Worlds riders who interact with their fans? I think it’s actually harder to find riders who don’t! I’m grinning, remembering being at races and seeing so many riders delight their fans, and make time for them. Online…. again, so many, but the names that pop to mind are Iris Slappendel, Ellen van Dijk and Barbara Guarischi who are always fun to follow.
If you’re a fan and have suggestions for riders at Richmond who’ve been especially great to you, tell me and I’ll add it into another post – and if you want to follow riders on twitter, I’ve got a list of accounts here so you can have a look for yourself!
Good team members
Tammy Jackson asked for “Someone who loves the sport (not just their performance), but always pushing to improve, good team member, kind to fans”, and while I’ve answered about fans already, I’m going to split the rest of this answer into sections.
Road Cycling is a team sport, and there are lots of different types of courses to suit different riders. On the men’s side, they usually have teams of nine, with some specific specialists – the climber, the ITT specialist, the sprinter, the super-domestique (riders who are there to work for team-mates) – but women’s teams are usually six riders, so it’s more common for riders to play multiple roles, and while there are riders like Christine Majerus and Emilia Fahlin who are predominantly domestiques, you’ll find some of the biggest stars also working for each other, like Ellen van Dijk, Lisa Brennauer and Megan Guarnier.
Ellen van Dijk was the Individual Time Trial (ITT) champion in 2013, and won one of the most prestigious races on the calendar that everyone wants to win, the 2014 Ronde van Vlaanderen World Cup, so you’d think everyone in her team should work for her, right? Wrong!
Van Dijk is a rider who really enjoys turning herself inside out for her Boels Dolmans team-mates, with this huge grin of pain as she chases escapes, or turns up the speed to drop rivals, or give her team sprinter the best springboard to the sprint finish. The classic Van Dijk moment was in the 2012 London Olympic Road Race, where before they’d left London she and Dutch team-mate Loes Gunnewijk attacked over and over and over, in glorious style. (If you’re new to women’s cycling, riders attack to try to get away, and win, but also to make other teams chase them, which tires them out, while their team-mates can relax. Having riders attack a lot mean rivals can never relax, and positioning becomes key, because riders all want to be near the front to make sure no one can get away).
Van Dijk is a lot of fun to watch, whether riding for herself or for team mates, and she has some of the best social media too – blogs on her website and her friendly twitter. You can also find out more about her in my interview with her last year, just before she won Flanders, as a podcast, or written up. She’s only recently back from breaking her collarbone, so she might not be 100% fit, but you just know that she’ll race her heart out in the ITT and work for everyone in the Road Race.
Speaking of the Ronde van Vlaanderen…. This year’s race was won by Elisa Longo Borghini, a very different style of rider to Van Dijk, but who shares the love of team working. But she and Van Dijk did win Flanders in similar ways – both of them attacked “too early” with huge efforts, from breakaways groups. They both used one of my favourite gambits – when a breakaway group has two riders from the same team in it, and one attacks solo and gets away, it puts the other riders in the break in a prisoner’s dilemma – if they chase too early and catch the escapee, the team-mate is nice and rested, and can attack; or they chase and catch the escapee and it comes to a sprint, the team-mate has had an easy ride and has more energy; or if they don’t chase, the escapee gets to the end and wins solo! It’s one of the reasons that sometimes it’s not the fastest rider that wins, it’s the one who takes risks, and doesn’t care if it ends with her winning or her team-mate.
Although she has been Italian ITT Champion in her time, Elisa’s more of a Classics-style rider, great on the hills, who’s won the bronze medal in the 2012 World Champs Road Race. She’s really interesting – while, for example, the sprinters can rack up more wins over the season, when Longo Borghini wins, or medals, it’s in the big iconic races. And she loves working for other riders, in the sprint trains, and in races she could win too – it’s no surprise that Wiggle Honda won the most World Cups this season… and one of the things that makes the Italian national team so formidable in Worlds is they all seem to feel the same, going into the race with a gleeful “we don’t care which of us it is, as long as it’s one of us!” approach of working out their tactics on the road.
Riders who push themselves
One of Longo Borghini’s Italian compatriots, who’s really stepped up her racing in the last few years is Elena Cecchini of Lotto Soudal. The two riders may be on rival teams, but they train together, and always cheer for each other. Cecchini says that winning the Italian Road Race last year made her really want to improve and honour the tricolore jersey, and she certainly has. She especially shone in the Classics, and came home from her first ever Giro with two podium places and ten stitches in her chin.
She’s only 23, and there are a lot of riders who have had more wins than her, but she has been developing really strongly, and her two wins – becoming one of a very select group to win the super-competitive Italian National Championships for two years in a row, and winning Stage 1 of the hilly Festival Elsy Jacobs from a breakaway that was only 3 seconds away from being caught on the line – were beautiful moments. Her podium spots and top 5s in some of the biggest races mean a lot more than wins at a lot of small races with weaker fields – and if she keeps developing like this, I’m sure the big wins will follow.
Another rider who stepped up big time this year is Megan Guarnier. She’s always been a super-domestique who specialises in climbing, who’s worked for all her teams, most recently Boels, but she’s been pushing herself to improve, for example, over last winter working specifically on her descending, and wow, it’s paid off! She started the season winning the first ever women’s edition of the instant-Classic Strade Bianche on the dusty roads of beautiful Tuscany, but crashed hard in one of the Drenthe races, with a nasty concussion that took her away from the Spring Classics. She came back to win her second USA National Championships title, and then won her first stage at the Giro Rosa Grand Tour, on the Classics-esque Stage 2, wearing the maglia rosa leader’s jersey for 6 stages and ending up 3rd overall.
That was fantastic, but around all that she was working her socks off for her team-mates, and playing a crucial part in their wins. It was a textbook example of a rider analysing her weaknesses, working on them, and coming back SO strong, to be one of the stories of the season, and it’s especially interesting because cycling’s her second sport, as she only took it up after shoulder injuries put a stop to her swimming career. Off the bike, she’s interesting too, with a degree in neuroscience, and a fun blog – find out more on her website, and follow her twitter and instagram.
Stephanie Suwak wants to cheer for underdogs, and there are three kinds here at Worlds.
Firstly, we have all the riders from the “non-traditional” cycling nations, where it’s not a popular sport, and there aren’t national Federations with bags of money (the “big” nations for cycling, in terms of Federation support for the women include the Netherlands, Italy, USA, Germany and France, while countries like Great Britain and Spain have big Federations too, just more focused on women’s track and men’s everything). So all the riders from countries like Rwanda, Algeria, Ethiopia, and even rich European countries like Norway, who’ve chosen to leave some of their team spots empty, have achieved a huge amount just to get here in the first place. A rider like Jeanne d’Arc Girubuntu, the first Rwandan woman to race Worlds, thanks to the support of Team Africa Rising and the Adrien Niyonshuti Cycling Academy, and who was the 1,000th trainee at the UCI’s World Cycling Centre, will have achieved so much if she just finishes the ITT and Road Race.
Then, we have riders who in their trade teams are superstars, but when they’re at Worlds, their national teams are nowhere near as strong, which ups their underdog factor. Emma Johansson, for example, is one of the hugest names in the sport and starts pretty much every race as a favourite, but while Swedish compatriots Emilia Fahlin and Sara Mustonen-Lichan are fantastic on the flat, Emma is usually found out solo in Worlds & Olympics, swamped by Italians and Dutch – it doesn’t stop her getting onto the podium, though, as she has 3 Worlds medals and an Olympic silver to her name. Follow her through Worlds and until she retires after next year’s Olympics on her website and twitter.
Another rider in this category is Lizzie Armitstead, a wonderful rider, two-time Road World Cup series winner, who won the 2015 Trofeo Binda, Philadelphia Classic and GP Plouay World Cups with such panache – and through the hard work of her trade team, Boels Dolmans, are one of the strongest in the peloton, and when she won silver in the 2012 Olympics and won the 2014 Commonwealth Games, she really benefited from Emma Pooley as the most attacking super-domestique who made rivals chase her over the hills, giving Armitstead an advantage. The British team at Richmond does have top sprinter Lucy Garner, and some great young developing talent, but that’s very different to having the might of Boels to support her. She’s a very clever and very skilled rider, though, so never rule her out! Listen to her talk about the course on the Cyclingnews podcast.
Finally, there are the young riders. On the men’s side of the sport, riders develop through the ranks, from juniors, to Under 23, to elites, and there are four categories of teams – domestic-level teams, that include club teams and amateurs, Continental teams, the lowest-UCI ranked category, Pro-Conti, and the superstars in the World Tour teams. However for the women, there are only national and UCI level road teams, and no U23 level at Worlds, so it’s straight from junior teams, distances and gears into racing against the best in the world – for the younger pro rider they have to learn straight in the deep end in UCI teams and races, if they want to be in squads that can pay them even a little. And yet, they can still persevere.
One such rider at Worlds is Kasia Niewiadoma, who’s just 20 years old. In the season, she races with super-team Rabo-Liv, and she won the Best Young Rider jersey in the only women’s Grand Tour of 2015, the Giro Rosa, but the Polish national team is definitely “developing” and not one of the “big” teams… but this won’t stop her!
She’s best known as a climber, but in the 2015 European u23 Championships, she took on the might of the Dutch and Italian squads of stars, and kept on attacking, even though the course definitely didn’t suit her. While Dutch Anouska Koster and Italian Ilaria Sanguineti had escaped, Niewiadoma tried and tried to get to them, but every time, she was chased down ruthlessly. Eventually she made it, with another Dutch women, Thalita de Jong, but it seemed hopeless, as the other three are such strong sprinters – but Niewiadoma didn’t panic, her finale was as much about brains as it was about speed – and she won! Watch the highlights of that race here, she was definitely the underdog there, and will be here at Worlds too.
Now, she may not be racing Worlds, as she’s still recovering from a year full of injury, but I can’t end without mentioning Marianne Vos. She’s a fantastic champion, with 12 World titles across road, track and cyclocross, and two Olympic golds, and this year’s been extra hard for her because she absolutely loves cycling, and works with the UCI to try to make things better for women everywhere. She’s tons of fun on the bike, and is the biggest example of a superstar who works for her team-mates – and when she’s not racing, you’ll see her roadside or on twitter cheering them on, and giving tons of time to fans. She fits every category today, and while this makes her sound too good to be true, she’s such a genuinely nice person that being a fan is easy. I interviewed her about her injuries, what she’s been up to, and much more, and you can both listen to it or read it. Heal well, Marianne, we look forward to having you back on the roads!
Someone asked me why I bother writing these posts, because surely people can just look down the startlists and cheer from people from their countries…. That’s a valid approach, so if it’s for you, and you want to know about the national champions from your country, I’ve got some collections of videos from the 2015 traditional Euro (& Canadian) National Championships week.
Remember, if you want me to find YOU bespoke suggestions of riders to cheer for, or you think you have better suggestions for people, let me know in the comments, or on twitter, and I’ll let you know in a second 2015 post. And if you want my guide to watching the women’s cycling at Richmond 2015, it’s here. As always, I’m funded to do this kind of thing by my wonderful Patreon supporters – thank you all so much!