Which cyclist is more valuable: the Tour de France victor or the world champion? For decades, fans and media alike have argued over questions of this nature. Unlike mainstream American sports, pro cycling does not award a Most Valuable Player prize to its greatest champions. Instead, that title has been determined by debates on the group ride, or at the pub.
In our annual Season Preview issue of VeloNews magazine, we were determined to rank the top 50 riders, male and female, based on their perceived value. We created a methodology that took into account race results, marketability, social following, teamwork, and other qualities. We then reached out to a group of experts to help us vote. We kept them anonymous to prevent personal relationships from swaying their votes. Our group of mystery voters included agents, team directors, Olympic champions, and even a grand tour winner or two. Their votes helped inform our final list, which was chosen by the VeloNews editorial team.
Did we get it right? It is up for debate — and that’s the point. Here are the pro women we ranked 11th-15th. Stay tuned for the rest of the rankings, and be sure to check out riders 6-10, riders 11-15, riders 16-20, and riders 21-25.
5. Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Canyon-SRAM)
Fifth? Really? Yes, definitely. Ferrand-Prévot has all the talent in the world. No one, male or female, has ever simultaneously held the world titles on the road, mountain, and ’cross bike, except her. Okay, so her results fell off a cliff soon after. If her recent performances in cyclocross are any indication (she recently won the French national title), her old form is on the return. Watch out. To go with the preternatural talent, she has personality. Her Instagram account has 195,000 followers. That’s the same as Tom Boonen and more than Greg Van Avermaet. If there’s any indication that she is worthy of investment, look no further than her helmet. It is adorned with the iconic colors of Red Bull, one of the world’s most visible and lucrative personal sponsors.
4. Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans)
A former world champion, Deignan is another rider whose individual value suffers because she calls super-squad Boels-Dolmans home. Her 2017 season wasn’t a resounding success unless you place a high value on teamwork and sacrifice. We do, and the fact that Deignan used her strength and power in the service of Anna van der Breggen across the Ardennes classics speaks volumes. If Deignan doesn’t play the role of the good teammate, perhaps van der Breggen doesn’t complete a historic first sweep at Amstel Gold Race, Flèche, and Liège. Our mystery voters had mixed reviews of Deignan. She placed as high as fourth and as low as 15th. On average, however, she was solidly in the top 10. Interestingly, Deignan’s Twitter following bests even Marianne Vos, and by a margin in the tens of thousands.
3. Marianne Vos (Waowdeals)
Some may argue Marianne Vos deserves to top this list. (In fact, one of our guest pundits did just that.) Her career palmarès are beyond compare: three world road titles (and six silver medals), three Giro titles and 19 stage wins, four La Flèche titles, among other wins on the road, not to mention seven (!) world cyclocross titles and two Olympic gold medals. Yet that’s all in the past. Vos has struggled to rediscover her form after suffering from overtraining several seasons ago. The sheer domination she once had over the sport looks to be gone forever. Still, she can win — the quality of her victories just isn’t the same. Vos still commands the sport’s attention. What other rider can snap his or her fingers and create a new team? Okay, perhaps Peter Sagan. But only Vos actually did it, when longtime sponsor Rabobank decided to step away from cycling in 2016. Her WM3 Energie team becomes WaowDeals Pro Cycling for 2018, but one thing remains the same: Vos is the undisputed star.
2. Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans)
If van der Breggen weren’t on the world’s most powerful women’s team, she would likely sit atop our list. Her 2017 season was impeccable. In fact, her career as a whole has been stellar: She’s been nearly automatic at La Flèche Wallonne Féminine since 2015, and she seems tailor-made for the Ardennes classics where she swept in 2017. On a squad full of stars, she may be the brightest of them all. Her Olympic gold medal from Rio gives her crossover power to attract fans and sponsors outside of cycling. So, put her on another team and her value becomes even greater. However, it is a bit of a catch-22. If she doesn’t ride for Boels-Dolmans, does she win nearly as much? While one of our mystery judges had van der Breggen atop her list, most agreed with us that she belonged in the second spot. In terms of raw numbers, Van Vleuten has the edge when it comes to social media following, with a significant advantage on Twitter.
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott)
The Netherlands is the undisputed superpower in women’s cycling, having produced current world road champion Chantal Blaak, reigning Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen, La Course victor Annemiek Van Vleuten, and the great Marianne Vos. The Dutch glut seemed to stymie our mystery voters, who struggled to come to a consensus on which rider brings the most value. Most of the votes were split between van der Breggen and Van Vleuten. Van der Breggen’s recent results hold more clout — we named her our 2017 VeloNews female cyclist of the year. The season after claiming the Olympic title, van der Breggen dominated the women’s WorldTour, taking the series title after sweeping the Ardennes Classics and winning the Giro Rosa and Tour of California. Yet, in terms of pure value, van der Breggen is diminished by the depth of her Boels-Dolmans team. Remove her and the Dutch squad would still grab victories with several other stars. The same cannot be said for Van Vleuten’s Mitchelton-Scott team. Van Vleuten is the team’s sole superstar — yes, the arrival of Jolien d’Hoore helps — and her mere presence gives Mitchelton- Scott a chance to win almost any race. Thus, the edge goes to Van Vleuten in this ranking of the “Most Valuable Rider.” Van Vleuten’s terrifying crash in the 2016 Olympic road race begot one of the most powerful stories of resilience in pro cycling. Just a month after breaking her jaw, she won the Lotto Belgium Tour overall. A year later she won the rainbow stripes. Van Vleuten’s performance at the 2017 La Course was a triumph for female cyclists across the globe. Her Strava time up the hulking Col d’Izoard was so fast that only two men — French riders Romain Bardet and Warren Barguil — would ride faster during the Tour’s stage 19. At 35 years old, Van Vleuten doesn’t fit the typical mold of a newly minted superstar, but the Dutchwoman has proven her talent time and again over the last year and a half. That’s pure value.