Women’s World Tour: What to Watch and When in 2021

After the 2020 Women’s WorldTour season, 2021 promises to be something more back to normal. It’s likely the Spring races will be affected, although it’s tough to confirm in most cases. The Tour Down Under (not a WWT race but normally a season opener) and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race have already been cancelled for 2021.

The Ronde van Drenthe has already asked to be moved to October 2021 to negate the threat of restrictions and a second consecutive cancellation of the race. The Spring Classics portion of the calendar makes up almost half of the racing in the 2021 WorldTour and any changes to the race dates will have a big knock-on effect on the season.

The Emakumeen Bira has dropped off the calendar completely as efforts to save the race failed. The Itzulia Women replaces it as a major Spanish stage rage, as the Donostia San Sebastian race expands to a multi-day format. The Vuelta a Burgos Feminas also appears on the WWT calendar for the first time, giving riders a chance to spend most of May in Spain. A first women’s Paris Roubaix is planned after the original first edition was cancelled in Autumn 2020. The Tour of California’s hiatus has been made permanent unfortunately and won’t be reappearing on any race calendar.

6 March: Strade Bianche, Italy

2020 Winner: Annemiek van Vleuten

The stunning Tuscan classic offered up another legendary edition in 2020. Annemiek van Vleuten caught up and passed seemingly everyone without notice as the TV cameras didn’t spot her and the time gaps didn’t update for ages. Eventually she reached the lone leader Mavi Garcia and gapped her on the way into Siena.

The constant steep punchy climbs, combined with the white gravel that gives the race its name produces tough racing and rewards technical skills. One thing that will be missing in 2021 is the intense heat that characterised the 2020 edition.

Van Vleuten continues winning streak with stunning Strade Bianche victory

21 March: Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Italy

2020 Winner: Not Held

Previous winners of this Italian Classic include Emma Johansson, Elisa Longo Borghini, Marianne Vos and Kasia Niewiadoma. The pair of climbs, the Casale Alto and the Azzio, gives riders a chance to breakaway. Niewiadoma won solo in the rain in 2018. If the peloton stays together, look for a sprinter to take the win after a downhill stretch to the finish line.

One of the oldest races in the women’s calendar, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda can trace its roots back to 1974.

25 March: Driedaagse De Panne, Belgium

2020 Winner: Lorena Wiebes

A controversial finish in 2020 saw Jolien d’Hoore relegated after heading across the road to squeeze Lorena Wiebes into a small gap by the barriers. In the wake of the then recent infamous and horrific Jakobsen/Groenewegen crash, the commissaires took a dim view of what had once been a legitimate sprinter tactic. As it was, Wiebes took her first Women’s WorldTour win of the 2020 season, with sprinter opportunities much reduced.

Unless the wind gets involved and creates havoc in the peloton, this one is a nailed on sprinter’s race.

28 March: Gent Wevelgem, Belgium

2020 Winner: Jolien d’Hoore

Another flat race with a killer climb. The Kemmelberg and its brutal history provide the backdrop for the race across Flanders fields. The wind comes into play again, either helping the peloton re-form after the Kemmelberg or keeping it separated. If it does re-form, expect a big bunch sprint and if not, a small bunch will contest the victory in Wevelgem. Very rarely, a rider can win solo like Chantal Blaak did in 2016 with a big gap or the few seconds Floortje Mackaij won by in 2015.

4 April: Tour of Flanders, Belgium

2020 Winner: Chantal van den Broek-Blaak

Short, sharp climbs and cobbles make up this iconic race. The 2020 edition was won by Chantal van den Broek-Blaak after a strange stalemate between Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen. The pair of riders attacked and broke clear but with Van der Breggen not prepared to work, it neutralised Van Vleuten and they both returned to the peloton. Blaak then attacked and won solo. Only recently shown in such detail on live TV coverage, we’d have missed how the race was won otherwise!

11 April: Paris Roubaix, France

2020 Winner: Not Held

There’s never been a women’s Paris Roubaix held. It first appeared in the post-lockdown 2020 racing calendar to huge amounts of hype. Unfortunately, the ongoing Coronavirus saga took hold and with cases high in that particular corner of France, the race was eventually cancelled. Now with an April 2021 date, the hype will renew as the women’s peloton take on around half of the brutal cobble sections of the legendary men’s race.

18 April: Amstel Gold Race, Netherlands

2020 Winner: Not Held

A constant barrage of hills to climb finishes with riders ascending the Cauberg. They then have to make sure they have enough energy left to sprint around 2km later at the finish line. Niewiadoma won the last held edition in 2019 by creating a gap and hanging on ahead of some strong chasers. The steady climbing provided by the terrain in Limburg sees a war of attrition as more and more riders find their limit.

It’s the local race for the Parkhotel Valkenburg team as the hotel is at the summit of the Cauberg.

21 April: Flèche Wallonne, Belgium

2020 Winner: Anna van der Breggen

Despite the inclusion of a series of climbs, really this race just boils down to who can ascend the fearsome Mur de Huy quickest. For the last 6 editions, it’s been Anna van der Breggen, whose ‘Queen of the Ardennes’ nickname largely comes from her dominance at Flèche Wallonne. The Mur is 1.3km long and reaches a max gradient of 26% on one corner!

The new generation of talent made up the podium in 2020. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Demi Vollering look to be the future favourites once Anna van der Breggen retires at the end of 2021.

25 April: Liège Bastogne Liège, Belgium

2020 Winner: Lizzie Deignan

Compared to the age of the men’s version, the women’s Liège Bastogne Liège will only be 5 years old in 2021. 2020 saw Lizzie Deignan with a pre-meditated attack on the Col de la Redoute and then never get caught. Behind her Grace Brown attacked herself as she announced herself as a serious Classics contender. I personally miss the old run-in to the finish of Liège Bastogne Liège as a spectacle. Although for exciting racing, this new layout is much better. It encourages riders to attack early and make a gap. Whereas before everyone felt like they had to wait and wait until near the finish in Ans.

6 May to 8 May: Tour of Chongming Island, China

2020 Winner: Not Held

With the Spring Classics completed, the women’s WorldTour peloton heads off to China. The entire Tour of Chongming is flat with the only climbs of the whole race usually being bridges. As such it’s a sprinter’s dream – Lorena Wiebes won all 3 stages and all 3 jerseys in 2019. Kristen Wild is a 3-time winner and generally, nothing gets in the way of the best sprinter winning the Tour. Only Charlotte Becker’s win in 2018 has seen a non-sprinter take the overall honours.

14 May to 16 May: Itzulia Women, Spain

2020 Winner: Not Held

A new race, taking on the Basque climbs. It’s an expansion of the Clasica San Sebastian which Lucy Kennedy won in 2019. Certainly expect the climbers to do well in this one.

20 May to 23 May: Vuelta a Burgos, Spain

2020 Winner: Not Held

The climbers should also do well in the Vuelta a Burgos. It held its first edition in 2019 as a 2.1 level race and has been raised to WWT level for 2021. A mix of sprinter stages and punchy finishing climbs meant that 4 riders finished on the same overall time, with Stine Borgli taking the win for FDJ on countback. A sprinter who can climb stands a good chance and any of the punchy riders that do well in the Ardennes would do well too.

30 May: RideLondon Classique, UK

2020 Winner: Not Held

Still a crit race around central London, it’s unlikely it will ever change after the men’s version has gone. Pressure from local residents who don’t want a world-class sporting event on their doorsteps has restricted the possibilities for this race. Naturally then, the RideLondon Classique suits sprinters and the winner’s list has seen the likes of Wild, Wiebes and Rivera take the win.

Probably not the most exciting race of the 2021 Women’s WorldTour season!

7 June to 12 June: Women’s Tour, UK

2020 Winner: Not Held

The Women’s Tour, in contrast, offers up exciting racing across Britain. Tough stages produce decent time gaps, particularly in the rain on Burton Dassett in 2019 where Niewiadoma beat Liane Lippert. Another race that felt it couldn’t run during the COVID-19 crisis, the race is scheduled to be back in 2021. With no Tour de Yorkshire in 2021 either, the Women’s Tour will provide the focal point of women’s racing in Britain this year.

Look for riders who excel over short climbs to win the overall prize.

18 July: La Course, France

2020 Winner: Lizzie Deignan

After 2020’s great stage in Nice, 2021 will take place on the Champs Elysees again in what feels like a regressive step. The first few editions of the race took place in Paris. Then the race spread its wings and realised it was a better spectacle to give the riders some climbs to tackle. The dual ascents in Nice meant only an elite group contested the win in 2020. Trek successfully negated the sprint of Marianne Vos and ensured Lizzie Deignan won.

The only upside to La Course taking place on the easier parcours in 2021 is that the race organisers have promised a week-long better Women’s Tour de France from 2022. So for one year, it’s not too bad to endure. As a result of moving back to the gentle cobbles of Paris, it should see sprinters take the win once again.

7 August to 8 August: Vårgårda TTT & RR, Sweden

2020 Winner: Not Held

One of the first major races to get live coverage, Vårgårda was another casualty of the 2020 season. The team time trial gives teams a chance to show off their power. Traditionally (well for a few years) it was the warm-up for the end of season Worlds team time trial. The road race usually had some gravel sections to keep things interesting, with a long loop and a shorter finishing loop tackled by the riders.

Normally a sprinter wins the road race, although Annemiek van Vleuten surprised the peloton back in 2011 with a late effort with 800 metres left to race.

12 August to 15 August: Ladies Tour of Norway, Norway

2020 Winner: Not Held

Marianne Vos has won the last 3 editions of the Ladies Tour of Norway. Interestingly, the entire time the race has been a part of the Women’s World Tour. The flattish parcours suits sprinters mostly. However, with at least one punchy finish included instead of a prologue, time gaps can now be earned by hard racing.

Flatter stages will be won by the out and out sprinters and the lumpier stages swing the advantage towards the classics sprinters.

24 August to 29 August: Boels Ladies Tour, Netherlands

2020 Winner: Not Held

It’s a similar story for the Boels Ladies Tour which has been running for over 20 years now. The exact makeup of stages changes year by year but usually includes a prologue to create initial time gaps. Then the sprinters get their chance to shine before the more classics specialists get to work. 2018 saw an additional time trial and a particularly flat race. It’s another race that Marianne Vos has won multiple times but Annemiek van Vleuten is the only multi-winner in recent times.

30 August: GP de Plouay, France

2020 Winner: Lizzie Deignan

Punchy climbs are usually enough to whittle the peloton down, avoiding a big bunch sprint for the race win. 2020 saw Lizzie Deignan and Lizzy Banks escape the peloton and contest the victory. Deignan showed her experience and taking the head to head sprint. The race has included the 1km Côte du Lézot, averaging 6%. Not long after is the 6km Chapelle Sainte-Anne des Bois, then a chance to rest before the 10% Côte de Ty Marrec.

3 September to 5 September: Ceratizit Challenge, Spain

2020 Winner: Lisa Brennauer

The final Women’s WorldTour race of 2020 was the Ceratizit Challenge, an extended version of the Madrid Challenge. The 2020 edition was perfectly poised with 3 genuine contenders, all with different strengths. The battle for the time bonuses at the intermediate sprints was tight between Lorena Wiebes and Lisa Brennauer. Wiebes eventually called off the battle as she went for the race win. The non-GC contending Elisa Balsamo took the honours though.

As the race gains popularity, it looks to mirror the men’s Vuelta. The race organisers are hoping to extend the race by another couple of stages for 2021. Improving upon 2020’s 3-stage edition.

19 October: Tour of Guangxi, China

2020 Winner: Not Held

This one-day race has closed out the Women’s WorldTour in 2018 and 2019 before being cancelled for obvious reasons in 2020. There’s a bit of a climb in the middle of the race. However, ultimately it’s too far from the finish to change much so it comes down to a bunch sprint. Only taking place since 2017, the start list has improved year on year. Maria Vittoria Sperotto took the first win in 2017, Arlenis Sierra in 2018 and Chloe Hosking in 2019. You’d think this would be perfect for someone like Lorena Wiebes in 2021.

TBC: Ronde van Drenthe

2020 Winner: Not Held

This almost-flat race repeatedly visits the VAM-berg. The covered-over pile of rubbish has a 20% section and produces splits in the peloton. The flat sections contain some cobbles and with the wind blowing the peloton can be blown to smithereens. Any sprinter who can also climb will be considered a favourite. Marianne Vos is a multiple winner and the likes of d’Hoore, Pieters and Bastianelli have won in recent years.

The race organisers want the race moved from its usual March date to October to give it a greater chance of taking place. We’re still waiting for a confirmed new race date.

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