Women's World Championships Road Race 2022 History
The Women’s World Championships road race had been dominated by Dutch riders in recent years, with 4 in a row between 2017 and 2021. Elisa Balsamo broke that run last year in Flanders by being able to outsprint Marianne Vos to the line. Such is the Dutch dominance in women’s cycling, that they even went 1-2 in both 2019 and 2020. Normally we have a whole host of former world champions racing but this year we’re down to 4 – Van Vleuten, Vos, Balsamo and Bastianelli. It is likely to be another battle between Italy and the Netherlands again this year.
Historically, France were always a favourite heading into the Women’s World Championships road race, with Jeannie Longo winning 5 times (1985, 1986, 1987, 1989 & 1995) and Geneviève Gambillon another multiple winner in 1972 & 1974. Their record of 10 world champions is 2nd only to the Netherlands on 13 winners. You have to go back to Pauline Ferrand-Prevot’s win in 2014 to find the last French rider to make the podium. They do have a reasonable chance of breaking that streak this year.
It’s an even longer streak for Belgium, who has had 6 world champions, largely all coming in the early days of the race in the 1960s. Yvonne Reynders won 4 editions in 1959. 1961, 1963 & 1966. Despite the regular wins on the men’s side, the Belgian women have struggled for a long time at the Worlds. You have to go back to 1994 for Belgium’s last medallist in Patsy Maegerman, who finished 2nd in Agrigento. In Lotte Kopecky, they have a rider who could break that this year.
This is the first year that a Women’s U23 World Champion will be awarded. Far from ideal, it will be a race within a race with the highest placed U23 rider in the main event awarded the rainbow stripes. With only 2 U23 races scheduled for 2023, it’s unlikely we will see them wear the jersey much or possibly at all, next year. It creates a dilemma for some riders who will need to perform domestique roles for leaders racing for the Elite title. Whereas for some other riders, they will have no such issues. For many, it’s a re-run of the 2018 World Championships junior race, which saw Marie Le Net and Simone Boilard both on the podium that day. Vittoria Guazzini was 6th and Pfeiffer Georgi 11th. All 4 riders will be here racing for the U23 title. It does has the potential to be an intriguing race but not really for the right reason.
Women's World Championships Road Race 2022 Profile
Women's World Championships Road Race 2022 Contenders
With Annemiek van Vleuten‘s crash in the Mixed Relay time trial, she may or may not be cleared to race on Saturday. She has a stable fracture in her elbow that will certainly hurt but apparently is able to ride on it. The early indications were that the plan for her was to attack early like she did in Harrogate and put pressure on other teams to close her down. She can still do that role but the likelihood of a Yorkshire repeat now feels small. Alternatively, the Dutch will use the puncheur qualities of Demi Vollering to put the hurt on other teams over Mount Pleasant. They will be very keen to drop Elisa Balsamo which means keeping the pace high on the ascents and splitting the peloton as much as possible. She has a decent enough sprint from a small group and has a shot for the rainbow stripes. My favourite though is going to be Marianne Vos. We know that she can get over these punchy climbs and still have a strong sprint. She will be keen to avenge her 2nd place from last year, her 6th in the World Champs over the years. It is going to be up to the other nations to try and drop the GOAT but I’m on the side of her making history and winning 9 years after her last.
A sneaky favourite is going to be Grace Brown. She is clearly in top form at the moment, with recent wins at the Commonwealth Games TT, La Périgord Ladies and Stage 3 of the Ceratizit Challenge. That last one in particular is how I can see her winning here. In a tough race, with small teams left at the end, Brown doesn’t need much help to get a gap and power on through. With a home crowd cheering her on, I can see her doing this. She’s supported by Amanda Spratt who will prove a great foil. She’s been on the podium twice at the Worlds before but doesn’t quite have the same form as Brown going into this. She can still get a strong result but Brown feels like the Aussie rider to get behind for a win.
The Worlds traditionally hasn’t been Lotte Kopecky‘s race, with 16th last year on home roads her best result. She had a strong classics part of the year, winning the Tour of Flanders and Strade Bianche but the Belgian time trial in June was her last UCI victory. A consistent week at the Ceratizit Challenge showed she should be strong on the climbs here but I just get the feeling that others will be stronger in the final sprint. A medal is certainly possible if everything goes to plan.
Danish hopes are pinned on Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig here. You can certainly see her being in the mix at the finish and depending on who’s there, she may fancy herself in a sprint against most of them after making big strides in that department. She won a stage at the Tour de France Femmes by beating Marianne Vos which will inspire confidence and took the GC win at the Tour of Scandinavia before 5th at the Ceratizit Challenge. She’s been 8th the last 2 years and whilst I see her bettering that a medal may be the best possible result for the popular Dane. In theory, Emma Norsgaard would also be useful in a sprint here but I’m not sure how deep into this race she will go. The Ceratizit Challenge was a tough week for her, even off the back of a win at Kreiz Breizh Elites.
Italy is predictably well stacked at this year’s World Championships. The bookies have put Silvia Persico in with the best chance of all the Italians. It would certainly cap a remarkable season that saw her take bronze at the cyclocross Worlds back in January. She finally took a win at the Ceratizit Challenge, managing to beat Demi Vollering and Lotte Kopecky to the line on an punchy uphill finish. This is her first Worlds though so that may be a factor. I quite like Elisa Balsamo‘s chances of retaining her title. But it really depends on how well she can hang on over the repeated ascents of Mount Pleasant. She took a flat sprint win at the Ceratizit Challenge but you probably have to go back to the 6th stage of the Tour de France Femmes for a recent example of what she could do here. She was 4th that day, behind Vos, Bastianelli and Kopecky and could be amongst that company again. Elisa Longo Borghini represents a pure attacking option and has been 3rd at the Worlds twice (2012 & 2020). I see her earmarked for a similar role as Vollering and whilst once derided for her lack of sprint, that seems to no longer be an issue – she finished ahead of Vollering, Kopecky and Lippert in finishes at the Ceratizit Challenge for instance.
5th at last year’s World Championships, this sort of hilly race with a flat finish is exactly the sort of parcours for Arlenis Sierra. Well known for being able to get over climbs and contest for wins, we saw some of that at the Ceratizit Challenge, although maybe not as regularly as some others in this race preview. She was 5th on Stage 3, ahead of some names like Persico, Longo Borghini and Vollering but behind Balsamo and Kopecky. I think that 5th again is probably the best result she could do this year.
Neither Juliette Labous nor Evita Muzic has a particularly strong record at the World Championships for France, with Muzic’s 20th place in 2020 the best between them. The hilly course suggests it might suit Labous but I think she’ll be too closely marked to be allowed a break as she got on her winning Stage 7 at the Giro Donne. Evita Muzic’s punchy qualities feel like it may be a stronger fit and replicating the 2nd place she scored on Stage 4 at the Tour de France Femmes, with a small gap over most of the bunch could be her way to a high result. She outsprinted her 2 breakaway companions that day but a larger group will see her struggle in comparison.
German hopes rest on Liane Lippert who has certainly been climbing strongly in recent races. 2nd in GC at the Tour of Scandinavia was followed up with 4th at the Ceratizit Challenge. Her 3rd place on Stage 2 is a way for her to ensure a medal by getting into a small group at the head of the race. She beat Demi Vollering to the line that day but not Longo Borghini. I’m struggling to see a way that Lippert wins this year but she has an outside shot of a medal.
The winless run for Kasia Niewiadoma now dates back 39 months to the 2019 Women’s Tour as she came close a number of times in the latter part of this season. It would be a massive turn-up if the Pole could break her duck at the World Championships. She feels a cert for the top-10 once again, and could finish 3rd like she did last season depending on who is in the final group.
Spain’s Mavi Garcia feels a bit of a wildcard here and will need to channel that tactical nous that saw her win GP de Plouay (or Classic Lorient Agglomération as it wants to be called) this year with a perfectly timed attack. She wasn’t in her sparkliest of form at the Ceratizit Challenge but we’ve seen her at her best a couple of times this year including the Giro Donne where she finished 3rd.
It’s a similar story for South Africa’s Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio who has only ever once been in the top 10 at the World Championships, with 8th in 2019. Crashes have derailed her season at key moments and affected some of the races she has been able to do. She recently crashed out of the Simac Ladies Tour, with the TT here her first race since then. She will be there or thereabouts but maybe temper expectations for a high result.
Elise Chabbey will have a lot of confidence after winning the Mixed Relay TT for Switzerland on Wednesday. The Ceratizit Challenge gave us a useful sighter as to where her form is and it looks good. She’s another like Grace Brown who you can expect to power away at an opportune moment and has a big enough engine to stay away. She also has Marlen Reusser on her team and we saw at the Tour de France Femmes Stage 4 that she won what she can do with a gap. She maybe had an off day at the time trial World Championships earlier in the week but I can’t see her repeating the Tour de France Femmes attack here.
I’m somewhat torn about what the American pair of Kristen Faulkner and Veronica Ewers can do at this year’s World Championships. At her best, we’ve seen what Faulkner can do at the Giro Donne where she won 2 stages. Solo attacks on hilly stages gave the bunch a run for their money. She had a quieter Tour de France Femmes and withdrew from the Ceratizit Challenge with fatigue. 6th in the TT here, her run of form feels like it’s trending downwards to the end of the season. Veronica Ewers had a stronger Tour de France Femmes, finishing 9th in GC and then was 14th at the Ceratizit Challenge. Her win earlier in the year at the Navarre Elite Classics probably shows that she needs to attack and go solo to win which against such a powerful bunch will be tough. The top 10 will be a strong result for the Americans.
Women's World Championships Road Race 2022 Outsiders
We got a taste at the Ceratizit Challenge of what Anna Kiesenhofer can do, in case we needed reminding of the 2020 Olympics Road Race. That day she went solo for most of the longest stage of the race, only getting caught in the last 2km. She will need to perform similar heroics here but surely, teams will have learned their lesson. The Dutch in particular won’t want to be stung again.
It’s hard to see Alison Jackson able to hang on with someone like Van Vleuten if she attacks the climbs but if riders attack and then slow up repeatedly, the Canadian will dig deep and be able to keep in touch. A light crash in the TT this week shouldn’t have affected her too much and she becomes a rider with a useful sprint if still up there late on.
It’s potentially a similar story for Alex Manly but she’s coming off the back of a strong Tour of Scandinavia and Ceratizit Challenge and borderline should be in the section above if I wasn’t going in so heavily for Grace Brown. She probably represents the best sprinter Australia has on this hilly course and certainly has the potential to still be there at the end.
Women's World Championships Road Race 2022 U23s
Shirin van Anrooij is the favourite for the U23 title as she’s comfortably been the best U23 rider all season. The issue for her though is that she has the likes of Vos, Van Vleuten, Vollering etc. to work for before the end of the race. The Dutch will either have to be very canny to get Van Anrooij to the end in strong shape or similar go all-in on the Elite title and just see what happens – which is likely.
It’s a similar story for the new U23 World Time Trial champion Vittoria Guazzini. Racing for Italy, she has the likes of Elisa Balsamo, Elisa Longo Borghini and Silvia Persico ahead of her. In the same boat as Van Anrooij, she could do the double but it’s going to take some luck in the race situation for her to be able to pull that off. Silvia Zanardi, also racing for Italy, would be another contender but again, she will have to work for the team. Both riders have a strong sprint and in a pure U23 race would make an interesting contest.
Ricarda Bauernfeind, Marie Le Net and Dominika Wlodarczyk are also hamstrung for Germany, France and Poland respectively. Bauernfeind probably only has Lippert to work for after an impressive season on Canyon SRAM Generation. She represents one of the clearer paths to a strong individual result for a race favourite. For Marie le Net there’s Labous and Muzic ahead of her but because neither have done particularly well here before, you can foresee a chance that they pivot to Le Net. She won La Picto-Charentaise a month ago and will be useful in some sort of mixed-up bunch sprint for the U23 race. For Dominika Wlodarczyk, it’s Kasia Niewiadoma ahead of her plus the likes of Skalniak-Sojka too. The winner of the only U23 race on the 2022 calendar at the Watersley Women’s Challenge, she’s another who would be a clear favourite in a normal race.
So we get to the first of our uninhibited riders in Sweden’s Julia Borgstrom. She’s had a strong consistent season, usually in the 10th-20th place bracket but also includes 8th in GC at the WWT RideLondon Classique and 5th at Travers les Hauts de France 2 weeks ago. With others having to work, you can see how Borgstrom may be able to just ghost through the race, going as deep as possible with the front without blowing up and taking the title.
Bigger names like Pfeiffer Georgi and Niamh Fisher-Black may feel like they have a shot at the Elite title. Freed from some of the SD Worx shackles at the Giro Donne, Fisher-Black went on to finish 5th in GC and won the youth jersey. Her consistent climbing there allowed her to move up the GC after a slow start at the early time trial. The climbing won’t be a big issue for the Kiwi but maybe the relative lack of team support could be. By contrast, Pfeiffer Georgi will have a number of strong riders to call on. I’m picking her as the U23 rider from Great Britain (there are a few) because of her performances in hard races during the classics season. 4th at Dwars Door Vlaanderen is probably the pick. A lot of her subsequent results hide the work she does for Lorena Wiebes to win sprints, so this will be a rare chance for her own goals.
Finally, Canadian Simone Boilard has a route to the U23 title as the Canadian team has leaders in say Alison Jackson but not necessarily a big race favourite. Boilard, who has impressed at St Michel Auber 93 this season is certainly climbing well at the moment with 4th in GC at the recent Tour de l’Ardeche. She has a bit of a sprinter kick as well, as seen in her run of top-10s at Coupe de France races in mid-August. Maybe not wider-known yet, a U23 title would be a great way for her to finish a breakout year.