A new set of juniors enters the pro peloton each season. There is no U23 level for women riders, so riders come out of the junior ranks straight into riding against experienced veterans. It’s a tough learning curve and not every rider lives up to the potential shown in juniors. It’s not uncommon for a hyped junior to sign for a major team, get sidelined behind established riders and have to move down to hopefully move back to the highest levels again.
There are some instant successes though. Lorena Wiebes is a prime example, still only 22 years old, she’s established herself as the top sprinter in the women’s peloton. Elisa Balsamo is only 23 (turning 24 in February) and became World Champion in Flanders last season. Other riders look like solid bets to be the future generation already, Niamh Fisher-Black, Sarah Gigante and Evita Muzic look set to be the biggest climbing stars.
I’ve tried to avoid some of the more obvious choices like those mentioned in the last paragraph. We already know they’re good! So with that in mind, I’ve ruled out any rider who has won a WorldTour race, otherwise, a rider like Franziska Koch would certainly be on this list. Again, we know they’re pretty good already. There is also a list of riders at the end of the post that are on the watchlist. Most have just come out of the juniors and expecting them to make instant impacts is probably unfair. Some may do though, so keep an eye out just in case!
Top 5 Women Riders to Breakout in 2022
These 5 riders are names that should already stand out to fans of women’s cycling. They all had good results in 2021 and made us take note but haven’t necessarily taken a big win yet.
Amber van der Hulst
The former Parkhotel Valkenburg rider did everything but win in 2021. A whole hoard of top-10 results, including a pair of them at WWT level. Liv Racing Xstra saw her talent and she’ll have to step into the shoes of Lotte Kopecky. With a top-notch team around her this season, I’m expecting Amber van der Hulst to take that maiden win, then a maiden Women’s WorldTour win and fully break out as a top sprinter for years to come.
Smith joined TIBCO as a stagiaire for the latter part of the 2021 season. The 19 year old impressed immediately with 17th in GC at the Ceratizit Challenge. That was largely off the back of an impressive uphill time trial in which she was 15th. She carried that through with 7th in the TT in Atherstone. There is the genuine promise that Smith can do well in short stage races with a time trial element. She can use that ability against the clock to gain GC places and back that up with solid positions on other stages.
Yet another talent to come from Parkhotel Valkenburg. Bredewold ticked off her first win in 2021 at the Baloise Ladies Tour from a small breakaway. The trio of riders was able to just about hold off the chasing peloton and Bredewold showed she’s tactically spot-on to take the win. She was 8th on the Kapelmuur stage of the Lotto Belgium Tour and consistent in finishing 11th at the Simac Ladies Tour. It feels like she’ll be a great one-day racer with maybe also enough of a time trial to factor in the GC during stage races too.
Still only 22, Marit Raaijmakers has been racing for Parkhotel Valkenburg for 4 seasons before joining Human Powered Health for 2022. She made people take notice by winning the GC at the U23 Watersley Womens Challenge race. Accomplished by also winning Stage 1 with a long break as part of a pair. She really began to shine towards the end of the 2021 season. The challenge for her in 2022 is to begin to achieve more of those results at higher race levels, building on her 13th place at the 1.Pro Giro dell’Emilia.
Realini made women’s cycling take notice of her during the 2021 Giro Donne. She hadn’t been particularly hyped coming through the junior ranks, so it came as shock to most. On the 2nd stage in Italy, a major mountain finished to Prato Nevoso, Realini finished 6th ahead of big names like Garcia, Spratt, Labous, Merino, Koppenburg and more! Then she was 9th in the uphill TT before losing more time across the 10 stages, finishing 11th Overall. She’s stayed with the smaller Italian team Isolmant-Premac-Vittoria for another season and is still a regular on the cyclocross scene too. Hopefully, she’ll use another year as GC leader before making the step up to the Women’s WorldTour in 2023.
13 Women’s Riders to Watch in 2022
After 4 seasons at Valcar, Malcotti has been snapped up by Human Powered Health for their first season in the Women’s WorldTour. She’s shown talent as a climber on punchy one-day races, finishing 8th on the steep finishing climb at the Giro dell’Emilia and 4th at Tre Valli Varesine. Malcotti was 4th in the hilly Junior World Champs in Innsbruck back in 2018 and seems to now be displaying that talent in the pro peloton. Apart from the Italian races, you’d think that there’s an outside chance of becoming a great rider for the Ardennes classics and Fleche Wallonne in particular.
Shirin van Anrooij
Shirin was a strong time trialist coming out of juniors and joined Trek Segafredo as a stagiaire in 2020. She was 4th in GC at the Czech Tour de Feminin in 2021 and was knocking around the top-20 at the following WWT races in Norway and San Sebastian. It’s the current cyclocross season where it looks like Van Anrooij has made a big jump. She won the Gullegem C2, Iowa C1 and the European U23 races and has been a consistent regular in the top-10. Her best result in a World Cup race is 4th and if she can carry that form into the road season, we should be seeing a standout result in 2022.
Julia van Bokhoven
With Dutch riders dominating women’s cycling, it’s no surprise that there are more young Dutch riders coming through. Van Bokhoven didn’t set the world alight at the junior level but joining Parkhotel Valkenburg in 2021 has had some encouraging results. She was 25th at Amstel Gold and 28th at Trofeo Alfredo Binda within her first couple of major races. The last but one ascent of the Cauberg saw her distanced but she was the last member of her team left at that point. At Alfredo Binda, Van Bokhoven was in the main peloton and could’ve even snuck into the top-20 with a stronger sprint.
After just 1 year at Arkea, Kerbaol will be racing for the new Cofidis team in 2022. The former junior French national champion was a longshot tip of mine at La Perigord, the first race after the Covid shutdown, and was 7th. 2021 saw more success at the national championship level, winning the U23 TT and finishing 3rd in the Elite TT. Then right at the end of the year, Kerbaol was 4th at GP Beerens. All that despite having Covid during the year. Heading into 2022, the promise is there for a big result.
In contrast to Julia Van Bokhoven, Lieke Nooijen did have some great junior results, including 3rd in the World Championships at Harrogate. She wasn’t picked up immediately by a pro team and spent 2020 racing for WV Schijndel. After finishing 28th at Tour de l’Ardeche, Parkhotel Valkenburg picked her up. She hit the ground running in 2021 with 7th in GC at the Baloise Ladies Tour, after a decent time trial, that saw her finish ahead of Kasia Niewiadoma and Elisa Balsamo. I’m hoping that we will start to see Nooijen in the classics more in 2022.
I thought Silvia Zanardi might’ve been picked up a Women’s WorldTour team for 2022 but she remains at BePink for another season. The sprinter won the European U23 road race this year before finishing 3rd at GP Fourmies and impressively 5th at the Giro dell’Emilia. The latter result showed that she’s possibly more in the Vos mould of a sprinter, with a decent punch for short, steep uphill finishes too. BePink will have a relatively limited calendar but should certainly be at the Giro Donne. It’d be great to see her regularly in the mix for stage wins there and throughout the season.
Marie Le Net
Le Net was the best French time trialist coming out of the junior ranks and was 2nd in the Worlds behind Laura Stigger in Innsbruck. She’s been at FDJ Women ever since, along with a decent track programme too. At the start of 2020, she was looking good on the track, finishing 2nd in the Madison at the Track World Champs (and again in 2021). When the season resumed after lockdown she was a regular in the breaks at the Tour de l’Ardeche before finishing 2nd and 3rd at the French National U23 races. In 2021, Le Net was 8th at the Lotto Belgium Tour, including 9th on the Muur van Geraardsbergen. Other results showed she can be a talent on lots of stages with rolling terrains with the potential for a race win in the 2022 season.
I hyped Camilla Alessio going into the 2021 season after she’d finished 8th Overall and 1st Youth at the Tour de l’Ardeche in 2020. She didn’t quite match those heights but had good showings at the GP de Chambery (16th) and Dwars door de Westhoek (12th) early in the year before finishing 5th at the Italian National Championships. 52nd at the Giro Donne wasn’t quite in the script but 9th at a home U23 European Championships restored faith. I originally thought Alessio might be a future GC talent but I think instead she might be a punchy climber, where a race like Trofeo Alfredo Binda will ultimately suit her. Ceratizit-WNT has signed her for 2 years and will be one of the strongest climbers on their team.
Brit Josie Nelson started the road season riding for Isorex where her finishes in Belgian crits were making teams take notice. Coop-Hitec signed her and after Nelson took her first WWT top-10 in Banbury at the Women’s Tour and 2nd in the British National Championships have signed for 2 more years. A cyclocross regular, she has dominated British C2 races and her results on the continental have been steadily improving too. 7th at the Leuven C2 and 10th at the European U23 Champs shows that even in the off-season Nelson is continually impressing. Only 19 years old, she’s on a great team that will give her plenty of chances to get results for herself over the next 2 years.
Rüegg is onto her 3rd team in 3 years as her talent has taken her to the Women’s WorldTour. 6th in the Junior Worlds in Harrogate, that persuaded Cogeas Mettler to take her on for 2020. The Covid affected season didn’t see any standout results though and she found a new team for 2021 – Stade Rochelais. The past season she had a really impressive Setmana Ciclista Valenciana. 3 top-10s and 5th Overall made her stand out as a climbing all-rounder. Now at Jumbo Visma she’ll partly support Marianne Vos but should get chances in plenty of races. She’s possibly the team’s best climber on paper for the 2022 season.
Another rider to get snapped up by a Women’s WorldTour team is Léa Curinier, who’ll be joining Team DSM in 2022. She’s one of the many riders on this list to have finished in the top-10 at the Harrogate Junior Worlds and was the French junior TT champ in 2019. In the 2020 season, Curinier showed her prowess on the tough climbing at the Tour de l’Ardeche to finish 20th in GC. That rolled through to 2021 where 15th at the Thüringen Ladies Tour against big names drew attention. There’s not been the big highlight result compared to some others on this list yet but DSM has clearly spotted the talent.
We saw that Wilma Olausson was great at junior level, with top-10s at the Junior Worlds TT, Trofeo Binda & Gent Wevelgem before winning the Watersley Challenge. Team DSM saw that and took her on board. She didn’t get to race in 2020 until late August and her small season still saw her finish in the top-10 at both European U23 Championship races. She repeated that in the TT in 2021 but other strong results weren’t really there. Breaking her collarbone late in the season and missing the World Championships wasn’t helpful either. I’m hoping for a resurgence in 2022 now that she’s moved to the new team Uno-X, where she should feel right at home.
Schmid has just turned 19 but massively impressed those who saw her race in 2021. She took stage wins at the non-UCI Rás na mBan in Ireland and just missed out on the Junior National Champs. Teammate Makayla MacPherson just pipped her there. Then at the World Championships in Flanders, Kaia Schmid made everyone take notice. A head to head sprint against Zoe Backstedt was a super close-run thing. It’ll be interesting to see how Schmid’s diminutive size compares to the likes of Wiebes and Balsamo. However, Coryn Labecki has shown you can achieve plenty of successes in sprints as a smaller rider.
Other Riders to Watch in 2022 and Beyond
- Linda Riedmann
- Elise Uijen
- Francesca Barale
- Alena Ivanchenko
- Anniina Ahtosalo
- Eluned King
- Gaia Masetti
- Elena Pirrone
- Frances Janse van Rensburg
- Magdeleine Vallieres Mill
- Karolina Kumiega
- Makayla MacPherson