The finest female road cyclists are beginning their season Down Under. While Richie Porte and his Aussie compatriots welcomed the men in Adelaide with the first event of the 2020 UCI WorldTour (https://www.uci.org/road/news/2020/young-talents-shine-down-under), the female peloton is gearing up for an early start to the 2020 UCI Women’s WorldTour season in Geelong, with the promotion of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (February 1st) to the highest level of road racing.
Previously a 1.1 race, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race is set to be the first UCI Women’s WorldTour event organised in Oceania as the 2020 series will take the elite of the peloton to three continents. From Australia in early February all the way to China in October and with a substantial part of the season to be raced in Europe, the riders will face 21 events (15 one-day races and six stage races) featuring an important variety of profiles which will test and display the full range of their talents in the fifth edition of the UCI Women’s WorldTour.
As the very first challenge of the season, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race will provide an interesting early view on the top contenders’ condition after the winter break. In the previous five editions, intense racing has always favoured fast and resilient riders with victories for the local figures Rachel Neylan (in 2015), the recent Australian National Champion Amanda Spratt (2016) and Chloe Hosking (2018). The Dutchwoman Annemiek van Vleuten (2017) and the Cuban Arlenis Sierra (2019) are the other previous winners.
The first UCI Women’s WorldTeams
With van Vleuten riding for Mitchelton-Scott, an Australian background seems to help those pursuing success around Geelong. A strong peloton has already been able to enrich their Aussie background in 2020 with the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under dominated by Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo) ahead of Liane Lippert (Team Sunweb) and Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott).
The trio of riders represent three of the UCI Women’s WorldTeams, a top tier of teams introduced in 2020 as part of the reform of women’s road cycling and its professionalisation. The other five UCI Women’s WorldTeams are Ale’ BTC Ljubljana, Canyon // SRAM Racing, CCC-Liv, FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope and Movistar Team Women.
The UCI Women’s WorldTour licences are a new step for the series, which has grown each year since the first edition in 2016. The UCI Women’s WorldTour had quite the North American accent that year, with USA’s Megan Guarnier winning the overall standings ahead of Canada’s Leah Kirchmann. But the battle at the pinnacle of road racing has since turned into a Dutch affair, with successive Oranje triumphs from Anna van der Breggen (2017), Annemiek van Vleuten (2018) and Marianne Vos (2019).
All three of them have also claimed UCI World Champion titles on the road and their compatriot Lorena Wiebes can dream of emulating them after a breakthrough 2019 season at UCI Women’s WorldTour level: the 20-year-old Dutch sprinter dominated the overall Best Young Rider standings in 2019 thanks to a consistent presence on the podiums, including absolute dominance in the 2019 Tour of Chongming Island UCI Women’s World Tour (winning all three stages and the overall victory) and an impressive display of raw power at the RideLondon Classique. In the Women Elite rankings, only the iconic Marianne Vos and the 2019 road race UCI World Champion van Vleuten stood in front of Wiebes.
More talent on the rise
The future looks bright for Dutch cycling but youngsters from many other nations are also fighting their way up the ladder. Italians such as Valcar Cylance Cycling pair Marta Cavalli and Elisa Balsamo (both 21 years old), as well as Sofia Bertizzolo (22) have already offered enticing glimpses of their talents on the road. Their compatriot Letizia Paternoster (20), riding for Trek-Segafredo, is another big hope on the rise. With a strong track background for most of them, let’s see how they balance their ambitions in an Olympic year.
Denmark’s Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope) is still only 24 years old and keeps on improving since breaking through as the Best Young Rider in the 2017 UCI Women’s WorldTour. And the Pole Katarzyna Niewiadoma (25, Canyon // SRAM Racing), her predecessor atop the same ranking in 2016, is back at it after a strong season that saw her dominate the Dutch women in the Amstel Gold Race.
These riders and their rivals from all around the world will be eager to make the most of this Olympic year. The thirst for victory is hard to extinguish and it can hit strong and early. Just ask Megan Jastrab. The young American who won the Women Junior UCI World titles in the road race and on the track (Madison and Omnium) will turn 18 at the end of January and feels ready to challenge her elders. Watch out for another season of fast and furious racing at the UCI Women’s WorldTour with many champions who can’t wait to shine!