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VeloNews Awards 2022: Annemiek van Vleuten, female cyclist of the year

VeloNews takes a look at some of the best riders and moments in women's cycling in 2022, from the best sprinter, breakthrough rider, and more.

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The 2022 VeloNews awards open this week with the female rider of the year category.

This year saw one of the biggest years for women’s cycling with a further five teams stepping up into the WorldTour and the inauguration of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.

While there were many big standout performances across the season, from Lorena Wiebes domination in the sprints and Marta Cavalli’s storming of the Ardennes classics, there is little doubt about who was the biggest star in 2022.

Annemiek van Vleuten may be closing in on the end of her career but she’s still at the top of her game.

Annemiek van Vleuten, VeloNews female rider of the year

Annemiek van Vleuten is congratulated by her teammates
Annemiek van Vleuten in disbelief after winning the world road race title. (Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images)

Annemiek van Vleuten could hardly have asked for a better 2022. Indeed, the Dutchwoman herself described it as the best year of her illustrious career, and that is a hard bar to clear.

She got off to winning ways very quickly by scoring victories at her opening two races, the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The classics season saw her knocking on the door of a few more wins, but she was ultimately thwarted across the remainder of her cobbled classics campaign. Liège-Bastogne-Liège saw her hit the top step of the podium again and she would win almost every other race she rode in 2022.

One of the major highlights was her romp toward victory at the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, which came just weeks after she rode to her third Giro d’Italia Donne title. She had been touted as the overwhelming favorite ahead of the race, but few could have predicted just how dominant she would be. In the end, she won both mountain stages and took the yellow jersey by 3:48 over Demi Vollering.

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The season was not plain sailing for Van Vleuten and she had to battle against various challenges throughout the year. Shortly after her Liège-Bastogne-Liège victory, she crashed and broke her wrist in a training accident. At the Tour de France, she struggled with a stomach bug for the opening few days and came close to calling it quits before the race hit the mountains.

Perhaps the biggest comeback story of her year, however, was her world championships-winning ride. Her worlds had got off to a slightly disappointing start after she missed out on a medal in the time trial, but it almost came to an abrupt ending when a mechanical issue caused her to crash heavily at the start of the mixed team relay.

Left with a broken elbow, Van Vleuten was in doubt for the race. In the end, she decided to take the start to help her teammates but found herself in the perfect position as the race entered the final kilometer. Before she had broken her elbow, she had planned to attack with over 100km to go on Mount Keira. In the end, she attacked with just meters to go. The result was the same and Van Vleuten took her second world title. COVID spoiled her world champion’s year in 2020 so she’s keen to make the most of it in 2023 before she hangs up her racing wheels for good.

Jennifer Valente, North American cyclist of the year

Jennifer Valente celebrates winning the omnium title at the track worlds. (Photo: THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images)

The last 12 months have been a dream for Jennifer Valente after taking Olympic gold in the omnium in Tokyo last year. She added an individual rainbow jersey to her collection, following her 2020 team pursuit world title, with another omnium victory. To top 2022 off, she beat a determined Katie Archibald to win the overall title at the Track Champions League earlier this month.

Also read: Jennifer Valente: The US track team is a ‘step above’ with Chloé Dygert

Lorena Wiebes, sprinter of the year

Lorena Wiebes on the podium with a friend's baby
Lorena Wiebes on the podium with a friend’s baby (Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP via Getty Images)

Few were faster than Lorena Wiebes in 2022. The Dutch rider has continued to grow in strength and has become almost unbeatable in a drag race to the finish line. Her speed saw her win 23 races this year, including two stages of the Tour de France Femmes, the European road race title, and Ronde van Drenthe. Her move to SD Worx next season will be a test of her talents. Can she win as much in a different environment?

Lotte Kopecky, classics rider of the year

Lotte Kopecky wins the Tour of Flanders
Lotte Kopecky, shown here winning the Tour of Flanders, says the arrival of Wiebes is good for SD Worx. (Photo: Jasper Jacobs/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images)

The 2021 classics season was one of disappointment for Lotte Kopecky with misfortune hampering her campaign. Fast forward a year and she was on top of the world. After a shaky start at Omloop Het Niewsblad, she put in one of the rides of her life at Strade Bianche to hold off Annemiek van Vleuten in a thrilling finale. She then went on to win the Tour of Flanders while wearing the Belgian champion’s jersey in front of adoring crowds.

Marta Cavalli, breakthrough of the year

Marta Cavalli beat Annemiek van Vleuten to win Fleche Wallonne in the spring
Marta Cavalli beat Annemiek van Vleuten to win Fleche Wallonne in the spring (Photo: Benoit Doppagne/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images)

Marta Cavalli has been a growing talent in the women’s peloton stepping into the WorldTour last season, but this year saw her take a major step forward. The Italian came close to completing a run of victories at the Ardennes classics in the sprint, winning the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne with powerful performances before missing out at Liège. She continued her good run later into the season with second overall at the Giro d’Italia Donne before her season was derailed with a horrible crash at the Tour de France.

Elisa Balsamo, victory celebration of the year

Elisa Balsamo celebrates her Trofeo Alfredo Binda win. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The world champion got plenty of opportunities to show off her celebration skills during the 2022 season with nine wins in the rainbow jersey.

Also read: The raw emotion behind Elisa Balsamo’s spectacular victory salute

Balsamo’s Trofeo Alfredo Binda celebration was one of her standout salutes as she thrust her finger into the air while keeping her body perfectly straight as she crossed the line for a dominant win. She later explained that she was commemorating a close friend that had recently died.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, finish line interview of the year

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig winning at the Tour de France Femmes
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig winning at the Tour de France Femmes (Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images)

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig proved herself a fine rider several times this year with big wins at the Tour de France Femmes and the Tour of Scandinavia, but she rivals her bike talents with her skills as a post-race interviewee.

Also read: Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig: ‘2022 was one of my best seasons ever’

Her flash interview after her Tour de France stage win was another masterpiece of its kind as she let out all of the emotions of the previous days. Great racing will help women’s cycling continue to develop, but so will great personalities.

Marianne Vos, it was meant to be moment of the year

Team Jumbo Visma’s Dutch rider Marianne Vos celebrates her second Tour de France Femmes stage win (Photo by JEFF PACHOUD/AFP via Getty Images)

It was another pretty epic year for Marianne Vos with a raft of big wins, but there was a moment of “this was meant to be” when she took the yellow jersey at the Tour de France Femmes in the summer. Not only is she one of the most successful riders of all time, but she was also one of the driving forces behind the revival of a women’s Tour de France. It seemed very fitting that she would be the rider who would wear the jersey for the longest time as well as taking two stage wins.

Human Powered Health, oops of the year

Barbara Malcotti with her teammates at the Tour de France Femmes
Barbara Malcotti with her teammates at the Tour de France Femmes (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

The Human Powered Health team was left a bit red-faced and frustrated when Barbara Malcotti was kicked out of the Tour de France Femmes after receiving assistance from the team from the wrong part of the peloton.

Also read: Tour de France Femmes: Human Powered Health calls Barbara Malcotti DQ ‘crazy’

The team car had dropped back from the breakaway and pulled over to the side of the road to wait for Malcotti, who pulled out of the middle of the bunch instead of dropping back. The UCI has changed its rules to allow two team cars at big races like the Tour, which should prevent a mistake like this, but it’s too late for Malcotti.

Elisa Balsamo, save of the year

Elisa Balsamo almost crashes during Paris-Roubaix

Elisa Balsamo’s skills are not just limited to victory celebrations, she also has some mad bike handling skills. During Paris-Roubaix this year she hit a pothole that nearly bucked her from her bike.

Also read: Paris-Roubaix Femmes: World champion Elisa Balsamo DQ’ed for a sticky bottle

She barely flinched as she regained control of the bike with ease. She would get disqualified a short while later, but at least she didn’t leave injured after hitting the pothole.

Fem van Empel, cyclocross breakthrough of the year

Dutch Fem Van Empel celebrates after winning in Tabor (Photo: JASPER JACOBS/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

The season still has plenty to go but Fem van Empel has been one of the stand-out performers during the 2022-23 cyclocross season. The 20-year-old already has 11 wins under her belt this year and has made herself the major favorite for the world title in the New Year. Fortunately, she appears to have avoided serious injury after a big crash at the Val di Sole World Cup at the weekend. Hopefully, she’ll be back at her best soon enough.