The 2021 season delivered on drama.
From Anna Kiesenhofer’s surprise win at the Olympic Games to Anna van der Breggen’s sheer dominance at the Giro d’Italia Donne, there were plenty of talking points throughout the women’s road racing season.
It was a year that saw Elisa Balsamo break the Dutch stranglehold on the world championships, and Lizzie Deignan made history as the first winner of Paris-Roubaix Femmes.
Here are seven memorable racing moments from the 2021 season.
Anna Kiesenhofer defies the odds at the Olympic Games
This is probably the moment from the 2021 season that will be remembered the longest.
Kiesenhofer went into the race hoping to finish with the first major group and secure a top 20 placing, but she ended up riding away with the gold medal. The Austrian rider jumped clear of the bunch in the opening kilometers, keen to avoid racing in the middle of the peloton.
Kiesenhofer, along with most people watching, expected to be caught in the closing kilometers but she was still out there as she passed under the flamme rouge. Behind her, the peloton seemed largely unaware that a breakaway rider looked destined for victory, but Kiesenhofer didn’t know that, and she continued to dig deep.
The confusion due to the absence of race radios overtook the discourse in the immediate aftermath of the race but it is Kiesenhofer’s win against the odds that will last in the history books.
Annemiek van Vleuten Paterberg attack at the Tour of Flanders
Some questioned Annemiek van Vleuten’s switch to Movistar ahead of the start of the 2021 season and wondered if she would step off the gas pedal as she settled into her new surroundings and a supposedly “weaker” team.
Van Vleuten put any such doubts to bed pretty quickly this season. After taking a win at Dwars door Vlaanderen — her third race day of the season — she went on to claim victory in the most dramatic way possible at the Tour of Flanders.
Having put her new teammates to good use, van Vleuten saw her opportunity on the Paterberg.
She ruthlessly picked the steepest section to crack her rivals, and nobody could follow her once she had a small advantage. It was a historic moment for Movistar, which hadn’t one a cobbled monument in its 40-year history as a pro cycling team. Van Vleuten also stamped her authority on the 2021 season and would rarely relent over the coming months.
Anna van der Breggen eliminates riders from the Giro d’Italia Donne
Anna van der Breggen didn’t turn up to play at the Giro d’Italia Donne.
With one final shot at the Italian grand tour, the Dutch rider went all out to take her fourth overall title at the race. There are several standout moments from the 10 days of racing, but maybe the biggest was the day she rode fast enough to eliminate 12 riders from the event.
Van der Breggen won the stage four time trial by over a minute to her teammate Demi Vollering, a massive margin for an 11.2 kilometer stage. Lotto-Soudal rider Danique Braam would be the final rider to make the 30-percent time cut at 7:30 behind van der Breggen. Bizkaia-Durango was the hardest hit by the TT cuts with four of their six riders going home. Van der Breggen’s time trial ride was one part of a dominant performance by the whole SD Worx team, which took all three spots on the final podium.
Lizzie Deignan wins first Paris-Roubaix Femmes
It was already a historic moment for the women’s peloton, setting out on the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes after over 100 years of the men’s event.
The early October setting meant weather played much more of a factor than it often does in the usual April slot and the women would have a wet and muddy race on their first go. In the words of Marianne Vos, it made it “even more epic”.
Lizzie Deignan had been focusing on the race since it was announced in 2020 but she went into the event as a support rider for her teammates Ellen van Dijk and Elisa Longo Borghini. While the Italian would make it to the podium, it was the British rider that entered the history books as the first-ever winner. She went clear on the first cobbled sector, as she tried to get in to a good position, and the rest is history.
Able to make her own lines through the mud, she was one of the few to stay upright as she romped to victory.
Ruth Winder pips Demi Vollering at Brabantse Pijl
Brabantse Pijl often gets lost in the lull between the finale of the cobbled classics and the start of the Ardennes week. However, with Paris-Roubaix delayed until October and a stellar field on the start line, the race in the Flemish Ardennes stood out on the calendar.
A difficult headwind on some of the important climbs made it tricky to get away and big pre-race favorite Annemiek van Vleuten was unable to get clear. In the end, it came down to a six-rider breakaway that moved clear on the final local lap. Elisa Balsamo led the six into the final straight, but it would be Demi Vollering and Ruth Winder battling it out for the win.
At first glance, it looked like Vollering had taken it and the Dutchwoman thought she had done so, but the photo finish gave it to a shocked Winder. The victory would be her last in the stars and stripes jersey of national champion. The debate about photo-finish cameras would rumble on for weeks afterward, helped by a tight finish in the men’s Amstel Gold Race.
Elisa Longo Borghini solos to victory at GP de Plouay
If Elisa Longo Borghini is known for anything, it is her aggressive style of racing.
The Italian rider is never one to back down in any situation and she really took the GP de Plouay by the scruff. Decked out in the Italian champion’s jersey, and in her first race since taking bronze in the Olympic Games road race, Longo Borghini was on a mission in France.
Longo Borghini tried several times to get away before she could shake all of her companions. Her first real decisive move came on the Bosse du Lezot climb with 25k remaining. She would be reeled in by several chasers before the final lap started but she wasn’t done yet.
Picking her moment on the same climb the next time around, Longo Borghini went solo this time. She had the slimmest of margins as the finish line loomed into sight, but it was enough to seal the victory by just 12 seconds.
The Italians play it perfectly in Flanders as the Dutch falter
When the women’s road race at the world championships set out from Antwerp in late September, it seemed as though it was the Dutch’s to lose.
The women in orange had dominated the event in recent years, winning the last four editions and taking six of the last 10. However, the Italian’s had other ideas and while the Dutch blew their own team apart as they tried to rip up the race, the women in the azzurri jerseys played it pitch-perfect.
It was no surprise to see the Dutch throw down in the final laps of the road race, it was entirely expected that they would want to make the race as hard as possible. However, they left some people scratching their heads when Ellen van Dijk was chased down by her own team members.
Many of the team’s riders would say later that they didn’t coordinate their moves properly with Lucinda Brand describing them as ‘loose sand’. While Marianne Vos was ultimately left with nobody to help her in the final, Elisa Balsamo had a top-notch lead-out after her teammates measured their efforts perfectly to nullify all the attacks.
While the Dutch seemed to disintegrate in the finale, the Italians stayed glued together and reaped the rewards.
Other memorable moments: Demi Vollering scores breakthrough win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Anna van der Breggen wins a seventh at Flèche Wallonne, Marianne Vos wins 30th Giro d’Italia Donne stage, Kristen Faulkner takes surprise breakaway win at Ladies Tour of Norway.
Let us know what moments you loved during the 2021 season.