The highest level of women's professional cycling will assemble for the start of the 2019 Women's WorldTour at Strade Bianche in Siena, Italy on Saturday. It will be the beginning of a 23-event series from March to October that will take fans of the sport on a journey over pavé and mountains, down daring descents and to flat run-ins to the finish lines in 10 countries, and on three continents around the world.
Follow the Women's WorldTour on Cyclingnews for in-depth coverage and analysis of the races, along with our features and news that will highlight the world-class athletes, overall contenders, climbers, rouleurs, time triallists and neo-pros that make up the women's professional peloton.
Many of these athletes are staples among the top 15 teams on the UCI team world ranking. The team ranking, which the sport's governing body published in January, is based on the sum of individual rider points for each team, and this ranking is what determines who will receive automatic invitations to race the UCI Women's WorldTour.
Boels Dolmans topped that list ahead of Mitchelton-Scott, CCC-Liv, Trek-Segafredo, Sunweb, Canyon-SRAM, WNT-Rotor, Team Virtu Cycling, Valcar Cylance Cycling, Movistar, Tibco-SVB, Parkhotel Valkenburg, Ale Cipollini, FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope and Bigla.
Women's cycling has reached a tipping point, whereby there has been an outcry for bigger and better races, more TV time, fairer contracts, and overall improvements to the working conditions for women in the sport. The rate of change, at times, seems slow, but change is happening. The level of athleticism among the peloton, however, has never been higher than it is right now, which will make this year's Women's WorldTour more compelling to follow that it ever has been.
In a peloton that is brimming with world-class cyclists, Cyclingnews highlights just a handful of the names that are sure to stand out during the 2019 Women’s WorldTour.
The overall contenders
There's a very good reason why we chose Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) and Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) as our favourites in the overall contender's department. Not only were they the top three in last year's individual standings on the Women's WorldTour, but they have expressed their intentions to stay at the top of the rankings in 2019.
Van Vleuten, the current time trial world champion, ended the 2018 season in the best possible way: as the number one rider in the world in both the UCI Women's WorldTour and the UCI World Ranking. She earned these positions in large part because of her victories at the Giro Rosa, Lotto Belgium Ladies Tour and La Course, but she also proved herself to be a challenger in the one-day races, which makes her one of the most versatile riders in the peloton.
Van Vleuten secured her second consecutive title in the time trial at the World Championships in Innsbruck but was injured in a crash during the road race. It took three months for her to fully recover, but she showed glimpses of her top form by racing into the top 10 at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend. She will also line up at Strade Bianche for another test of strength before her targetted goals this spring at the Ardennes Classics - Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Much like Van Vleuten, when it comes to the Women's WorldTour, newly crowned road race world champion Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) can do it all. The predictability in her performances comes in the form of winning – mountainous stage races, time trials or Classics - she is always among the list of favourites no matter where she toes the start line. Despite her versatility and capabilities for winning, however, van der Breggen chose to be more selective with her race programme last year, dabbling in mountain biking while targeting one-day races in her quest to win her first world title in the road race in Innsbruck in September. Boels Dolmans have, once again, given her some freedom to design her own race schedule this year, which includes an early season goal of winning Cape Epic with her teammate Annika Langvad. She has already considered skipping her defense of the Tour of Flanders and is unsure if she will compete in the Giro Rosa, a race she has won twice. On her list of targets is the Ardennes Classics triple, a feat she accomplished in 2017, and in doing so would add a record-equalling fifth win at Flèche Wallonne, matching that of Marianne Vos.
Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) has made slow and steady progress back to the top of the sport since her near-two-year hiatus due to injuries and fatigue. The landscape of top contenders has changed dramatically to what it once was, and seemingly gone are the days when Vos can, on a whim, crush an entire peloton at any given moment and on any given terrain. The peloton is simply too competitive and too deep for such exploits in 2019. Vos has had to become more strategic in her approach to victory, which paid off last year in a range of successes on flatter terrain at the Giro Rosa and in Vårgårda, but we were treated to glimpses of the 'old' Vos at the Ladies Tour of Norway, where she won all three stages and the overall title. Vos may not have an outright stake on the Women's WorldTour this year, but look for her to make her mark nonetheless, all in her pursuit of the rainbow jersey at the UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire at the end of the season.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Getty Images)
In addition to Van Vleuten and Van der Breggen, the riders who consistently emerged ahead of the peloton in the mountains last season were Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv), Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott), Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla), and we expect them to continue dominating in the mountains this year.
Some of the most mountainous terrains, however, won't be crossed until later in the spring and summer at the Emakumeen Bira and Tour of California that will include a mountaintop finish on Mt. Baldy, and then the Giro Rosa that will host a summit finish on the Passo di Gavia.
Some riders have tested their legs on climbs in January and February to give us an indication of who to watch in the early races on the Women's WorldTour. At the Women's Tour Down Under, it was Spratt who broke away on stage 2's climb up Mengler Hill, while her teammate Lucy Kennedy and Krista Doebel-Hickok (Rally UHC Cycling) also showed their climbing strengths to finish on the podium.
In Spain a month later, it was newcomer Clara Koppenburg (WNT-Rotor) who surprised even herself to win on the summit of the famed Xorret de Cati, and she claimed the overall title at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana.
The season couldn't have started any better for Dutch champion and world-class rouleur Chantal Blaak after winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, adding that to her series of one-day wins at Amstel Gold, Gent-Wevelgem, Ronde van Drenthe and the World Championships. Van der Breggen is also a champion of the one-day races, but she isn't interested in hoarding all of the potential victories to herself, and would much rather share the wealth among her teammates. Boels-Dolmans have a selection of proven Classics winners, starting with Blaak, and including Amy Pieters. Pieters will be anxious to get back on the road, too, after a successful track campaign where she recently won the world title in the Madison in Poland.
Newly launched team Trek-Segafredo also have a series of rouleurs that will be heavily marked this spring. Time trial specialist Ellen van Dijk tends to use that skill to go on the long-range attack, while Italian Elisa Longo Borghini is probably the team's most notable one-day specialists having won Tour of Flanders, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, and Strade Bianche, all part of the Women's WorldTour. The team are also home to Ruth Winder, who may not be a one-day specialist, but punchy road races and cagey finishes are where she does best, and she showed as much by winning stage 1 from a breakaway at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana.
The peloton should also look out for Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb), who, like Van Dijk, is a powerful time triallist and world-class climber. She is not a rider that tends to be given much leeway in a breakaway for a good reason; it would be near impossible to bring her back before the finish line. The same can be said for Lisa Brennauer, who will line up this year under the colours of WNT-Rotor and plans on improving on a successful 2018 season, when she won the Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour.
The year's La Course by Le Tour de France is set to favour the puncheurs with a classic-style race in Pau, in which many of the one-day specialist will target, particularly considering the last two editions have catered to the climbers, and before that, the sprinters.
A couple of dark horses to watch in the rouleur department are Malgorzata Jasinska, who has the full support of her Movistar team in the Classics and hilly stage races. In addition, Mitchelton-Scott have Georgia Williams and Grace Brown, who are more than capable of stealing a victory.
The sprinters are in abundance and will no doubt provide a spectacle throughout the season when the races are flat and fast. In fact, we have seen a preview of what we can expect from Marta Bastianelli (Team Virtu Cycling), and Letizia Paternoster and Lotta Lepistö (Trek-Segafredo), who have already won bunch sprints a the Women's Tour Down Under, Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and Omloop van Het Hageland and, from that point on, the bunch sprints only get faster.
Add Jolien D'hoore (Boels-Dolmans), Chloe Hosking (Ale Cipollini), Coryn Rivera and Leah Kirchmann (Team Sunweb), Arlenis Sierra (Astana) and Kirsten Wild (WNT-Rotor) to the mix, and you have a mass sprint on your hands.
Not every sprint is the same and, likewise, each of these sprinters has their forte. Never refer to Rivera as being 'just' a sprinter; after all, she's proven her versatility by winning a sprint after a bike throw to the line against Marianne Vos at the OVO Energy Women's Tour [where she also won the GC], and by winning one-day hilly Classics like the Tour of Flanders and Trofeo Alfredo Binda.
In a straight-up sprint based on pure power, it would be wise to put your money on Wild, and watch for her at races like Chongming Island, Prudential Ride London and Madrid Challenge. At the finish line of the cobbled Classics: D’hoore, and look for her at Tour of Flanders or Ronde van Drenthe. In a hilly stage race: Kirchmann, such as at the Giro Rosa, where she once wore the leader's jersey. And, as a wildcard: Sierra. And we can't forget Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM), who can both sprint and climb, which makes her a contender in many of the races on the Women's WorldTour.
Marta Bastianelli (Virtu Cycling) wins Omloop van het Hageland (Getty Images)
The next generation
Last year saw an influx of neo-pros born in 1999 who are just getting their start on the world-class stage. During their first few seasons, many of them will gain the strength and experience they need to race for victories on the Women's WorldTour.
The brightest talents to come out of last season were Sofia Bertizzolo (Astana), who won the overall youth classification for the Women's WorldTour. While racing for Astana, she won the best young rider category at the Giro Rosa and placed in the top 10 at Flèche Wallonne and a stage at the Boels Ladies Tour.
With the likes of Liane Lippert, Pernille Mathiesen, Susanne Andersen and Pfeiffer Georgi (all Team Sunweb), Jeanne Korevaar (CCC Liv), Lisa Klein (Canyon-SRAM), Elisa Balsamo (Valcar), Abby-Mae Parkinson (Drops), Aafke Soet (WNT-Rotor), Elena Pirrone (Astana), or Paternoster, the future of the Women’s WorldTour is looking bright.
2019 UCI Women's WorldTour calendar
March 9: Strade Bianche (Italy)
March 17: Women’s WorldTour Ronde Van Drenthe (Netherlands)
March 24: Trofeo Binda – Comune di Cittiglio (Italy)
March 28: Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne- (Belgium)
March 31: Gent Wevelgem in Flanders Fields (Belgium)
April 7: Ronde van Vlaanderen / Tour des Flandres (Belgium)
April 21: Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition (Netherlands)
April 24: La Flèche Wallonne Féminine (Belgium)
April 28: Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes (Belgium)
May 9-11: Tour of Chongming Island UCI Women’s WorldTour (China)
May 16-18: Amgen Tour of California Women’s RaceWomen’s Race empowered with SRAM (United States)
May 22-25: WWT Emakumeen XXXII. Bira (Spain)
June 12-16: OVO Energy Womens Tour (Great Britain)
July 5-14: Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile (Italy)
July 23 (to be confirmed) : La Course by Le Tour de France (France)
August 3: Prudential RideLondon Classique (Great Britain)
August 16: Postnord UCI WWT Vårgårda WestSweden TTT (Sweden)
August 18: Postnord UCI WWT Vårgårda WestSweden RR (Sweden)
August 22-25: Ladies Tour of Norway (Norway)
August 31: GP de Plouay – Lorient Agglomération (France)
September 3-8: Boels Ladies Tour (Netherlands)
September 14-15: WNT Madrid Challenge by la Vuelta (Spain)
October 20: Tour of Guangxi Women’s WorldTour (China).