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Podcast 2016 Episode 36 – EPIC (That’s a Technical Term)

Podcast logoHey remember that time a few days ago when Sarah and Dan started talking about all the Best of the Year categories that VeloVoices are going to be holding voting on this week, and it took them an hour to get through the first category? Well they’re back! And this time they’re determined to get through all of the other categories (including the two extra ones that Sarah made up so that she could fit everyone in that she wanted to) no matter how long it takes!

Look, we’re not gonna lie, this podcast is EPIC (that’s a technical term). It’s huge. It’s long enough to be a Hollywood blockbuster, but it’s got more plot, more drama and more action than your standard Hollywood blockbuster, so there’s that! How could it not be when we’re discussing Best Race Finish of the Year, Best Breakthrough Rider of the Year, Unsung Heroines of the Peloton for the Year, Unsung Heroes/Heroines Behind the Scenes and Step-Up Rider of the Year?

So many great and worthy nominees, so much to argue about! Make sure you’re stocked up on time and refreshments, this one’s perfect for that long drive to see all your extended family for the holidays. Here goes… (1:59:50 MIN / 109.72MB)

You can get free automatic updates from our RSS feed here or via the iTunes store here.

And listen to, and read, our nominations for 2016 women’s cycling Rider of the Year.

Best race finish

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…

Strade Bianche, March, Italy

 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 the gorgeous white gravel roads, incredibly tough, hilly racing, and of course, that gorgeous finish up the narrow streets of Siena.  It was the rightful opener for the first ever Women’s World Tour, and just gorgeous to watch.
After a typically attacking race, with groups forming and dissolving, around 40 riders were left at 30km to go, when Anna van der Breggen attacked – and when she was caught, her team-mate 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.
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 Trofeo Alfredo Binda, March, Italy

 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, 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 treacherous steep descent that’s often more important than the leg-biting climb before it.
It’s a massively attritional race, and 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 her team-mate Guarnier in second – and no shame to Neff, caught just before the line for third, because it’s that kind of riding that make her fans want to see more of her on the roads.
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 Olympic road race, August, Brazil

 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 everywhere couldn’t focus on the finish, hoping and hoping she was ok.  But looking back, now we know she was alright, 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.
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GP Plouay, August, France

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 never disappoints, with gorgeous countryside, fun climbs, and endless attacking, especially up that last long climb, and like Binda, has been won in every way possible, but usually 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’s already won the WorldTour when there were three races left, 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, Bujak taking everyone else by surprise, and showing that if you don’t try, you can’t win.

Definitely a surprise winner, but 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 get to be 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.
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2016 Road World Championships, October, Qatar

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 they weren’t let anywhere near the desert winds, and had those weird, twisty, roads on the Pearl through the weird, post-zombie apocalypse/JG Ballard-ian landscape.
But they tried to make the best of it, and the Dutch showed why they were the favourites on paper, attacking and attacking, despite the course making it easy to catch them, and with no other teams willing to take a risk and work with them.  It was a little bit weird, because 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 the ITT World Champion, tried for a double with a 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, the 20-year old Amalie Dideriksen, of Denmark.  The Danish squad were tiny compared to the behemoths of the Netherlands, Italy and the USA, but Dideriksen had nothing to lose – and doubtless had excellent advice from team coach is 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?
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Honourable mention

Ronde van Vlaanderen, April, Belgium

 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 begun, so we only had clips.  It was still a gorgeous race, but 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, and when it’s race sponsor and major telecoms company that can’t stream it, there’s no excuse, really.  But still, for another Lizzie Deignan and Emma Johansson showdown, here’s a collection of Videos, interviews, media and results.

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Unsung heroes

This category is meant for domestiques, but you might be surprised to see some big names, who’ve won a lot of races, in here.  But one of the things that is special about women’s cycling is that because their trade teams are limited to six riders, they can’t specialise as much as the men can, so you’ll find riders who are TT experts and climbers, GC riders who race sprint lead-out, and of course, superstars supporting their team-mates.   So don’t be surprised if you see wins from these riders as well as sterling support.

Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Fra) Wiggle High5

Wiggle High5 was one of the biggest teams of 2016, absolutely stuffed with stars, who provide us with entertainment on and off the bike – and while they have huge names like two-time Road World Champion Giorgia Bronzini, Olympic silver- and bronze-medallists Emma Johansson and Elisa Longo Borghini, WorldTour winning sprinters Chloe Hosking and Jolien D’hoore, they also have some wonderful domestiques – including Audrey Cordon.
Cordon is a Classics-type and the French ITT Champion, who has saidI always thought that it’s better to be a perfect teammate instead of a bad leader”, and who lives by that, attacking and chasing, and doing all the unglamourous work.  She had a disappointing Classics season, with illness and bad luck, but you’ll see her Wiggle team-mates praise her endlessly.
On top of that, she has a fantastic twitter, where she is not afraid to call out things she sees that she doesn’t like – and fans love her because when she can’t race, you’ll often finding her cheering her team-mates on with us on twitter.
You can find her in the Wiggle High5 team videos, and from the Wiggle bike shop, like this snippet:

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Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Boels-Dolmans

 Van Dijk is such a fun rider to watch – former Scratch World Champion on the track, and 2013 ITT World Champion, who’s won the Ronde van Vlaanderen among a fantastic palmares – but she’s an integral part of Boels-Dolmans’ huge success this year (over 40 UCI wins this season!), and the Dutch winning the Olympic Road Race because she’s also a super-domestique, who’ll turn herself inside out for her team-mates, seeing team-mates’ victories as important as her own.
She’s said in the past that she attacks, and rides on the front because she doesn’t like pack riding, and the power she can put out is phenomenal, whether chasing down rivals with a team-mate on her wheel, or going for her own win.  I always hear “Ride of the Valkyries” in my head when there’s a classic Van Dijk move – like when she won Stage 3 of this year’s Tour of Qatar.
She loves the Classics, so was gutted to break a rib in a crash while racing for Lizzie Deignan’s win in the Omloop het Niewsblad – but came back fast, to support Deignan to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen.   Her biggest solo wins were the GC at the first European stage race of the season, Energiewacht Tour, and the European ITT Championships, which didn’t really make up for her mistake in the Olympic ITT, where she was a top favourite, but slipped off the course into the jungle just before the final climb, leaving her 4th overall.  She talks about that here:

But she’ll be remembered most for 2016 because of her incredible domestique-ing – in so, so many races for Boels, her contributions to Anna van der Breggen’s Olympic Road Race win, when she attacked all over the Grumari Circuit, and chased down rivals, and her attacks and lead-out in the Road World Championships, and her role as cornerstone of Boels-Dolmans Team Time squad, winning the WorldTour TTT at Vårgårda, and of course, the TTT World Championships.
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 Christine Majerus (Lux) Boels-Dolmans

Another Boels rider, who’s been part of a ridiculous number of those 40 UCI wins this season.  It’s very hard to get selected for races for the Boels riders, as once you’ve got the possible race winners like Deignan, Guarnier, Van Dijk and Blaak, there aren’t many spots left – but Majerus is consistently picked because she’s absolutely a workhorse,who doesn’t care about her final position, as long as her team-mates are up there.
You can get an idea of what kind of rider she is from her highlights of 2016 blog, and from her comments about the TTT World Championships, where even though she was part of the winning team, she wasn’t happy about the conditions.
When she’s not working her heart out for her team-mates, she gets her own chances as Boels’ bunch sprinter.  She has a reputation in the peloton as a risk taker in the sprints, such as when she won Stage 1 of this year’s Aviva Women’s Tour – and this is exactly why the Boels riders give so much to the team, because they know if they do, they’ll get their chances.

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Marianne Vos (Ned) Rabo-liv

 Marianne Vos in a domestique category?  The absolute best all-round cyclist we’ve ever seen, with twelve World Championships and two Olympic golds to her name, from road, track and cyclocross.  Vos, who’s won pretty much every major road race, and owns her own team, Rabo-liv.   But when we look back at 2016, we’ll see her wins, including Stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California, Stage 4 of the Aviva Women’s Tour, three stages at Thüringen Rundfaht and one at the Lotto-Belgium Tour, but it’s her domestique work where she’s shone most.
Vos has always loved racing for team-mates, because above all, she loves bike racing.  We saw it way back in 2011, when she was ridiculously strong, working for Annemiek van Vleuten’s GP de Plouay win, and in 2014, when she said that Pauline Ferrand-Prévot winning Flèche Wallonne meant more than her own 5th win the year before.  It’s what makes her so dangerous to her rivals, because when Vos attacks, they absolutely have to follow, as give her the smallest gap, and before you know it, she’s likely to be way down the road.  Off the bike, she’s this quiet, friendly, lovely person, who works really hard for her sport – but on the bike she’s all about the mind games and psychological warfare.
It’s been a hard few years for her, no doubt about that, as a serious of injuries, over-training and recovery problems kept her off the bike, and so she came back to 2016 taking it slowly, her goals racing at the Rio Olympics and the Worlds at Qatar.  Like Van Dijk, she rode her heart out for Van der Breggen’s Olympic Road Race victory, first being über water carrier, and then launching a killer attack before the final Vista Chinesa climb that made everyone scramble, because while long climbs aren’t her speciality, she is one of the very best descenders alive.  Again, in the Road World Championships, she attacked and attacked, then was the perfect last lead-out rider for Kirsten Wild.  It’s been fantastic watching her work for others – and set up her new team Fortitude for 2017 – but here’s hoping her medical problems are behind her, and next year she’s back to her brilliant best.

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Trixi Worrack (Ger) Canyon-SRAM

With one of the longest careers in the women’s peloton, Trixi Worrack is always a wonderful rider, and should usually be heading up this category, as road caption and tactical genius for her team – but this year was devastating.  Racing Trofeo Binda in March, she was hit by another rider on the steep descent, and had a horrific crash, where one of her kidneys was so badly injured that it had to be removed completely.
This was obviously awful for her, and for her team, not only for the loss of a key rider, but for what it meant to them personally, as they’re a very tight squad, with Worrack at the heart.  Incredibly, she was back racing in June, winning the German ITT Championships, and paying her usual role in the women’s Grand Tour, the Giro Rosa, and the tough Thüringen Rundfahrt and Boels Rental Ladies Tour, and attacking for her German team-mates in the Olympic Road Race, and working for their silver medal in the Team Time Trial Worlds – picking up 7th in the ITT.  It’s amazing she’s back, and of course, here’s to many more years of her career.

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VOTE for your 2016 super-domestique in the VeloVoices poll HERE!

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Unsung heroes who help us follow the racing

While we’ve had more live women’s cycling to watch in 2016 than ever before, and it seems like the upwards trend will continue, women’s racing fans still very much rely on the internet, and especially on twitter, to help us follow races.  This category is for people I couldn’t watch races without, or who add a huge amount of value to what we get.  There are hundreds more I could fill this category with, so please note that anyone left out, it’s not because I don’t value them, it’s because I could go on forever here.  My heartfelt thanks to everyone who helps me follow the racing, because I love them so much!

Bidone Jack

This Italian fan is a mainstay of the Il Nuevo Ciclismo forum, especially the women’s cycling board, and he’s the go-to man for information about all things Italian women’s racing.  I love my conversations with him on twitter, and the information he provides – but most of all I love his YouTube channel, because if there’s a bit of racing been shown that I’ve missed, he’s my first port of call.  I love everything he does, and fervently thank him in my mind every week!
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Rochelle Gilmore

Gilmore always had a fascinating career – one of the top sprinters, who also was running her own teams at UCI level and on the Australian domestic circuit for years.  She owns Wiggle High5, one of the biggest squads, and while they’re racing you’ll find her live-tweeting updates from the team car, and funding great team videos that often have been the only clips we’ve seen of the racing.  I love them because they’re not just focused on the wins, but also on the times when life is hard for the team.
But it’s not just her own team she’s good for – she also works hard to promote the sport for everyone.  You’ll find her commentating the biggest races for various TV channels, including the BBC and Eurosport, where her insight into what it’s like to race at the very top level is phenomenal – and on top of that, she is part of the UCI women’s commission, working to improve the sport.   I always wonder how she can fit it all in, but she’s a great example of “be the change you want to see”, and I’m inspired.
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Felix Mattis

One of the things I love about the women’s side of cycling is the way fans have seen it wasn’t covered especially well by the mainstream media a few years ago, so decided to make their own coverage, and Felix Mattis is one of my very favourites.
He’s a German cycling reporter who specialises in video interviews and highlights videos, which you’ll see this year on the UCI YouTube, as Mattis and another awesome guy, Niels Goudriaan, are the people behind the UCI’s WorldTour highlights videos.  They’re hard work, relying on clips from host broadcasters, with Mattis’ own interviews and clips added in, but they really help bring a narrative to the overall series.
On top of this Mattis also funds himself to go to other races, and has superb interviews and clips, as he always asks excellent questions, and you can find these on his YouTube – I especially loved his work at the World Championships.  He’s also got an excellent twitter, which is a great source of information in its own right, and I’m always so grateful he’s involved with the sport.

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Richard Steege

The original and best race live tweeter, Richard Steege does absolutely invaluable work, giving us live updates from inside the Boels-Dolmans team car, around his day job as team mechanic.  I can’t emphasise enough how important Steege is – for so many races, he’s all we have to go on for how the races unfold, and what’s happening.  More media outlets use his work as the basis for their race reports and even their live tweeting than will ever admit it, but the women’s cycling obsessives all know where it comes from.
He’s been doing it for years, and while he has all the live-tweeting issues to deal with such as lack of signal, lack of information from the race radio (it’s a surprising thing to realise, you’re first time in a team car, but race radio doesn’t announce the winners!) and of course, making sure the Boels-Dolmans riders have the best equipment they can, he does it all for love of the sport, and it’s very much valued!
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Peter van der Veen

If Richard Steege is a great race live tweeter, Peter van der Veen is one of the best commentweeters, adding tons of value, stats, information and viewpoint to information coming out of the races.  We joke that he seems to have a telepathic link to what’s happening, and his knowledge of the peloton is first rate.
I love his twitter on race days, obviously, but he’s also a fantastic source of news, information, explanations and great retweets, and does fantastic work gathering information on who’s riding what, for the startlists on Cycling Fever.  This may not seem like a big deal, for fans of men’s races, but it’s vital in women’s races, where sometimes the definitive startlist is basically the first results. And I love his transfer table, keeping us up to speed with who’s racing where next season.  If you have any women’s cycling questions, he’s definitely the one to go to.
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Vélofocus

If you’re looking at photos from women’s races on big cycling sites, or team sites, and thinking “wow, that’s lovely”, chances are it’s Vélofocus.  They’re Sean Robinson and Balint Hamvas, two guys who started as fans and turned making their own media into their careers.  Sean started on road, Balint’s known for his fantastic cyclocross work, and they joined together to take over the world… at least in terms of photographing women’s races!
I love the new look they’ve brought to cycling photography, and especially the ‘backstage’ side of the sport, and the scenes of fans and roadside views.  And of course, Sean’s twitter is great for race news, and comment.  You can find their work on their site, Cyclingnews, Ella Cycling Tips and on the Vélofocus facebook, as well as lots more team and tech sites, and I recommend them highly.

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VOTE for these superheroes of cycling over here on VeloVoices!

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Breakthrough rider

This is pretty self-explanatory – the riders who had their breakthrough results.  Some of them have shown promise, and had good podiums, or even a win, but 2016 was the season when they really arrived.  In alphabetical order…

Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Ita) Lensworld-Zannata-Etixx

It’s always interesting how Italy has developed so many super-strong juniors over the last ten years, but in general, they seem to find it hard to take that next step.  Of course, coming out of juniors into elites is difficult, but it seems like young Italians develop more once they leave the Italian squads and go to international teams.  We’ve seen this with Elisa Longo Borghini when she went to Hitec, Barbara Guarischi to Specialized-lululemon, Elena Cecchini to Lotto-Soudal – and now Maria Giulia Confalonieri, who joined the small Belgian team Lensworld-Zannata-Etixx, and has definitely made that move.
She’s just 23, with better results on the track before this season, including the Points race at the 2011 Junior Track World Championships.  But this year she made her mark as a sprinter to watch, achieving top sprinter goals of three podiums at the Giro Rosa Grand Tour – in the bunch sprints,  second on Stage 4 and third on Stage 8, and third again from the Stage 9 breakaway.
 
Proving it wasn’t a one-off, she came fifth in two more WorldTour races the Crescent Vårgårda Road Race, from the break, and the Madrid Challenge crit-like bunch sprint.  She’s still developing and growing, and this season should be a springboard for some more podiums, and wins.
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Amalie Dideriksen (Den) Boels-Dolmans

Dideriksen is only 20, and as the owner of 2 Junior World Championship titles on the road, from 2013 and 2014 and one on the track, was one of the hottest signings last year, when Boels snapped her up for her first year as a pro.  Since then, she’s been learning and learning, taking her first elite UCI win in last year’s Lotto-Belgium Tour, where she was second overall, and she spent 2016 doing more of the same, domestiquing, learning, and focusing on the Olympic track, where her phenomenal Points race, with endless attacks and taking 3 laps, took her to 5th in the omnium.  She came back from Rio and won the first stage of the Boels Rental Ladies Tour, her only road win of the season…  until the Road World Championships in Qatar.

She was one of those underdog outsiders for Worlds, Denmark being a “small” team in women’s cycling, especially compared to the giants of the Netherlands and Italy.  And truth be told, the Dutch rode a pretty much perfect race, attacking in the early stages, having a monster lead-out… it’s just that Dideriksen managed to be up there in the end, fighting for that coveted position on Kirsten Wild’s wheel – and wow, she took advantage beautifully!  A perfect sprint, for the win, which seemed to surprise Dideriksen, who said afterwards that while she’s always had World Champion as one of her goals, she never expected to win at 20 years old!  It’ll be fascinating to see what she does next.
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 Huang Ting Ying (Tpe) Chinese Taipei

 The Tour of ChongMing Island day race was always a bit of a contentious inclusion in the Road World Cup, and the ChongMing stage race was a surprising inclusion in the Women’s WorldTour.  ChongMing Island is utterly flat, an alluvial island in the Yangtze River, just 81km long, and 18km at the widest part, with wide roads in a grid formation, so to say the parcours for a three-stage race are limited is an understatement.  The nearest thing to a climb is the ramp onto the bridge to Shanghai.  It’s definitely one for the bunch sprinters, but in 2016 and the first Women’s WorldTour, it proved why it should be there – giving Huang Ting Ying the chance to shine.
It’s hard enough for men from the “non-traditional” cycling nations to get a ride in the WorldTour teams, and for riders outside mainland Europe to adapt to the peloton, but it’s even harder for the women, with all the barriers in their way – but Huang took the opportunity of the world-class peloton coming to Asia, and rode with it.  While the big-name teams were all looking at each other, she was the surprise winner of Stage 1 of the Tour, and then, when the rest of the peloton should have been on their guard, did it again on Stage 3.  In fact, it was only Chloe Hosking taking the intermediate sprint bonifications that gave her the overall win.

Huang had always had talent, winning the East Asian Games stages of the Tour of Thailand, and doing well in the UCI races in Asia – and this year she’d had her first taste of USA racing at the Joe Martin Stage Race.  Winning at ChongMing gave her a ride at the Giro Rosa with small Italian team Servetto Footon, and she finished, which is more than a lot of first-time Giro riders manage.  I very much hope that ChongMing turns out to be a springboard for her to get to Europe, if that’s what she wants, and gives other riders from Asia the inspiration to follow her bike-treads.
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 Leah Kirchmann (Can) Liv-Plantur

Kirchmann has always had potential, but had the usual problem of women based in North America – so many important women’s races are based on narrow European roads, where positioning skills are paramount, and really hard to translate to the wide USA and Canadian roads.  Riding for USA-based teams, Kirchmann had had forays to the European races, but never had a full season, until this year – and wow, she more than lived up to expectations!
She signed to Liv-Plantur, the sister-team of Giant-Alpecin, and started her first full Classics season coming 4th in the Omloop het Nieuwsblad, 2nd in the Lotto Cycling Cup Omloop van het Hageland (Tielt-Winge), and then getting her first European UCI win, at the important sprinty Drentse 8. Top 10s in the WorldTours Strade Bianche, Ronde van Drenthe and Gent-Wevelgem would have been good enough for a season, but she followed it up with more WWT podiums, at the Tour of ChongMing Island and Aviva Women’s Tour, before the next huge race, her first Giro Rosa.

She won the Prologue, and as her 26th birthday present, wore the first maglia rosa of the race.  At the end of the race, she was 8th overall, a fantastic result for a rider who’s known for her sprinting.  Another WorldTour podium in the Prudential Ride London GP and more big-race top 10s showed off that sprint power – it seems like she is a perfect all-rounder, and given she said that her great Classics and Giro results were down to increased confidence, she’ll be going into 2017 as a real contender.
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 Thalita de Jong (Ned) Rabo-liv

At 22, De Jong had already made one breakthrough in 2016, when she won the Cyclocross World Championships, a surprise winner, but very definitely a worthy one.  It was especially delightful, as Marianne Vos had shared a photo of Thalita, and her younger cyclist sister Demi, when they were teenaged volunteers grabbing a snap with her at the Hoogerheide 2011 race – and now it was Thalita in the rainbows!
She took that confidence onto the road, where she was domestique-ing and learning with Rabo-liv, and she had strong results in important races – 4th and 6th in stages supporting Kasia Niewiadoma to win the Festival Elsy Jacobs, a stage win at the smaller Giro del Trentino, but then it came to the Giro Rosa, and after coming second in the Prologue, and racing for her team-mates, she got into the breakaway on the final stage, attacked on the final climb, and won!

She followed this up with another second place in a Prologue, this time at the Lotto-Belgium Tour, where she and came 2nd overall in the Ladies Tour of Norway.  She’s moving to small team Lares-Waowdeals next year, where she’ll have more chances to go for her own wins – and of course, has the cyclocross season ahead of her first!
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Step-up rider

These are the riders who’ve definitely already had their breakthrough seasons, winning their first UCI races and marking themselves as riders to watch, but who in 2016 took another step up, and gave us great racing moments – and cemented themselves as stars.

Elena Cecchini (Ita) Canyon-SRAM

Cecchini’s first big win was when she became Italian Road Champion in 2014, and she had her beak-through season last year, where she showed that some Italians do love the cobbles, and had her first UCI win at the Festival Elsy Jacobs, where the break she was in just managed to stay away from the thundering peloton behind her, and rode her first Giro Rosa, where she was on the podium twice.  She had some great top 5 results, and showed she was a contender, for sure.
This year she signed to Canyon-SRAM, one of the big teams, and rode as domestique for a lot of the season, but she took the Italian national jersey for the third year in a row (one of only two women to do so) and after attacking in the Olympic Road Race (as she’d done all year) she got into a two-woman break with Aussie Amanda Spratt in the penultimate stage of the super-tough Thüringen Rundfahrt, and came second – and their 4:30 lead was enough to give Cecchini her first ever stage race GC.

She nearly added a WorldTour win to that, at GP Plouay – she’d decided Marianne Vos’ wheel was the one she wanted, coming into the tough uphill-sprint finish, but realised Vos wasn’t at her best, and fired through the break when Eugenia Bujak started her sprint early.  Cecchini only just missed the win, but second place was fantastic, and she had another second place at the Team Time Trial Worlds.  She’s still just 24, and on that upward trajectory – watch out to see what else she can do!
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Emilia Fahlin (Swe) Alé Cipollini

Fahlin was the youngest ever Swedish rider to turn pro, when she joined HTC-Highroad at age 19, but while she was an awesome lead-out rider for Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, and a former Swedish Road and ITT Champion, it seemed her career had stalled.  Joining Italian squad Alé Cipollini for 2016 seemed like a downward move, as they are very definitely all about the Italians, and very much sprint-focused, so it looked like she’d be stuck in the domestique role – but it turned out to be a fantastic move.
Fahlin attacked all season, working for her team-mates, and winning the overall Combativity Prize at the hugely important WorldTour stage race, the Aviva Women’s Tour, and after taking a podium at Thüringen, ended up in the final break at the Crescent Vårgårda WorldTour Road Race.

Vårgårda is a gorgeous race, part of a lovely festival of cycling in Northern Sweden, and always special, and very hard-fought – but in all its years running, including as a Road World Cup, it had never been won by a Swedish rider, until now.  That final group included much better sprinters than Fahlin, but she proved that brains can trump speed.  She’d had such a great season working for others, it was wonderful to see her take a victory for herself.  And as a rider who seems to have doubted herself a lot over the years (unnecessarily, in fans’ views), here’s hoping the confidence boost will carry into 2017, and lots more wins.
***

Katrin Garfoot (Aus) ORICA-AIS

Garfoot came to cycling late – she was born in Germany, and took on Australian citizenship when she got married and moved to Australia, and started cycling with her husband.  She turned out to be pretty good at it, and started racing the Aussie summer season in 2012, when she was 31.
Her superb results over 2012 and 2013 brought her to the attention of the national team, and she got some rides in Europe in 2014, before being snapped up halfway through the season by ORICA.  A time triallist and climber, last year was her first full season as a pro, and she became Oceania ITT Champion, with podiums at Elsy Jacobs and the Emakumeen Bira, which are very important stage races, with top tens in more, including at the Giro Rosa ITT.
She started 2016 with a strong Aussie summer, winning the national ITT title, and the overall at the Santos Women’s Tour, aka the women’s Tour Down Under, her first UCI win and kept her form for the Tour of Qatar, where she attacked out of the final break in Stage 2, to take the solo victory.

Another Elsy Jacobs podium was good for her, but unfortunately she was sick for a lot of the season, which meant her big goal of the Olympic Games Time Trial and Road Race, both of which should have suited her.   She’d been almost two months without racing when she arrived in Rio, and her 9th place in the ITT will have been a huge disappointment – but she made up for it in Qatar again, where she won bronze in the ITT World Championships.  She’s still learning, so it’ll be interesting to watch what she can go on to achieve.
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Lotta Lepistö (Fin) Cervélo-Bigla

Lepistö proved she was one of the up-and-coming sprinters last year, when she won her first UCI race, Stage 4 of Thüringen Rundfahrt.  She’s had an interesting career, moving from triathlon to combining cycling with a part-time degree in Nursing, but illness kept getting in her way.  In 2013 she guest-rode for Bigla, when they weren’t UCI registered, and they kept her on when they stepped up again in 2013, and again last year.
Both 2015 and 2016 were turbulent years for the team, with various issues with staff and riders leaving mid-season, but Lepistö has been a consistent bright spot, getting better and better. Her first 2016 win was the Emakumeen Bira Prologue, followed by Stage 1 of the Festival Elsy Jacobs, but her biggest victory was in the WorldTour, taking the final stage of the Aviva Women’s Tour from a breakaway.

She had two more WorldTour podiums, coming second at La Course by Le Tour de France, and the  Crescent Vårgårda WorldTour Road Race.  And her season finished with a bronze medal at the Road World Championships, after a hard-fought battle with winner Amalie Dideriksen to get on Kirsten Wild’s wheel – making her very definitely one of the top sprinters in the world, and one to watch in every flat finish.
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Our huge thanks to all these riders, and all their team-mates and support staff, all the race organisers and media people, and everyone who helped make the season so great.  We really appreciate you all!
Sarah is funded to do her women’s cycling work thanks to her wonderful Patreon supporters – you can join them over here for as little as €/£/$2 a month.

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