Procycling's Review of the Year: Best female rider

Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen and Elisa Longo Borghini on the Worlds podium in 2020
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Procycling magazine's team select their highlights of the 2020 season, with the best female rider.

Procycling's Review of the Year issue is out to buy now.

Edward Pickering, Procycling magazine editor

Anna van der Breggen was the most successful rider in the women’s peloton, with wins in the Giro Femminile and Flèche Wallonne, plus both rainbow jerseys on the road.

However, it’s not as clear cut as all that - Van der Breggen rode her luck at the Giro Rosa. She was some distance behind Annemiek van Vleuten, who crashed out midway through and left the way clear for Van der Breggen to win. If that crash hadn’t happened, Van Vleuten would probably have won, to add to earlier wins in, well, everything between Omloop and Strade Bianche, and I’d be busy trying to compare apples and oranges.

Watching Van der Breggen and Van Vleuten each being the best rider in the world at different points over the last few seasons has been like watching a very long and very even rally at deuce in a tennis match. But there was one moment where Van der Breggen clearly won advantage point this season. At the Tour of Flanders, she might not have won, but she made Van Vleuten lose by marking her out of the race while her teammate Chantal van den Broeck-Blaak rode away to victory. As Iris Murdoch wrote in The Black Prince, it is not enough to succeed; others must fail.

I’d have loved to watch Van der Breggen and Van Vleuten smash each other to pieces on the Kwaremont and Paterberg, but that’s how cycling works. Maybe next year.

Sophie Hurcom, Procycling magazine deputy editor

Anna van der Breggen’s historic double at the World Championships is one of the achievements of the season, and for that it’s hard to see beyond her for the title of top rider. After she won her first road rainbow jersey in 2018, you got the impression the Dutchwoman took her foot off the accelerator and was winding down. Her announcement in May this year that she was going to retire at the end of 2021 exacerbated that feeling. Yet behind the scenes Van der Breggen had lost none of the motivation, in fact, the lockdown in spring only pushed her determination more to target one of the few races missing from her palmares; the TT world title. 

The fact that only one other rider, male or female, has ever won both the world time trial and road race in the same championships - France’s Jeannie Longo in 1995 - showcases how difficult a feat it is. Van der Breggen first demonstrated her ability to keep her cool and win the time trial, having asked her DS to not even give her time checks during the race so she could concentrate on her own effort. Two days later she soloed away from the peloton with 41km to go to win her second rainbow jersey.

In total, she won eight races, the most of any rider this year. Among her other victories was stage race Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, the National road and European time trial titles and a third pink jersey win at the Giro Rosa. Then there’s her continued dominance at Flèche Wallonne; Van der Breggen’s streak of six consecutive victories here is incomparable to any other record in the sport in recent decades. 

A special mention also goes to Elisa Longo Borghini, who was another of my top riders this year. As well as winning a first Giro Rosa stage (on her ninth start in the race), the Italian national TT and road race and playing an MVP role in Lizzie Deignan’s wins at La Course and GP Plouay, her consistency was remarkable; 28 race starts, 20 top 10 results, 13 in the top five.

Adam Becket, Procycling magazine staff writer

It seems like a long time ago now, but after her victory at Strade Bianche in August, Annemiek van Vleuten had won six races in a row, beginning with her World Championships win last year. She seemed unstoppable, with the break in the season not affecting her form one bit. 

Strade Bianche, where she hunted down Maví Garcia to take the win, was classic Van Vleuten, bridging across to the Spanish rider before attacking her on the climb up to the Piazza del Campo. Once Van Vleuten has gone, she has gone. Her win at the European Championships was stunning as well, sprinting from a long way out to triumph over Elisa Longo Borghini, winning the European title at her first attempt. 

The Dutchwoman was again imperious at the Giro Rosa, before she unfortunately crashed and fractured her wrist - there seems little doubt that she would have won her third consecutive maglia rosa were it not for the accident, which also hampered her at the World Championships a week later.

For any other rider, one would imagine that a fracture wrist would be enough to dissuade her from taking to the startline to defend her world title, but Van Vleuten is no ordinary rider. Riding with a strapped up arm, she attacked to help set up her compatriot Anna van der Breggen for victory, and still managed to attack again and hang on for a silver medal. One would imagine that was a disappointment for the rapacious Dutchwoman, but to help Van Der Breggen win and come second in the Worlds, with a broken wrist, was some achievement. 

2021 will be a new start for Van Vleuten, racing for Movistar, but you cannot rule the 38 year-old out of continuing her golden streak of one-day wins.

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