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Final countdown: Four things to watch as the women’s 2021 calendar nears its conclusion

From the swansong of Anna van der Breggen to the first-ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes, these are a few things to look out for over the final months of the women's cycling calendar.

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It’s the final countdown.

Well, for the cycling season at least.

Despite a short lull in the women’s calendar during the middle of August, the season is stomping on apace with a handful of WorldTour events remaining. The final six events alternate between stage races and one-day efforts, culminating with the six-day Women’s Tour and the Ronde van Drenthe.

Also read: Anna Kiesenhofer wants more cycling in her life, but she won’t be turning pro

Of course, there is more than just the WorldTour calendar to come over the next two months. With the European Championships, the Giro della Toscana, Tour of the Gila, the world championships, and more to come, it should be an action-packed end to the season.

Here are some storylines to follow and look forward to as the cycling season reaches its denouement.

Anna van der Breggen’s lap of honor

Don’t get too emotional just yet, but Anna van der Breggen’s final season is almost at an end, with a limited number of race days remaining on her calendar.

Van der Breggen announced some time ago that this would be her final year in the professional peloton and she’s unlikely to renege on that. When the 2022 season breaks cover, van der Breggen will be in the team car as a sports director rather than on a bike.

What precisely van der Breggen’s final race program will look like is unclear at the moment, but she will return to racing action, following a post-Olympic Games rest, at the Simac Ladies Tour next week.

Also read: Anna van der Breggen leaving us wanting more in her final season

Van der Breggen has never won the Simac Ladies Tour under any of its guises. This year, the six-day race —  formerly known as the Holland Ladies Tour and will be available to watch on GCN, Eurosport, and local Dutch TV — features a time trial and prologue, giving van der Breggen a big opportunity to add another GC win before she heads off into retirement.

The World Championships in Flanders will be another big goal for van der Breggen in the final months of her cycling career. With a time trial and road race course that suits her well, could she do another double before she hangs up her racing wheels?

First-ever women’s Paris-Roubaix

It was only a few short years ago that Tour de France route planner Thierry Gouvenou said there was no demand from the women’s peloton for a women’s Paris-Roubaix. His comments raised eyebrows then, and a Paris-Roubaix Femmes was scheduled for October last year.

Thanks to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the illustrious occasion has been pushed back twice. Some consolation for those eager to watch, and take part, is that the women’s race will take place on its own day, so as not to be drowned out by the men’s event.

Also read: Everyone wants to be the first to win Paris-Roubaix Femmes

The women’s peloton will compete on Saturday, October 2, setting off from Denain and tackling nearly 30km of northern French cobbles.

A whole host of star names have put this pride of place in their calendar, including Marianne Vos, Lizzie Deignan, Ellan van Dijk, and Lotte Kopecky. We can expect a thrilling first edition of the race, with unpredictable racing throughout.

For some, it may be seen as a build-up to the men’s race the following day, but this is a main even in itself whatever comes after it. Let’s hope that this isn’t a one-off and that the organizer ASO will continue to build the race.

The battle of the young riders

Though the contest for the WorldTour young riders’ jersey might take a back seat to the main battles for race victories and the overall WT prize, it provides plenty of intrigue and shows off some of the peloton’s future stars.

The jersey is awarded to the best rider under the age of 23, with points being handed out to the first three within the category to cross the line. The points — which are six, four, and two — for the top three are only awarded for the final classification, so there are no points given for winning stages of a multi-day race.

Also read: As the Anna van der Breggen era nears its end, SD Worx lays foundations of future domination

This year’s contest features a strong list of future talents ready to take on the world and the fight for top honors is close as the season winds down.

Leading the way is New Zealand rising star Niamh Fisher-Black, who has stepped up another level since moving to SD Worx over the winter. Fisher-Black had already shown some serious talent ahead of this year by winning the New Zealand national road race and finishing just outside the top 20 overall at the Giro Rosa last year.

She has continued her progression in 2021 by winning the youth classification at the Vuelta a Burgos, the Giro d’Italia Donne, and the recent Ladies Tour of Norway.

Fisher-Black has a six-point advantage over another climbing star in Evita Muzic, who rides for FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope. A year older than Fisher-Black, Muzic won the French road race title this year and has been close behind her Kiwi counterpart in most of the major stage races this year.

Two points further back is Mariia Novolodskaia for the A.R Monex Team. Novolodskaia doesn’t have a WorldTour contract like the other two just yet, but her Italian-registered team is going to find it hard to keep her and it won’t be long before she is snapped up.

The 22-year-old Russian has shown herself to have plenty of potential in the classics, with top 20 places at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Amstel Gold, Scheldeprijs, and Gent-Wevelgem. She hasn’t raced since the Giro in June, but she’ll hopefully get some more opportunities in the coming months. Just imagine what she could be capable of with the backing of a strong team.

Other honorable mentions in the youth classification are Emma Norsgaard, Anna Shackley, Mischa Bredewold, Sarah Giante, and Vittoria Guazzini.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CSAKU5MsJYz/

Annemiek van Vleuten capping off an incredible year

Many questioned Annemiek van Vleuten’s switch to Movistar over the winter but she has hardly missed a beat in 2021. She leads the WorldTour standings by more than 800 points over Demi Vollering, not that she’s overly concerned about the title.

For van Vleuten, it’s all about notching up the wins and she’s had plenty with Dwars door Vlaanderen, the Tour of Flanders, Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, Emakumeen Nafarroako, the Olympic time trial title, San Sebastian, and the overall at the Ladies Tour of Norway.

Also read: Annemiek van Vleuten closes a chapter on Olympic journey with road race silver

She’s got a few more targets in her sights before she pulls down the curtain on her season. First up will be the defense of her European road race title.

Like her compatriot van der Breggen, she’ll also be on the hunt for the worlds double in Belgium next month. While she’s not ending her career in 2021, she’ll be just as keen as van der Breggen for two sets of rainbow stripes.

Where else we’ll see van Vleuten is not yet known but wherever she races she’ll be in top form and ready to take on her rivals.

Coming up in the women’s racing calendar:

Simac Ladies Tour — August 24-29
Joe Martin Stage Race — August 26-29
Giro Toscana — August 27-29
GP de Plouay — August 30
Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta — September 2-5
UEC Road European Championships — September 8-12
Tour Cyclist de l’Ardeche — September 8-14
UCI world championships — September 19-26
Giro dell’Emilia — October 2
Paris-Roubaix Femmes — October 2
Tour of the Gila — September 29 – October 3
GP Bruno Beghelli — October 3
Grote prijs Beerens — October 3
Women’s Tour — October 4-9
Tre Valli Varesine — October 5
Binche Chimay Binche — October 5
La Classique Morbihan — October 15
GP du Morbihan — October 16
Drentse Acht van Westerveld — October 22
Ronde van Drenthe — October 23