In 2021, women’s road cycling was rather monochrome. The Oranges left only crumbs to their competitors with fourteen victories in eighteen races contested in the Women’s World Tour (WWT), the elite circuit.
At the start of the “first” Tour de France Women (from July 24 to 31), the Dutch formed the largest contingent with twenty-nine riders out of the one hundred and forty-four entered (20% of the peloton), and one of they advance as the big favourite: Annemiek van Vleuten. The leader of the Spanish formation Movistar has just won two stages and the general classification of the Giro Donne, the Tour of Italy, at the beginning of July.
However, this unchallenged domination seems about to go out of fashion. The case may seem paradoxical. Since the start of the season, the Batavians have indeed continued to monopolize the podiums – seventeen out of the possible forty – and already total a third of the victories.
“It’s not easy to winhowever, conceded Annemiek van Vleuten after her coronation on the “doyenne”, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, on April 24. The level is rising, and there are more and more girls, countries and teams capable of winning. It is a sign of the development of women’s cycling. »
The best rider in the International Cycling Union (UCI) ranking in 2021 speaks from experience. During her classic campaign, these one-day spring races, she was deprived of a success on the Strade bianche, in Tuscany, and a double at the Tour of Flanders. The guilty ? The Belgian Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx), often compared to her compatriot Wout van Aert, for her power in the sprint and her versatility.
But the main threat comes from Italy with a young generation embodied by the reigning world champion, Elisa Balsamo. In Leuven (Belgium), in 2021, the Piedmontese had put an end to four years of Dutch reign.
Her teammate and compatriot at Trek-Segrafedo, Elisa Longo Borghini, now feels less alone fighting against the “oranje” armada, who had six of the nine transalpine podiums in the Women’s World Tour last season, including two victories (on the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Grand-Prix de Plouay).
Teams more important than nationalities
In 2022, the Azzurre have therefore already offered themselves seven elite races: Elisa Longo Borghini distinguished herself in Paris-Roubaix and the Women’s Tour, Elisa Balsamo, meanwhile, made the pass of three by winning the Alfredo Binda Trofeo, the Classic Bruges-La Panne and Gent-Wevelgem, while Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine) scored her first World Tour victories with the Amstel Gold Race-La Flèche wallonne double.
These last few months have taken on the appearance of a Netherlands-Italy match. “There are indeed differences in levels between nations”, recognizes the director general of the International Cycling Union (UCI), Amina Lanaya. But the gap is tending to narrow.
Especially since the Batavian model, which offers a program at grassroots level, is the objective to be followed for the various national federations. There, the club culture is very strong, from an early age, creating a certain emulation and promoting the emergence of talent. Between the ages of 8 and 15, boys and girls run together, although girls are integrated into the lower age group.
“Cycling is the national sport there. Children want to ride a bike, because they see it on TV all the time, because cycling is also part of their way of lifedevelops Marion Rousse, former professional cyclist and director of the Tour de France Women. Inevitably, this creates a larger pool than in France, for example. »
Having as many women on bikes as men is not without consequence on the perception of women’s cycling. As early as the 1970s, a prize for the Dutch female runner of the year – the Keetie van Oosten-Hage Trophy – was even created. “I am very proud to come from a progressive country that gives equal opportunities to men and women. I think we have shown with Dutch women’s cycling that we are professionals.”advanced Van Vleuten after his world title in the time trial in 2018.
“It is more the formations today that play than the nationalitybelieves Marion Rousse. We see it with Trek-Segafredo: they do not make a distinction with men. They’re way ahead of development and I think that’s contributed to those performances. » From 2021, the American team was the first to align the minimum salary for women with that for men in the elite division (40,045 euros per year).
“Equal rights is the direction to take to give the possibility of transcending oneself”explain to World the general manager of the Trek-Segafredo, Luca Guercilena. Within the training, the twenty-nine men and fourteen women share everything: structure, equipment, logistics.
“Putting athletes in optimal preparation situations, without financial anguish and with the right equipment, allows them to focus 100% on the race”, continues the Italian. See you in a week, at the end of the Tour de France Women, to see how it will have worn Elisa Longo Borghini, or Elisa Balsamo.