From the fast-finishing flat bunch sprinters to those who excel when an extra challenge is thrown into the race, it was a year of some spectacular sprint results in the women’s peloton.
In 2021, the biggest event on the calendar, the Olympic Games, played into the hands of the climbers, but the sprinters still managed to carve out their own memorable moments.
We've run through them all, from a landmark tally for a cycling great, Marianne Vos, to a perfect strategic sprint from young player Elisa Balsamo to take the rainbow jersey, and more.
Following on from our men's list, we picked out five of the top sprinters this season from among the experienced players, the newcomers and all those in between.
Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma)
Marianne Vos managed a feat that stands out on even her stellar palmares this season, taking a 30th stage win at the Giro d’Italia Donne. It was an achievement that inspired sprinter Mark Cavendish – who was at the time on his way to equalling Eddy Merckx's record 34 stage wins at the Tour de France – to call her “the absolute GOAT” as he paid tribute to her achievement.
Even more staggeringly, those 30 wins came after competing in fewer than 90 stages, which means Vos has won more than one out of every three stages she’s lined up for at the tough Italian stage race.
It’s certainly not the first time the greatest of all time label has been used when it comes to Vos, who excels across different terrains and different disciplines. It is testament to just how impressive her turn of speed is, especially at the end of tough days, when the climbs dispense of many of her speedy rivals.
However she doesn’t exactly do too badly when faced with a full scale bunch sprint on the flat either, which is why she also managed to add another two podium places to her two victories at the Giro d’Italia Donne in 2021.
There were also five other victories for Vos on the road during 2021, including Gent-Wevelgem and the Amstel Gold Race, along with a long list of podium places. Those podiums included two hard fought second places at the Road World Championships and the first ever women's Paris-Roubaix, as the Dutch rider finished her road season before delivering a winning start to the cyclo-cross season.
Elisa Balsamo (Valcar-Travel & Service)
There was so much at stake on the finish line in Leuven, but 23-year-old Elisa Balsamo and her Italian team delivered with level-headed sprint perfection on the uphill finish of the Road World Championships, beating the powerful Dutch team and the phenomenal Vos on terrain that suited her to a tee.
She was not the expected winner, but there was no doubt that Balsamo had already shown considerable promise this season, having taken the top step of the podium ahead of Jolien D’Hoore (SD Worx) and Vos at GP Oetingen earlier in the year, along with a podium place at the sprinters' Classic of Scheldeprijs and a second place at the Grand Prix d'Isbergues.
What’s more, Balsamo didn’t just sit back and enjoy riding around in the rainbow jersey for the final races of the season, going onto take a second place and then a victory in the final stage of the fiercely competitive field of sprinters at The Women’s Tour.
Hopes will now be high for the start of her new season, particularly given the sprinter is moving on from Valcar-Travel & Service this year to ride for Trek-Segafredo in 2022, where she will re-unite with her Italian teammate Elisa Longo Borghini, who played such a crucial role in her Worlds sprint lead-out.
Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM)
The sprinters who excel when it comes to flatter terrain and a large bunch finish may not have always been the centre of attention in a season with an ascent heavy Olympic Games road race and the repetitive climbs on the Flanders Worlds course, but there were still plenty of head-turning performances from that category.
Lorena Wiebes continued to show that she’s a force to be reckoned with as she settled in for her first full season with Team DSM after a mid-2020 season change from Parkhotel-Valkenburg. It wasn’t just the number of wins, a very lucky 13, but there were also some nice additions to the palmares among those victories.
Her first of the season was the sprinters' Classic, Scheldeprijs, and her tally also included two stage wins from her debut at the Giro d’Italia Donne as well as another two at the Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour and the Women’s Tour.
The 22-year-old also won the green jersey in the 6-stage Women’s Tour from a sprinter-packed field hungry for some of the last chances for victory that the season offered. Wiebes went on to finish the season with victory at Ronde van Drenthe, leaving no doubt that the Dutch rider’s stunning breakthrough year of 2019 was far more than a flash in the pan.
Emma Norsgaard (Movistar)
Another young rider who stood out among the sprint field this year was Emma Norsgaard. The Danish rider stepped up to challenge Wiebes more than once, however it was the Dutch woman who most often came out on top, leaving Norsgaard with a season heavily punctuated by second-place finishes.
She did, however, still manage to deliver six victories in 2021, including taking out a tight sprint victory at the Giro d’Italia Donne on stage 6, a win on the first stage of the Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour and two stages at the Festival Elsy Jacobs, along with the overall.
All the close calls left Noorsgard with ten second place in her first season in a Women’s WorldTeam, including two at the Giro d’Italia Donne, and a hard earned sixth place in the prestigious, first-ever women’s Paris Roubaix. The 2021 season was without doubt the young riders best campaign yet, and her regular presence near the front when it counts points to the promise of the seasons ahead.
Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing)
This may have not quite been quite the season that Lotte Kopecky hoped for, with the Belgian national champion clearly focused on the Olympic Games and a home Road World Championships. Even though she didn’t get the victories she wanted at these events, with eight others to her name it was unquestionably the 26-year-old rider’s most successful season.
After an early victory at Le Samyn des Dames, Kopecky then took a stage at the Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour, the Belgian time trial and road race titles along with a stage win and overall victory at the Lotto Belgium Tour. It was on the back of those results that she headed into the all important Olympic Games and World Championships block of racing with high hopes.
She ended up with an impressive fourth on the hilly road race, and had hoped to step up onto the podium on the track but her racing in the velodrome was marred by crashes. On her subsequent return to racing, she took a stage victory at the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta and Trophée des Grimpeuses Vresse-sur-Semois, which meant she headed into a home Road World Championships as one of the favourites. A 16th place finish ensued.
Nevertheless, Kopecky will be heading to SD Worx in 2022 with a strong season on board and a top team around her to help deliver more big results in the coming seasons.
Other memorable sprints and seasons
The list may stop at five but there were certainly plenty of other notable seasons and memorable sprints in 2021– not just from the sprinters.
Some that instantly spring to mind are the photo finish that delivered the win to Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo) after Demi Vollering (SD Worx) celebrated just a little too early at Brabantse Pijl Dames, quickly followed by the Amstel Gold Race where Vollering got half a wheel away from turning the tables on a celebrating Vos.
Then there was also Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria where Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) flipped the order of the top steps from 2020 and beat long time rival Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) in an uphill sprint at the end of a long, rain-soaked battle.
Sprinter Charlotte Kool, who races for NXTG Racing and is heading to Team DSM next year, was among the other sprinters who made her mark this season with the 22-year-old taking the win at Grand Prix d'Isbergues. SD Worx also look to have another strong Dutch rider to continue developing with Lonneke Uneken taking her first professional victory at the Healthy Ageing Tour and then adding two more for the season.
Finally, seasoned sprinter Chloe Hosking may not have delivered a season that put her on the top sprinters list but what she undoubtedly did deliver was an impressive comeback. The Australian wasn't far into her first season with Trek-Segafredo before she caught COVID-19 and then suffered the complication of pericarditis.
After four and a half months away from racing as she recovered Hosking returned at the Ladies Tour of Norway, delivering a stage win at the race before going on to claim another at the Tour Cycliste Feminin International de l'Ardeche and three podium places at the Women's Tour.
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