Each year, a new crop of young women riders enter the pro peloton. With no U23 level for women’s cycling, those riders go straight from junior racing into senior racing with a sink or swim moment. Some are never able to progress, the jump being so great that if they don’t achieve great things early then they struggle for future contracts. Conversely some are so hyped that they join major teams early but don’t get the chance to race for themselves with stronger riders on the team. With money an issue for half of the women’s peloton, some riders simply aren’t able to devote years to proper development.
Some however, take to it quickly and get results early on. Lorena Wiebes is a prime example, still only 21 years old, she’s established herself as the top sprinter in the women’s peloton. Elisa Balsamo is only 22 and also a confirmed great sprint talent too.
The riders on this list vary in where they’re at in their careers. The ones at the top of the list are already fairly established but we could see them win more in 2021 and kick up a level. Then there’s the hyped riders who haven’t achieved the notoriety of the first bunch but have shown something of note. A small section on cyclocross talent as they look to repeat what they’ve achieved on rough surfaces onto the road after a couple of high-profile men’s successes. Finally, a section of riskier selections, these riders have shown talent but might be a year or two away from the genuinely big result. We might start seeing them win at 1.1. or 1.2 level in 2021 though.
The Established Names
Young Kiwi Mikayla Harvey already pretty much broke out in 2020. She’s on this list though because she’s only won one race in her pro career – the TT in the 2019 Tour de Bretagne. After finishing 5th Overall in the 2020 Giro Rosa, she’s shown her class and I’m backing her to secure a maiden WorldTour victory in 2021. She’s got the potential to go from being highly thought of to a genuine star of the sport.
Only 20 years old but Gigante is already an Australian Road and TT National Champion. She outclimbed established climber Lucy Kennedy in the Herald Sun Tour early in 2020. Gigante then went toe to toe with Ashleigh Moolman on the virtual Ventoux stage of the Zwift Tour de France. Hopefully 2021 gives Gigante the race more for Team TIBCO and a big American or European race win is surely on the cards.
Consonni is another rider who has already achieved some good results. She’s ticked off the maiden WorldTour win in 2019, beating Wiebes in a sprint at the Boels Ladies Tour. Even in 2020, she was 3rd at GP de Plouay and 4th whilst leading out Elisa Balsamo in Madrid. What I’d love to see is Consonni push on and get more consistently high results so she’s talked about in the same breath as Lorena Wiebes. Especially as her shrieks of delight during race finishes are amazing!
Novolodskaya has slowly been building hype for a couple of years now. Ever since finishing 14th in GC at the 2018 Emakumeen Bira, she’s been someone to watch. She was getting good results at 1.2 and 2.2 level in 2019 but pushed on at the start of 2020 to winning those sorts of races. Maria Novolodskaya was up there in the Giro Rosa this season too, famously crashing whilst looking good to win Stage 6 solo. With a strong TT, she’s got the potential to be a star GC rider.
Another young Kiwi rider who did well for Bigla/Paule Ka in 2020. She came back from lockdown with a pair of top-10s in the hilly Spanish races before finishing 21st at the Giro Rosa whilst supporting Mikayla Harvey’s GC efforts. Released from domestique duty, Fisher-Black finished 2nd on the last stage’s uphill finish. She was then 15th in the Worlds and then 12th at Flèche Wallonne. It feels like we’re looking at a potential Ardennes star but she might have to support Demi Vollering at SD Worx and fight for opportunities.
If Ella Harris hadn’t broken her leg before Strade Bianche in 2020, she might not have made this list. She scored her first top-10 at the Cadel Evans Road Race before winning a Herald Sun Tour stage and finishing 4th Overall. She was 7th out of lockdown at the Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa but then the brakes were put on her season. The Zwift Academy winner will be another looking for that maiden WorldTour victory, but more top-10s would also be great.
Huge Hype But Still Waiting for a Big Result
Boogaard was on my list for this post ahead of the recent Ceratizit Challenge where she finished 8th Overall. She often finds herself working for others on the team, particularly as part of sprint train for Marta Bastianelli. She’s strong in the time trial, can sprint well and has been known to climb a bit too. She might suffer at the moment by not having a clear specialism. If an opportunity arises in 2021, hopefully she can take it and get a first pro win.
There is some big big hype behind Megan Jastrab, who didn’t end up racing on the road in 2020. She was confirmed initially as a Rally Cycling rider in 2021 but has subsequently moved across to Sunweb instead. She won the junior Worlds in Yorkshire 2019, dominated the junior Healthy Ageing Tour, won the junior Alfredo Binda and was 2nd in Gent Wevelgem. She’s also a junior track world champion in the Madison and Omnium for good measure too. It’ll be interesting to see if the Sunweb super-team give her opportunities and how she fares in the senior peloton.
Kool announced herself at the end of 2019, finishing behind Lotte Kopecky and beating Coryn Rivera at the Merxem Classic. She’s continued to impress and develop at NXTG in 2020 with 6th places at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and Omloop van het Hageland. Coming out of lockdown, she was 2nd to her contemporary Wiebes in the Grote Prijs Euromat. She was 2nd to Wiebes in the Dutch juniors in 2016 and whilst she’s not had the same meteoric rise, is developing into a sprinter of note as well.
There was a tonne of hype surrounding Uneken heading into the 2020 season. She’d impressed massively at Hitec Products in 2019, taking a load of top-10s and some at WorldTour level too. She appeared to be vying with Wiebes to be the next big Dutch sprinter. Joining the stacked Boels-Dolmans team in 2020 pumped the brakes on that a little. With a contract until 2024, it’s clear they’ve got a long-term vision for Uneken. She was still 7th at Le Samyn, winning the bunch sprint but got swamped at De Panne to finish 12th. Hopefully she gets more chances to lead.
Only 22, Swinkels has been part of the pro peloton for 4 years already. She’s a sprinter who can time trial and is ahead of some on this list by already having a pro win at the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas in 2019. Finishing 5th at the GP d’Isbergues was a good result but the way 2020 panned out meant there weren’t many races suited to her. Moving from Parkhotel Valkenburg to the new Jumbo-Visma team should give her the chance to impress and also to learn from the best, Marianne Vos.
Anna Henderson is another to join the new Jumbo-Visma team, leaving Sunweb in the process. After impressing for the Brother UK – Tifosi team in 2019, she was picked up by Team TIBCO for the second half of that season. 14th at Brabantse Pijl showed she could race classics and a string of 2nd places showing sprinting talent. She took her best WWT result of 13th at this year’s Cadel Evans RR but generally found opportunities hard to come by on such a talented team. The move should help her push on and hopefully take that first pro win.
It feels like Aigul Gareeva has been riding in tandem with Novolodskaya for most of 2020 with the young Russians on the same team. They’ve achieved similar results in similar races with Gareeva not quite doing as well as her teammate. The potential is obvious though. A pair of 13th places during the Giro Rosa on tough uphill finishes put her into elite company. After 4th place in the junior Worlds in Yorkshire and winning the TT at that event, there was already hype for Gareeva going into 2020. With a year of experience in the pro peloton under her belt, we should see something big happen for Gareeva in 2021.
Shackley is another who did well in the junior Worlds in Yorkshire, finishing 12th. She’d already impressed before that race with 13th Overall at the Tour of Scotland, her first major international race. Continuing to impress at senior level, Shackley was 25th at the 2020 World Champs in a season where she didn’t get the chance to race much with the British calendar decimated. She’s been signed by SD Worx for an initial 2 years and might have to undergo an apprenticeship of sorts in 2021 as part of that stacked team roster.
Camilla Alessio could be the next great Italian GC rider. She was 7th in the mountainous junior Worlds in Innsbruck and 11th in the lumpy Yorkshire version. She was 2nd and 4th in the TTs that accompanied those races too. She started 2020 with 22nd at the Giro dell’Emilia, the highest level race she’d competed in. This was followed by a very impressive 8th in GC at the Tour de l’Ardèche. A great climber and TTer already, her development with GC potential could make her a star.
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado
Alvarado spent the end of the 2020 season racing for Ciclismo Mondial who haven’t confirmed their 2021 plans yet. She performed well in a couple of different race types. Able to top-10 in sprints and also finished 12th in GC at the Tour de l’Ardèche. She’s already got 4 wins from 7 races at the start of the 2021 cyclocross season. The National, European and World Cyclocross champion could be yet another to make the transition to a fuller road calendar and become known to a wider audience in a Van Aert/Van der Poel way.
Inge van der Heijden
Conversely, van der Heijden has always had a decent road programme alongside her cyclocross riding. She joined Waowdeals in 2018 and continued for them as they turned into CCC-Liv. She switched to Ciclismo Mondial in August 2020. The move paid off as she took her first pro win at the 1.2 level Trophée des Grimpeuses in September. She’s done well on lumpy races before so it feels like she could achieve strong results at a higher race level in 2021.
Kata Blanka Vas
The Hungarian will continue to race for Doltcini-Van Eyck in 2021. She’s another who took her first win in 2020, becoming national road champion. She finished the road season strongly too, with 6th at the U23 Europeans, 5th at Trophée des Grimpeuses and 7th at GP d’Isbergues. We could be looking at a sprinter able to get over some of the lumpier parcours, which is useful in the women’s calendar. Only recently turned 19, 2021 might be a season too early in her development but Vas is still a promising rider to watch out for.
The Riskier Selections for 2021
Bossuyt’s the junior member of the Belgian team pursuit team on the track that finished 5th in the 2019 Euros. At the close of the 2020 season she finished 3rd in the Belgian nationals, having finished 6th in the TT after lockdown. She’s someone who has done best at U23 level so far, finishing 7th in the Euros this year in good company. She’s achieved her best results so far by sprinting but also has a good TT. A stage race with both would suit her in 2021.
Cedrine Kerbaol was the French national junior champion, winning by over 2 minutes with a solo break. Heading into 2020, I tipped her as an outsider at La Perigord and she duly delivered. Finishing 7th after getting herself into the winning break. She’s been signed to Team Arkea for 2021 so should have opportunities at similar French races. It’s not massively clear what sort of rider she’ll be yet either, maybe a one-day racer with a limited sprint.
Illi Gardner made a name for herself during lockdown with her performances in the virtual racing. She finished 4th on GC in the V-Women’s Tour, missing out on a stage victory by just 0.004 seconds. She was 24th in the 2019 Tour of Scotland but didn’t get to push on in 2020 with the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana being her only racing of the year. Her CAMS team needs a decent British calendar of races to perform and the postponement of the Tour de Yorkshire won’t help things.
Amber van der Hulst
The next sprinter to come off the Parkhotel Valkenburg production line. Van der Hulst is showing the potential to be the next Lorena Wiebes, although she might not have the instant success Wiebes found. She got good results in 2020 already though, 4th in the Grote Prijs Euromat and 6th in GP d’Isbergues. She even beat Lotte Kopecky in the GP Euromat. The results are less good on hilly races but Van der Hulst is capable of winning a flat sprint in 2021.
Catalina Soto Campos
Sarah Gigante’s top tip and former teammate, Soto Campos had a good 2020 season. After a solid Omloop het Nieuwsblad, she finished a credible 16th in Le Samyn. The lockdown appeared to affect the form slightly but she still finished 6th in Stage 7 of the Tour de l’Ardèche. Shaping up to be a great one-day rider, she’ll want to get a win in 2021. Soto Campos will be joining Shari Bossuyt and Charlotte Kool at NXTG for the 2021 season.
It’s no surprise to see Nooijen picked up for the 2021 season, Parkhotel Valkenburg have signed her. Nooijen finished 3rd in the junior Worlds in Yorkshire and is another talent to have had a solid Tour de l’Ardèche. Her best result was 12th in the Stage 7 sprint but she’d finished consistently on the lumpier stages to secure 28th Overall. Aged 19, she’s shaping up to be a good rider in all conditions and will get opportunities on her new team.
Smulders will be racing for Lotto Soudal in 2021 after moving from NXTG. The Lotto team are lacking a big star now that Lotte Kopecky has moved on. Smulders isn’t a direct replacement for Kopecky in the sprinting department but may turn herself into a solid one-day racer. So far her best pro results have been at the Trophée des Grimpeuses (19th) and Le Samyn (22nd). With no big team leader, Smulders will get the chance to impress.
Other Young Riders of Note
There are some riders I’ve felt might not get the chance to break out in 2021 and might take a little bit more time. Some because they’re on elite teams already and they will largely be working for the stars of the team. Others will be experiencing their first year of senior racing and instant results aren’t to be expected.
- Wilma Olausson
- Elynor Bäckstedt
- Femke Gerritse
- Aniek van Alphen
- Julie De Wilde
- Pien Limpins
- Julia Van Bokhoven
- Lea Curinier
- Eleonora Camilla Gasparrini