10 stories to follow in international women’s road racing

The new year brings plenty of exciting storylines to follow in pro women's road racing, from the impact of the Tokyo Olympics, to the future of star rider Lorena Wiebes. Here are 10 stories we will be watching.

Photo: Getty Images

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Intrigue and polemic are constant in cycling, and the women’s side of our sport is no different, especially with the UCI introducing a number of structural changes for 2020. So, as the year gets underway, we’ve had a look at some stories we will follow throughout the season.

Will Boels-Dolmans find a new sponsor?

Boels-Dolmans is on the hunt for new backers in 2020. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

A team that has dominated the sport should never have problems finding sponsorship. Yet the news that the Dutch super team is searching for new backers is not an endorsement of pro cycling’s business model.

The Dutch squad have led the way in recent years. Since 2014 Boels-Dolmans has won two World Cup titles, dominated the team standings in the UCI Women’s WorldTour, won the WorldTour individual standings twice, and produced four world champions.

Though no announcement has been forthcoming, the team have suggested negotiations with new backers are underway, and though they want to remain independent. Don’t rule out a merger with Dutch men’s team, Jumbo-Visma.

Where will Lorena Wiebes land?

Wiebes was the breakout star of the 2019 season. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Lorena Wiebes finished the years as the world’s top ranked rider, but finds herself in dispute with her Parkhotel-Valkenburg team and potentially without a ride for 2020.

The Dutchwoman was the unrivaled rising star of 2019, well on her way to becoming the sport’s dominant sprinter. Just 20 years old, she collected 15 wins throughout the season. Wiebes clearly feels she can achieve more at a bigger team, and is looking for a move.

In November she told VeloNews that she was seeking to dissolve her three-year deal with Parkhotel-Valkenburg, despite one year remaining on the contract.

“I think Parkhotel is a development team. I really like the team but I think I don’t have much more room to grow at Parkhotel,” she said.

She recently told Dutch media she will not ride for Parkhotel-Valkenburg in the hope of being released from her contract to join another team in June.

How will the new WorldTeams fare?

Canyon-SRAM will step into the new UCI WorldTeams designation in 2020. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

This season brings the long awaited creation of WorldTeams, and the introduction of two tiers of pro teams. While these top squads must pay a minimum wage and meet other ethical and financial standards. sporting success was not a prerequisite and some have struggled, calling the new structure into question.

Of the eight WorldTeams, two squads — Movistar and FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope — have never won a WorldTour race, both struggling for other victories and finishing ranked 13th and 21st respectively.

Both have strengthened for 2020, but it remains to be seen whether either can match the winning pedigree of top squads that are now categorized in the second-tier of teams, such as Boels-Dolmans and Ceratizit-WNT.

Who will dominate the classics?

Bastianelli dominated the classics in 2019. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

One rider always grabs post-classics headlines, and last year it was Marta Bastianelli (Alé-BTC Ljubljana). The Italian finished in the top-10 in in her opening 11 races, the Tour of Flanders among three victories in that time.

With 19 wins last year, Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) has returned to dominance, and expect her to target the Tour of Flanders, a race she has surprisingly won only once.

Prolific winners in the classics, Boels-Dolmans have Chantal Blaak, Amy Pieters and Jolien D’hoore covering most bases.

What can ProTour races add?

The Amgen Tour of California’s shuttering opens the door for other events. Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

Sitting between WorldTour and UCI .1 events, the new UCI ProSeries will add a fourth level of race to the women’s calendar, adding visibility for the sport, with live streaming or TV highlights a requirement.

Events like Healthy Ageing Tour and Festival Elsy Jacobs have already started doing this, and are well placed to fill the void left by the disappearance of both Amgen Tour of California an Emakumeen Bira.

However, will the creation of the ProSeries ensure races attract the big teams and names required to draw in viewers and make organizers’s investment viable?

How will the Olympics impact the Giro Rosa?

The Giro Rosa falls just a few weeks before the 2020 Olympics. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

As the longest and toughest race on the calendar, the Giro Rosa is a high priority for many, and we are sure to see the likes of Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten each looking for a third maglia rosa.

As can be seen from recent editions of La Course by le Tour de France, those who do well in Italy emerge with excellent form. However, the Olympic road race comes three weeks after the Giro closes and holding on to form will require careful management if we are not to see an Olympic winner from the left field.

Chloé Dygert and Team USA target Tokyo 2020

Dygert and other Americans have their sights set on Tokyo. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

All eyes will be on American Chloé Dygert in August. The TWENTY20 rider has her sights set on the Tokyo Olympics, and the world championships proved Dygert knows how to time her preparation. Dygert will target both the road time trial as well as the women’s team pursuit.

There are other Americans heading to Tokyo with big aspirations as well. Jennifer Valente eyes track gold in multiple events. The road course’s hilly course could cater to riders who excel in hilly terrain. As usual the Dutch will have a multitude of options for both road race and time trial, and a second gold for either Marianne Vos or Anna van der Breggen is very possible.

Who will retire at the end of the season?

The end of an Olympic cycle often sees a number of riders retire. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

The end of the Olympic cycle often brings some careers to and end, and while no announcements have been made, we expect 2020 will be no exception.

When Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) returned after having her baby she suggested this would be her last season, though she has since hinted otherwise. However, the Brit has proved riding professionally and motherhood do mix, and groundbreaking UCI regulations on maternity leave may persuade others to remain.

Which teams will join the WorldTeam category?

This season could see more teams decide to step up to WorldTour level for 2021. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Women’s cycling has been on the up for some years, but the fact remains that not all riders in top teams are paid sufficient wages.

The minimum wage paid by WorldTeams is set to increase in the coming years and teams wanting to be part of the top tier will have other financial commitments, include racing at all WorldTour events across the globe.

The UCI are committed to increasing the number of WorldTeams in coming seasons, though we will have to wait to see whether squads can afford the increased financial commitment.

Which young stars will establish themselves in 2020?

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig had a breakout ride in 2017. Who will the sport’s new star be this season? Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Whether it be Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig’s 2017 breakout or Lorena Wiebes’s emergence last season, every year brings new names to the public consciousness.

German Franziska Koch made an instant impression when she joined Sunweb last summer, taking the squad’s only WorldTour victory within month of joining and is sure to be one to watch. Sunweb is stacked with young talent and 22 year-old Brit, Anna Henderson could make her mark in her first professional year after dominating the UK domestic scene.

Dutchwoman Lonneke Uniken impressed in the sprints at September’s Boels Ladies Tour and will certainly benefit from her move to Boels-Dolmans and their strong lead out.

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