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The women’s peloton may finally see a U23 race, but not the one it expected.
UCI president David Lappartient told French cycling website DirectVelo that plans are being made to create a women’s U23 category within the elite women’s race in 2022.
That would mean a two-in-one scenario, with two rainbow jerseys being awarded, for the overall winner and another for the best rider under the age of 23. The U.S. elite men’s national title was held under a similar format until 2006.
Lappartient — who has been confirmed for a second term as UCI president after an uncontested election — said the event would be a test with a view to eventually creating a separate race. He also said that the UCI hoped to include the new category in next year’s world championships in Wollongong, Australia.
“We notice that a lot of the girls under 23 are among the best in the world. However, we still notice that the size of the peloton is increasing,” Lappartient told DirectVelo. “Therefore, we are considering creating the category of women U23.
“We will start first by including the concept of two races in one, that the best U23 would also be crowned world champion. We will do an evaluation and if we see that we have to do a separate race, we will. What is certain is that a U23 rider will soon have a world title.”
— DirectVelo (@directvelo) September 24, 2021
There has been a U23 category for the men’s peloton since the 1996 world championships in Lugano. Some of the sport’s biggest names have won the title, including Arnaud Démare, Matej Mohorič, Michael Matthews, and Marc Hirschi.
While a junior women’s category was introduced for the 1987 worlds — 12 years after the first junior men’s title was contested — there has never been a U23 category for the women’s peloton.
Calls for one to be introduced have been around some time but they have become increasingly loud as the size and depth of the peloton grows with each year. There is already one at the European championships, and it has existed since 1995.
If the plan to have two races within one goes ahead, it could see a rider walking away with both titles. Danish sprinter Amalie Dideriksen was just 20 years old when she became world champion at the worlds in Doha in 2016.
However, the victor could come from within the middle of the pack.
In addition to a potential new U23 category, it was announced at the UCI congress Thursday that the elite women’s time trial would be held over the same distance as the men, and on the same day, at the 2022 worlds.
A resounding thumbs down from riders
The response has been largely critical from the women’s peloton, where many believe that the U23 riders will get drowned out by their older competitors.
“If your [sic] going to have a title for U23 give us our own race. It’s a completely different dynamic. The point of this sport is to cross the line first, not finish somewhere in the bunch, and get rewarded for it. That’s not why I race. Come back when you can give us a proper race UCI,” the 21-year-old SD Worx rider Niamh Fisher-Black said on social media.
U.S.A. track and road rider Megan Jastrab also shared her thoughts.
“Does this mean U23 women get extra spots in the elite field, or do they need to qualify for the elite team? Also, what stops teams from having the U23 riders working for the elite team?” she said. “A team that has maximum start spots for the elite and U23 women seems like it might be a problem.”
Meanwhile, Canadian rider Alison Jackson said it would create difficulties for the national federations.
“No thank you! That means every nation will be put under pressure to create two teams: three elite riders and three U23 riders? This takes away from Elite racing spots but also doesn’t give the U23 a fair chance either. Make it an entirely separate race,” she said.
Lizzie Deignan slaps down Patrick Lefevere
Former world champion Lizzie Deignan slapped down recent comments from Deceuninck-Quick-Step manager Patrick Lefevere on women’s cycling, saying the sport doesn’t need or want him.
Speaking to HLN Sportscast, Lefevere was asked if he would start a women’s team now that a growing number of men’s teams had a women’s squad. He batted back the idea and said: “With all due respect, but I’m not the [social welfare center].”
He added that there were not enough good Belgian riders at the moment to start a team.
“I really just take everything he says with a pinch of salt,” Deignan told the media in a call. “So no, I’m not disappointed by his comments. Actually, I’m pleased that he has no interest in women’s cycling because we have no interest in him either.”
Deignan rides for the Trek-Segafredo team, which was set up in 2018 and began racing the following year.