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Women’s WorldTour hits harder in 2022 with extra stage for Ceratizit Challenge, new climbs for classics

Spanish tour expands to five stages, iconic Koppenberg and Kemmelberg climbs come to the classics as women's calendar continues to grow.

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The Women’s WorldTour took a few more steps forward this week.

It was confirmed Thursday that the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta would expand to five stages for 2022. One day later, Flanders Classics announced the addition of the iconic Koppenberg and Kemmelberg climbs to its marquee one-day races for the coming season.

The news comes ahead of a year that will also welcome the inaugural Tour de France Femmes, the second edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes, and the new “Battle of the North” Norweigan stage-race to the top-tier of women’s racing.

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The Ceratizit Challenge, the race run in conjunction with the men’s Vuelta a España, has grown rapidly from its one-day first incarnation in 2015. This year’s four-day edition packed a series of climb-heavy stages before Annemiek van Vleuten sealed victory on the same day and in the same location as the final of the men’s three-week race.

2022 will see organizers respond to calls for “more” with the addition of an extra day of racing on an as-yet to be confirmed parcours.

“You only have to see the extremely high level of participation in 2021 to understand its importance in the women’s WorldTour calendar,” race director Javier Guillén in a media release Thursday. “We must respond to the challenge demanded by the riders, and do so by making [the 2022 race] the toughest route to date.”

It’s not just the Spanish tour that’s stoking the flame.

Flanders Classics, organizers of the women’s Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem, has confirmed the addition of the fierce Koppenberg and Kemmelberg ascents to its two leading classics. The men and women’s peloton will now follow the exact same tire tracks through the final 54km of Gent-Wevelgem and closing 45km of Flanders.

The tweaks to the two courses make for another significant step forward by Flanders Classics, which has already been leading the way in leveling up its men’s and women’s races.

“We have felt for a long time to have women’s equality for all of our races,” Flanders Classics CEO Tomas van den Spiegel told VeloNews earlier this year.

Van den Spiegel and Co. lived up to their commitment in 2021.

Improved television coverage and the move to have women’s racing finish around one hour after the men put the female peloton directly into the eye-view in an innovation set to continue for 2022.

Stepping stones toward something bigger

Less TV coverage meant fans missed Lizzie Deignan's big attack
Paris-Roubaix Femmes saw the women’s peloton on new terrain this season. (Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)

The expansion of the Ceratizit Challenge and upping of the Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem comes amid the wider push for sustainable development of the women’s calendar.

Paris-Roubaix Femmes champ Lizzie Deignan said in a media call this week that the sky’s the limit for women’s racing provided progression is made at a maintainable pace.

“It’s important that we do have stepping stones, and we don’t just go — boom — straight into a three-week Tour de France,” she said. “Any change that happens needs to be sustainable, and I think in recent years there has been a good progression in women’s cycling. Sometimes you need to push the boundaries so the teams catch up, so it is a difficult balancing act.”

2022 will see the Women’s WorldTour swell to 14 teams with the addition of new players like Team Uno-X and new backing behind teams such as EF Education Tibco-SVB and UAE Team ADQ.

Also read: Uno-X dives direct into the Women’s WorldTour

The expanded Ceratizit Challenge will sit alongside the eight-day Tour de France Femmes and the six-stage Women’s Tour and Battle of the North tours as one of the leading WorldTour races in the new year. The return to the top-tier of the 10-day Giro d’Italia Donne dials the intensity of the women’s premier calendar one digit further.

Rider pay and race broadcasting are still a sticking point, but Deignan’s call for steady progress seems to have been heard.