Nobody who followed women’s road cycling in 2019 can detract from the amazing performances of Marianne Vos, who proved she was back in top shape by taking the overall win in the UCI Women’s WorldTour ranking. She preceded the amazing Annemiek van Vleuten, whose subsequent gutsy solo ride to victory at the UCI Road World Championships will long be remembered.
Both these athletes are from the Netherlands and have been at the top of the game for a long time, drawing not only on their pure talent and physical prowess, but also their years of experience in the women’s professional peloton.
But third in this year’s UCI Women’s WorldTour individual ranking and winner of the series’ Young Rider classification was another Dutch rider Lorena Wiebes. At 20 years old, she is 12 years younger than Vos and 17 years younger than van Vleuten but already one of the best sprinters in the world.
Her victory in the Junior road race at the 2017 European Championships was a definite springboard onto the international scene. In 2018 she signed her first professional contract with UCI Women’s Team Parkhotel Valkenburg, and sprinted to victory in several races registered on the UCI International Calendar.
But it was this year the world really started to sit up and take notice. After a slow start, with a crash in the Class 1.1 Omloop het Nieuwsblad – Vrouwen Elite (BEL) and another DNF in the Women’s WorldTour Ronde van Drenthe (NED) where she suffered from the cold, the young rider’s season really got going three days later with victory at the Danilith Nokere Koerse voor Dames, a Class 1.1 event.
Wiebes went on to finish second in the UCI Women’s WorldTour events Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields and Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne (both behind another Dutch sprinting great Kirsten Wild) before winning a stage in the Tour de Yorkshire, sweeping all three stages and the overall in the Tour of Chongming Island UCI Women’s World Tour, and topping Marianne Vos to win the road race at the European Games (BEL) and the Dutch road race title. She also won the Prudential RideLondon Classique (GBR) and stages in the BeNe Tour (BEL), Ladies Tour of Norway and Boels Ladies Tour (NED).
All of them were won from a bunch sprint. “I’m a friendly, relaxed person, but on the bike I’m totally different, most of all in the finals,” reflects Wiebes. You have to keep your position so you’re not always nice to other people. But for me there’s a limit so I don’t go crazy.”
Her favourite sprints are the ones that are slightly uphill, and it is that situation that led to nearly all her victories this year. But it was her three consecutive victories in the Chinese stage race which were a turning point: “In Chongming I started my own sprints most of the time. That changed my other races later in the season because I knew that when I start the sprint, it’s better than when you wait for the others.”
Throughout the UCI Women’s WorldTour season, the UCI Women’s WorldTour Young Rider’s jersey went back and forth between Wiebes and Italian Marta Cavalli, at 21, one year older than the eventual winner of the Youth Ranking. Cavalli is an accomplished road and track cyclist and in 2018, at the age of 20, she became Italian Champion in the road race.
Wiebes explains: “The UCI Women’s WorldTour Young Rider’s jersey was not a goal because I didn’t know how far I could go in the WorldTour races. But it became more of a goal during the season because Cavalli and I switched the jersey all the time. It was a really nice fight for the jersey.”
She had a great year, but Lorena Wiebes is already looking to do better in 2020: “I’d like to improve my climbing skills… so it takes less energy to come over the climbs. I would like to do more WorldTour races and hope to take the UCI Women’s WorldTour Young Rider’s jersey again.”