2023 in Review: Highlights of the Women’s Professional Road Cycling Season

By Megan Flottorp

Another gripping chapter unfolded in women’s professional cycling in 2023, with standout performances, memorable victories, and the rise of new talents leaving their mark on the sport. Demi Vollering from SD Worx emerged as a dominant force, clinching numerous victories across prestigious races, while other cyclists carved their own impressive narratives throughout the season. Here’s a retrospective glance at the top moments that defined the 2023 women’s pro cycling season!

Alison Jackson’s Paris-Roubaix triumph (and dance party)

Alison Jackson’s victory at Paris-Roubaix was a beautiful moment in this year’s scrapbook. Before this victory, Jackson hadn’t seen the podium in a cobbled Classic, but she had steadily climbed the ranks, showcasing her prowess at various competitions. The early breakaway strategy that she adopted surprised many, yet her sheer determination and persistence set her apart. As part of an 18-woman break, Jackson and her cohorts established a significant lead, holding off a resurgent chase group in the final kilometres. Crossing the finish line ahead of her competitors was an impressive feat in itself. Still, her celebration—performing a dance routine that she had popularised on TikTok—added an unforgettable touch to her victory, setting a new standard for post-race celebrations.

Demi Vollering’s Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift conquest

Demi Vollering’s defining moment in the 2023 women’s cycling season occurred during the Tour de France Femmes at the Col du Tourmalet. Her ascent through the challenging terrain showcased not only her physical strength but also her mental fortitude. Despite facing a significant gap behind the GC leader and her teammate, Vollering’s determination propelled her through the arduous Col d’Aspin and the daunting Col du Tourmalet, eventually securing her the stage win and the coveted yellow jersey. With low-hanging clouds and limited visibility on the final climb, Vollering’s struggle against the elements became a testament to her resilience and made the scene all the more dramatic. Her emergence from the mist, pushing through the hairpins on the final kilometre while gasping for air at an altitude of over 2000 meters, etched an iconic image in the Tour de France history books.

Kasia Niewiadoma’s tenacity and grit

Another Tour de France Femmes highlight came during the Pyrenean stage— when Kasia Niewiadoma’s relentless attack showcased unparalleled determination on a demanding course. Her bold manoeuvres and indomitable spirit served once again to captivate the audience, underscoring her reputation as a formidable force in the world of cycling. Despite the challenges posed by the course and fellow competitors, Niewiadoma’s tenacity stood out as she navigated the treacherous terrain, leaving her own signature mark on the race.

Kasia Niewiadoma
Niewiadoma’s relentless attack showcased unparalleled determination on a demanding course. © Profimedia

French riders’ impact at Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift

It also needs to be said that several French cyclists played vital roles in enriching the race narrative. Marie-Morgane Le Deunff from Arkéa Pro Cycling Team initiated the race’s early attacks, setting the tone for an eventful competition. Audrey Cordon-Ragot, riding for Human Powered Health, notably held the virtual yellow jersey for a significant part of stage 4. Her inclusion in a 14-rider breakaway, which gained a substantial advantage on the longest-ever stage in Women’s WorldTour cycling, added excitement to the race.

Cédrine Kerbaol of Ceratizit-WNT’s achievement was equally noteworthy, as she claimed the white jersey for the best U23 rider during stage 1 and successfully defended it throughout the race until Pau. Kerbaol’s achievement not only marked a personal triumph but also represented a significant milestone for French riders in the resurrected women’s Tour. Additionally, Juliette Labous of Team DSM-Firmenich secured a commendable fifth-place finish overall, solidifying her position as France’s hopeful contender in major stage races.

Emerging talents at Tour de France and Giro d’Italia

Speaking of young riders, the 2023 edition of the Giro d’Italia Donne and Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift introduced a wave of fresh talent to the forefront of women’s professional cycling. The nail-biting fifth stage of the Giro d’Italia Donne saw the spectacular debut of neo-pro Antonia Niedermaier from Canyon-SRAM. Displaying remarkable composure and determination, the 20-year-old initiated a daring breakaway with 24 kilometres remaining, ultimately securing her first Women’s WorldTour victory.

The Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift also witnessed the emergence of neo-pros who refused to be overshadowed. Yara Kastelijn, known for her prowess in cyclo-cross, made a significant impact by clinching victory on stage 4. Ricarda Bauernfeind, another promising talent from Canyon-SRAM, further elevated the profile of emerging riders at the Tour de France Femmes. After a notable podium finish at La Vuelta Femenina, Bauernfeind seized victory on stage 5. Her courageous solo effort, originating from her background with Canyon-SRAM’s development team via the Zwift Academy, demonstrated her determination and potential as a rising star in the Women’s WorldTour.

Lotte Kopecky’s emotional triumph at Nokere Koerse

Lotte Kopecky’s poignant victory at Nokere Koerse four days after the tragic loss of her brother resonated deeply within the cycling community. Her decision to compete amidst personal grief reflected an unwavering determination. And she was a force to be reckoned with — attacking at multiple opportunities before successfully dropping the pack in the closing stages. She finished the race, shaking her head slightly, securing a remarkable victory 28 seconds ahead of her teammate Lorena Wiebes, showcasing her exceptional abilities in a powerful display of her skillset.

‘The past few days weren’t easy,’ she said, ‘but there’s no point in letting my head hang down and sitting at home on the sofa. I wanted to make the most of it today, I wasn’t thinking about winning beforehand… I was tremendously strong. I hope I was able to make my brother a bit proud.’

Demi Vollering’s Ardennes triple triumph

Demi Vollering
Vollering at the 2023 Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition.

Demi Vollering’s dominance in the Ardennes Classics with wins at the Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège solidified her status as the Queen of the Ardennes. Her remarkable feat of conquering all three races in a single year, following in the footsteps of Anna van der Breggen, encapsulated moments of unparalleled determination, tears, and triumphant celebrations, leaving an indelible mark in cycling history.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig’s stellar performance at the Tour of Scandinavia

FDJ-Suez’s Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig arrived at the Tour of Scandinavia with the recent success of securing a bronze medal in the UCI World Championships Road Race. Her spark ignited on Stage 2, where she surged past Annemiek van Vleuten to claim a remarkable victory. The competitive tension between the two was evident as they remained just 17 seconds apart on the General Classification heading into the final stage. As rain hammered down on the peloton, the lone leading rider, AG Insurance-Soudal-QuickStep’s Anya Louw, was eventually reeled in. Uttrup Ludwig made her decisive move within the last kilometre of Stage 5 into Haderslev, pushing herself away from the pack with unwavering determination to clinch the stage win.

Wrapping up the week’s events, Uttrup Ludwig secured two stage victories and claimed second place overall, narrowly trailing eventual winner Van Vleuten by a mere two seconds. True to her character, she exuded positivity as she got back on her feet, commenting, “Welcome to Denmark. Ha! This [weather] is what I’m used to. It was awesome. I thought it was great. I was like, yep, we’re Vikings, come on, let’s go!” Her upbeat attitude and resilience in challenging situations epitomised her unwavering spirit in the face of adversity.

Shirin van Anrooij’s commanding solo triumph at Tour de l’Avenir Femmes

The inaugural Tour de l’Avenir Femmes made its debut in 2023, marking a significant milestone for the U23 women’s peloton. Unlike competitions involving trade teams, this five-day race featured national teams and comprised diverse stages—a 14.8km team time-trial, a flat stage, a hilly stage, and two challenging mountain stages.

On this decisive final stage, Shirin van Anrooij from the Netherlands, already a victor at Trofeo Alfredo Binda earlier in the season for Lidl-Trek, delivered a spectacular performance. Van Anrooij initiated a commanding solo attack, covering an impressive 30 kilometres. As she crossed the finish line, her lead soared to over 2 minutes and 20 seconds ahead of her nearest rival, Anna Shackley of Great Britain. This triumph secured her the stage win and propelled her to claim the overall general classification.

Vollering and Kopecky’s electrifying duel at Strade Bianche

The thrilling showdown between teammates Demi Vollering and Lotte Kopecky at Strade Bianche truly captured the competitive spirit and camaraderie in women’s cycling. Their intense battle for victory, culminating in a dramatic photo finish, showcased their exceptional skills and sportsmanship, leaving spectators anticipating future encounters between these talented cyclists.

In reminiscing about the highlights that defined the 2023 women’s professional cycling season — we can’t help but feel inspired by the unwavering commitment and competitive zeal that have elevated the sport to new heights. It is safe to say that we are more than eager in our anticipation for all that awaits in the year ahead!