The inaugural edition of the Women's WorldTour and the Rio Olympics provided plenty of motivation for emerging talents in the women's peloton to prove themselves in 2016.
Cyclingnews highlights eight of the biggest breakout riders of 2016.
Chantal Blaak, 27 (Boels-Dolmans)
Chantal Blaak, who turned 27 in October, had delivered a few notable career results coming into 2016 but she established herself as one of the riders to beat this year with a brilliant spring. Carving out a role for yourself with Lizzie Armitstead as a teammate at Boels-Dolmans isn't easy but Blaak muscled her way into the mix on multiple occasions in the one-day races.
After delivering a second-place ride behind Armitstead at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Blaak opened her account by defending her Les Samyn title before nabbing a narrow WorldTour win at the Ronde van Drenthe. But she proved that to be more than a one-time occurrence two weeks later with a dominant ride at Gent-Wevelgem, and went on to podium at the Tour of Flanders behind Armitstead.
Ultimately finishing fourth on the Women's WorldTour rankings, Blaak broke through in style in 2016.
Megan Guarnier, 31 (Boels-Dolmans)
Megan Guarnier wasn't an unknown heading into the 2016 season, having gradually built a strong resume through the end of 2015 that included a podium finish, a stage win, and the points jersey at the Giro Rosa and a bronze medal at the World Championships in Richmond that year. However the American took a quantum leap forward in 2016, proving herself the dominant rider on the Women's WorldTour in its inaugural season.
Guarnier stormed through the American leg of the series, taking the overall classification in California and the one-day win in Philadelphia before claiming her biggest prize yet with the Giro Rosa's pink jersey. Those results and others put her squarely atop the WorldTour rankings, with little sign of letting up in sight for the years to come.
Her surge to the top of the sport's top echelon comes at just the right time for American women's cycling, too. Several other top names may be retiring, but the U.S. scene is in good hands with Guarnier leading the way.
Lepistö herself could be forgiven for viewing 2016 as a year of what-ifs, given her podium performances in La Course, the Crescent Vargarda road race, and at the Worlds in Doha, but hers was a breakthrough season nonetheless.
The 27-year-old Finn has versatility in spades, with a fast finish, decent climbing legs to handle a uphill finish, and the power to deliver a solid time trial. That impressive array of skills may not have netted her the big WorldTour one-day or rainbow jersey she was seeking, but it did land her a fine collection of results that included an Aviva Women's Tour stage win and national titles in both the TT and the road race, among others. It's not hard to see the bigger results rolling in sooner rather than later.
Arlenis Sierra, 24 (Cuba)
Cuba's Arlenis Sierra, who turned 24 in December, came into the season as a known contender in smaller Latin American races and the Pan American championships. She proved in limited action against stiffer competition to be more than capable of holding her own.
She shined as a climber, a sprinter, and a time trialist en route to a third overall and a stage victory at the newly upgraded UCI 2.1 women's Tour de San Luis. Then she dominated the Vuelta Internacional Femenina a Costa Rica with overall victory and two stage wins. She did the very same thing at the Tour de Bretagne Feminin.
If she continues to progress, Sierra could find herself contending in practically any race she starts, given her true all-rounder's skill set.
Skylar Schneider, 18 (ISCorp p/b Smart Choice MRI)
Turning 18 in September, Schneider stepped forward as one of the USA's most promising prospects in recent memory at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar. A third place in the American Junior time trial championship in 2015 may have hinted at Schneider's talent but she more than exceeded expectations on the world stage, claiming fourth in the individual time trial in Doha and then very nearly winning gold in the road race just behind Italy's Elsa Balsamo.
Third behind her older sister Samantha on the US Pro Road Tour means she has already enjoyed plenty of success racing against seasoned veterans on the American criterium circuit. We can expect to see her soon racking up wins abroad as well.
A successful trackie and champion of her home country of Poland in either the road race or time trial the last three years, Bujak gave BTC City Ljubljana a fighting shot all throughout the season with a packed racing calendar.
Consistently finding herself in the mix late on in races, she stepped up at the end of the summer with an impressive campaign at La Route de France, taking two stages and third overall.
She followed that up with something even more impressive; claiming her first career Women's WorldTour win at the GP de Plouay-Bretagne, out-sprinting a very impressive select group of late attackers.
After that big win, Bujak should have the confidence to deliver more moving forward.
Oliviera gave home fans in Rio something to cheer about this summer, delivering a seventh-place finish in the women's road race. What's more she admirably represented Brazil abroad, with overall success at the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l'Ardèche and second at the Tour of Poland among her many notable successes.
It took a bit of time for Oliveira to deliver a full season of consistent results – she turned 35 in October – but pairing her wealth of experience with a flexible toolset, she put herself into the mix in one race after another this season. Assuming she stays motivated next season without an Olympic event in her backyard, she should continue to find herself in contention on the international scene.
Amalie Dideriksen, 20 (Boels-Dolmans)
When the dominant team in women's cycling signs you as an 18-year-old, it's probably a good sign that you're destined for big things. But who would have guessed Amalie Dideriksen would win a world title in only her second year as a professional?
Towards the end of a relatively quiet year spent in the shadow of large-looming Boels-Dolmans riders like Guarnier, Armitstead, and Blaak, the Dane showed her strong late-season form with a Boels Rental stage win before stunning the world in Qatar.
Given a chance to ride for herself in a hotly contested sprint, she bested some of the speediest women in the world.
There's no shortage of talent to battle of for opportunities at Boels-Dolmans, but expect the rainbow jersey to get her chances next season after proving she's already capable of bringing home the hardware.
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