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From Strade Bianche to Liège-Bastogne-Liège, here’s what we loved from women’s racing

A return to the top with Marianne Vos and dominance by SD Worx, there was never a dull moment during the women's spring classics.

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What a wild ride the 2021 spring classics have been.

From cobbles of Omloop Het Niewsblad in February, the dusty roads Strade Bianche in March to the forests and city streets of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, there has been non-stop action from start to finish.

In what was one of the most competitive classics seasons in women’s racing, riders traded blows and victories every week with endlessly aggressive and wildly entertaining racing.

SD Worx dominated the spring with their race-busting tactics, but it wasn’t all one-way traffic. From the 18 major one-day races in Europe this spring, there were 14 different winners from nine separate teams.

Here are our standout moments and riders:

Kasia Niewiadoma: Always in the action

Kasia Niewiadoma was almost always on the attack during the classics
Kasia Niewiadoma was almost always on the attack during the classics Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images

Kasia Niewiadoma didn’t manage a victory this spring but when it came to the crunch she was, more often than not, there.

Nine days of racing brought in six top 10 finishes and two trips to the podium for the former Polish champion. Her attacks defined many of the one-day races so far in 2021 and it was only by small margins that she didn’t get one in the win column.

Also read: Flèche Wallonne: Kasia Niewiadoma searching for lady luck

Niewiadoma ignited the race-winning moves at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Dwars door Vlaanderen in March. She also launched what looked to be the key attack at the Amstel Gold Race just over a week ago – only to have her chances scuppered by an uncooperative breakaway companion.

Her ride at Flèche Wallonne was top notch and there was no shame in being beaten by Anna van der Breggen. The only major blip in her spring was the Tour of Flanders where she was distanced on the Oude Kwaremont.

Niewiadoma’s style of racing is aggressive and throws caution to the wind. If she can help it, she won’t sit and wait for another rider to blink first. While it might come back to haunt her as other riders sometimes piggyback off her efforts it is exciting to watch. — Sadhbh O’Shea

Marianne Vos: Still the boss

Marianne Vos winning the Amstel Gold Race
Marianne Vos winning the Amstel Gold Race Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Marianne Vos proved that she truly is still the boss this season. The Dutch superstar took a risk this year, moving away from CCC / Liv Racing to head up a young new, ambitious Jumbo-Visma team.

Vos could have sat on her laurels as the centerpiece rider of her home squad and set her legs into retirement mode. Instead, the 33-year-old added two new trophies to her stacked cabinet, winning both Gent-Wevelgem and Amstel Gold Race for the first time in her illustrious career. With 12th being her worst result in eight races this spring, it’s clear Vos isn’t going anywhere yet.

Also read: Amstel Gold Race: Marianne Vos storms to sprint win

And although Vos is increasingly reliant on her big sprint as her climbing legs begin to fade, her never-say-die attitude lives on strong as ever. “The boss” withstood several attacks before finally cracking in the hills of Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, and led the chase when she missed the moves at Alfredo Binda and Strade Bianche.

Vos remains as true a racer as ever and was a force to be reckoned with through the spring. SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo may have the numbers, but Vos has the legs and the experience to match the whole peloton put together.  — Jim Cotton

Strade Bianche: SD Worx work over rivals

Chantal van den Broek-Blaak forced Elisa Longo Borghini into doing the work at Strade Bianche
Chantal van den Broek-Blaak forced Elisa Longo Borghini into doing the work at Strade Bianche Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Strade Bianche had everything that makes bike racing great – a surprise winner, a tactical masterclass, and one heck of a lot of action.

SD Worx well and truly ‘worxed’-over Elisa Longo Borghini to see Chantal van den Broek-Blaak take the Prosecco in Siena this March.

The team’s ruthless flurry of attacks and counter-attacks positioned Longo Borghini into pulling breakaway companion van den Broek-Blaak into the final climb, burning all her matches before the race even hit the Via Santa Caterina as she fought to keep a mass of chasing SD Worx riders at bay.

Also read: Strade Bianche: Chantal van den Broek-Blaak delivers victory for SD Worx

The Dutch squad took a one-three on the podium when Longo Borghini faded on the final climb in what was a fitting conclusion to a perfectly played day of racing. And that van den Broek-Blaak stole the show when her attack was only intended to set up Anna van der Breggen was a harbinger of the spring-long stranglehold the team exerted over the peloton.

But Strade wasn’t a one-team show.

Liv Racing, Trek-Segafredo and FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope were all active in the final hour, and two of the peloton’s illustrious veterans had their time in the spotlight when Marianne Vos and Annemiek van Vleuten hit out on a brief two-up escape.

What more could you want from a day of racing? — Jim Cotton

Flèche Wallonne: Anna van der Breggen, Queen of the Huy

Anna van der Breggen wins her seventh Fleche Wallonne title
Anna van der Breggen wins her seventh Fleche Wallonne title Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images

It feels a little wrong to say that Flèche Wallonne was my favorite race of the spring but there you have it.

I have a couple of reasons for picking this particular race and Anna van der Breggen’s performance is top of the list. The sense of inevitability that comes with dominance at an event usually kills the thrill of a race but that hasn’t happened with van der Breggen’s run at Flèche Wallonne.

There is something about watching an athlete put in such a well-honed performance that is hard not to enjoy. While it might seem at moments her competitors are just biding their time at Flèche Wallonne before she adds the next victory to her palmarès, van der Breggen has faced stiff competition over the years.

Also read: Flèche Wallonne: Anna van der Breggen and the magnificent seven

She has dealt with the pressure from her rivals in different ways to take each of her seven wins. After a spate of illness and a difficult Amstel Gold Race a few days earlier, this year felt like the one that we were most likely to see van der Breggen dethroned.

Various teams threw everything but the kitchen sink at her and had had SD Worx on the ropes, forcing them into some uncharacteristic mistakes and a tricky decision in the final kilometers but still van der Breggen prevailed.

While it will be nice to see a different rider win, Flèche Wallonne 2022 will be missing something without the all-conquering van der Breggen. — Sadhbh O’Shea