The greatest modern rivalries of the women’s peloton

A closer look at some of the most prominent rivalries in women's racing in recent memory.

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The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BreaktheBias and, within cycling, there is definitely a tendency to default to men’s racing when we talk about iconic races and characters. That includes famous rivalries.

Both now and in the past, rivalries between the greats within the sport are what keep us on the edge of our seats and glued to following races. Here are some of the most prominent rivalries in women’s racing from recent memory.

Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten

Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen after the individual time trial at the Tokyo Olympics.

Although Anna van der Breggen hung up her racing wheels at the end of 2021 to become a directeur sportif for SD Worx, the rivalry between the 31-year-old and her compatriot defined women’s racing for years. The pair became two of the most dominant women in the sport and were pretty evenly matched, meaning that races often came down to a head-to-head between them. 

They battled on every type of terrain, from time trials to one-day Classics, stage races, and world championships. Between them they have multiple world titles, an Olympic gold medal each, three editions of the Giro d’Italia Donne each, and countless Women’s WorldTour races – including Van der Breggen’s record-breaking seven Flèche Wallonne victories. 

One of the most iconic instances of Van Vleuten and Van der Breggen’s rivalry was the 2018 edition of La Course by Le Tour de France. That year, the race finished on the climb up to Le Grand-Bornand. With Van der Breggen solo and almost certain to win, Van Vleuten emptied herself, battling with the gradient all the way to pip her rival just a few metres before the line.

While it is a shame that we won’t get to see the two Dutch champions go head-to-head in the inaugural Tour de France Femmes this year, their rivalry has played a role in raising the level of women’s racing in recent years. As demonstrated in last weekend’s Strade Bianche, Van Vleuten remains the strongest rider in the peloton, but in Van der Breggen’s wake there are now plenty of riders who can challenge her former rival. With Van der Breggen in the director’s seat, SD Worx has the insight from Van Vleuten’s former closest rival too.

Marianne Vos and Lizzie Deignan

Marianne Vos (Jumbo Visma) in second place and winner Lizzie Deignan (Trek – Segafredo) during the podium ceremony after the 1st Paris-Roubaix. Photo by Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images

While this rivalry is perhaps not as close as Van Vleuten and Van der Breggen, Lizzie Deignan and Marianne Vos have been pitted against one another many times for close to 10 years. With Olympic medals, world titles across multiple disciplines, and multiple Women’s WorldTour wins between them, Vos and Deignan are always fierce competitors.

Since coming second to Vos at the 2012 Olympic road race in London, Deignan, who has similar strengths to the rider known as the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) has taken her to task in the Classics in particular. In most recent memory, we saw Vos turning herself inside out trying to chase Deignan down in the inaugural Paris Roubaix Femmes to no avail, graciously saying, “Deignan rode a very strong race and it’s only deserved that she can collect her cobblestone here.”

Both riders have had their time away from racing, with Vos suffering from “overreaching” in 2015 and Deignan taking time away to start a family, but they have remained consistent for over a decade and it is that which stands them both out as two of the greatest female riders in recent history.

Emma Norsgaard and Lorena Wiebes 

Lorena Wiebes tops Emma Norsgaard to win stage 5 of the Giro Donne.

A fairly new rivalry but one that spiced up sprints in 2021 is between Danish rider Emma Norsgaard and her fellow fast-finisher Lorena Wiebes. The pair have marked their spots as two of the speediest women in the peloton lately.

Both riders are only 22-years-old. With Norsgaard shaping up to become more of a Classics-style rider than a pure sprinter, it is no surprise that to date, Wiebes – who is closer than her rival to being a ‘pure sprinter’ – has beaten Norsgaard on six occasions in sprint finishes.

Jolanda Neff and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot

Jolanda Neff and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot take a drop in the cycling mountain bike women’s cross-country race during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Beyond road and into the cross country mountain bike scene, Jolanda Neff and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot have long been rivals on the trails. Ferrand-Prevot is the only cyclist – male or female – to ever win world titles in road, mountain bike, and cyclocross in the same year, and Neff has won an Olympic XCO title and multiple world titles as well as having taken multiple individual World Cup wins.

This is a rivalry that hasn’t always been amicable, with the two crashing together at the 2018 cyclocross World Championships in Hoogerheide. Later, at the Olympic Games in Tokyo Neff criticised Ferrand Prevot for a “stupid” move, saying:

“She was in front of me and we were going at a good decent speed and then she pulled her brakes super hard and I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t brake and I ended up jumping with no speed at all. I was super lucky that I didn’t crash. It was such a stupid move of hers because it’s really dangerous for the people behind. I don’t know if she knew I was right there behind, but after that, I just thought, ‘I have to get away from her.’ It’s scary because you never know what she’s going to do. It’s not the first time she does something like that, I’m just glad I wasn’t near her anymore, I was glad I was riding on my own and safe.”

Anna Meares and Victoria Pendleton

Anna Meares in the Women’s Sprint Track Cycling Final on Day 11 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Velodrome.

In the velodrome, two titans of track sprinting, Anna Meares and Victoria Pendleton, had a long-running rivalry across two Olympic cycles between 2008 and Pendleton’s retirement in 2012.

It was a sometimes-heated opposition which culminated in controversy the London 2012 Olympic Games, with Pendleton getting relegated in the sprint final for deviating from her line, meaning the win was eventually awarded to Meares.

Meares, who continued her career until the 2016 Rio Olympics, admitted that she missed her rivalry with the British rider, telling The Guardian in 2015 “I missed that since she retired. I didn’t think I would … She brought a standard that will not be matched.” She added:

“It will be different [without Pendleton in Rio], for sure. [I will miss] the intensity, the feeling I got whenever I saw her at a competition. If it wasn’t for the other one, we would never have reached where we did … In hindsight, as stressful and as difficult as that rivalry was, and the hype associated with it, we were the reason why there was a spotlight on women’s track sprinting in London. It’s a very young sport for us – women have only been involved in track cycling since 1988 – so to bring a spotlight to it as we did, I was really proud to have been one half of that.”

Ina Yoko-Teutenberg and Giorgia Bronzini

Ina Yoko-Teutenberg and Giorgia Bronzini sprint at the end of the London Olympic road race.

Rival sprinters Ina Teutenberg and Giorgia Bronzini are two of women’s cycling’s most prolific winners. Teutenberg won over 200 races in her career while Bronzini amassed over 80 victories between track and road in her career including stages of the Giro Rosa, Route de France, Tour of Qatar, the Amgen Women’s Race with her last victory coming at the Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta in 2018.

Despite Bronzini being 10-years younger than Teutenberg, the pair came head-to-head in fast finishes throughout the 2000s including a memorable photo finish at Giro Della Toscana Int. Femminile in 2009.

Now retired, the pair put aside whatever rivalry they might have had on the road and joined forces as directeur sportifs at Trek-Segafredo in 2019. Bronzini has since moved on to Liv Racing.

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