Annemiek van Vleuten and her dominating presence in the elite women’s peloton will come to an end at the conclusion of 2023.
Of course, she could and might change her mind, but right now, the mighty Van Vleuten suggests every intention of ending her career on top.
And that’s just where she’s been for nearly a decade.
By 2016, she was a favorite in just about every race she started. A horrific crash in Rio de Janeiro kept her out of the gold medal that year, and she only came back stronger to start a string of unrelenting dominance.
The Dutch powerhouse can win in just about every scenario (save a mass bunch sprint) and she’s won just about every major race.
An Olympic gold last year in Tokyo checked that box, and her second rainbow jersey in four years in Wollongong pushed her into elite company.
Also read: Van Vleuten to focus on Giro, Tour in 2023
So what’s going to happen when she’s gone? Will another dominating rider emerge, or will a deeper, better-funded women’s WorldTour produce more parity and depth across the bunch?
Our VeloNews editors pick three riders who seem destined to try to fill the void left by Van Vleuten after her swansong season.
Sadhbh O’Shea: Elisa Longo Borghini
Elisa Longo Borghini has been one of the top riders of the last decade since her breakout season in 2012 when she won a bronze medal at the road worlds aged just 20. However, she has really hit her stride since joining the Trek-Segafredo team back in 2019.
Over the last four years, she has done the Italian TT and road race double twice and won the GP de Plouay, Giro dell’Emilia, Paris-Roubaix Femmes, multiple stages of the Giro d’Italia Donne, the Women’s Tour, as well as finishing on the podium at the Giro and the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta.
Some of these she had already achieved before Trek, but it is the consistency with which she has been able to get up there across the whole season that has really stepped up. While this season was hampered by illness and injury over the spring, she still nabbed herself the Roubaix cobble and a top-five finish at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. She would later go on to claim fourth and sixth at the Giro d’Italia Donne and Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift respectively.
While the women’s peloton is much less specialized than the men’s, it’s still a pretty impressive turnaround to do well on such varied terrain. The hunking great cobbles of northern France could hardly be any different to the Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges.
At 30, it feels like Longo Borghini has plenty more room to grow as the landscape of women’s cycling continues to change in the coming years. She may be forced to specialize a little bit more as the strength of the peloton deepens but she still has the talent to perform across some very different parcours and her aggressive style of racing is fun to watch. She also gives good post-race interviews, and she can be a good ambassador for a sport that is growing rapidly.
Longo Borghini is not going to be a like-for-like replacement for Van Vleuten, nobody could truly replace a rider that has dominated in the way that she has, but the Italian has all the talents to put herself at the forefront of the sport and the personality to thrive in that position.
Andrew Hood: Lorena Wiebes
Lorena Wiebes might never win the Tour de France Femmes, but she’s capable of winning everything else.
At just 23, the Dutch rider is already a force in every race she starts. And with her move to SD Worx on a three-year deal, she will likely be unstoppable.
In just five seasons, she’s already racked up 59 victories. This season saw her emerge as the favorite every time the race finished in any sort of bunch kick, no matter how reduced or big it was.
With 22 victories in 2022 alone, she racked up an impressive haul, from the opening stage at the Tour de France Femmes, and another in stage 5, and rode through the Ride London Classique by winning all three stages and the overall.
Her bonafides in the sprints are already without question.
What’s likely to make her the peloton’s next dominator will be her expected improvement in the classics and one-day races.
She already boasts a bundle of wins in Northern Europe, but she’s struggled in some of the harder, more combative courses, such as Paris-Roubaix Femmes or Tour de Flanders.
Her arrival to SD Worx, with the team’s depth and experience, should see her become even more dangerous. The team’s tactical acumen will only rub off, and she should be able to take it straight to Van Vleuten this season, and beyond when she’s gone.
Wiebes is not bad against the clock, and certainly good enough to defend in a one-week stage race like she did at the Simac Ladies Tour.
Her Achilles heel is her climbing. Like many powerful riders, it’s a quandary between losing weight to climb better at the risk of losing power. Right now, it’s unlikely we’ll see her winning the Giro d’Italia Donne or Tour any time soon.
What’s almost a guarantee is that she’s going to start racking up world championships jerseys as well.
By 2024, when Van Vleuten is expected to be firmly retired, Wiebes will be the rider to beat.
Betsy Welch: Demi Vollering
Of course, there were countless riders who wanted to win the Tour de France Femmes last year, but I’m not sure anyone wanted it as much as Demi Vollering.
And no one came nearly as close.
Vollering, the SD Worx pro, was the only rider to challenge Annemiek van Vleuten during the final mountainous stages of the Tour. During the penultimate stage, Vollering went with her countrywoman on the Petit Ballon climb, and the following day, the 26-year-old held Van Vleuten to just 30 seconds on the Super Planche des Belles Filles.
Vollering, who later said that she was in “the form of my life” during the Tour, was understandably upset to have finished so close — yet so far away — to yellow. She was second overall, 3:48 behind Van Vleuten.
Nevertheless, Vollering’s disappointment was also coupled with a realization: although “there was someone who was stronger,” that was just one person.
Calling Vollering the next Van Vleuten undermines her own style, success, and strength, but acknowledging that she may be on a similar trajectory goes without saying.
Long before her impressive mountain climbing in the Tour, Vollering has shown that she is one of the best riders in the peloton. She happens to have also shared the same podiums as Van Vleuten.
Last year, Vollering beat AVV at Liège-Bastogne-Liège’; this year she was third to Van Vleuten’s first. The two went 1-2 at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and 2-3 at Flèche Wallonne earlier this year. Not to mention Vollering ‘s victories at De Brabantse Pijl and the Itzulia Women’s race.
There’s no doubt that the overall caliber of racing and the climbing masterclass put on by Van Vleuten at this year’s Tour de France will cause seismic shifts in how women race not just the Tour but other events, as well.
Fortunately for Vollering, she already has a huge head start.