A year like no other, the 2020 women’s racing season started strong with a series of thrilling events before being brought to a sudden and globe-spanning halt. The show must go on though, and despite contending with a variety of lockdowns, cancelled events, and new restrictions, the sport of cycling was still able to pull off an exhilarating (albeit truncated) second season beginning late summer.
In addition to the oddities of absent spectators and masked podium finishes, the peloton, for its part, delivered all the action and excitement that we’ve come to expect. Not to mention 2020 offered its own set of opportunities in terms of eSports and made way for conversations that helped further advance the agenda of equality in cycling. With a righteous group of women riders showing that they’ll give fans something to cheer about regardless of the challenges life throws their way, this year’s strange but memorable season gave us plenty to celebrate. Let’s take a look at a few highlights from the last 12 months.
Van Vleuten takes second at the Elite Women’s Road Race despite a broken wrist
Never one to come up short on odd-defying finishes, Annemiek van Vleuten brought all sorts of excitement to the Elite Women’s Road Race that took place in Imola, Italy in September. Despite having broken her wrist in a crash at the Giro Rosa just days before, with a metal plate insert and clearance from her doctor, she eagerly set off to defend her UCI Road World Championship title. She ended up coming in second to Anna van der Breggen’s impressive and decisive win but put up quite a battle against Elisa Longo Borghini to take silver.
That is not to overshadow van der Breggen’s exceptional performance, which made her the first elite rider since 1995 to win time trial and road race gold medals in the same year. Nevertheless, van Vleuten’s astonishing climb at the end, which sealed a Dutch double, embodied all the unpredictability and fierceness that we love about women’s racing.
eSports ushers in a generation of new riders
When it comes to gender parity and accessibility, virtual racing is blazing a new trail in the fast-evolving world of professional cycling. The pivot towards online events, sparked by the pandemic, provided a whole series of well-organized virtual cycling activities that entertained fans with equal coverage and offered uniform sponsorship and prize money for men’s and women’s teams. The introduction of essentially a new discipline, in addition to the increased accessibility of riding from home, meant that a variety of new faces were able to make a name for themselves while ensuring that the next generation is entering a situation in which gender parity is the norm.
Lizzie Deignan makes us fall in love all over again
Although she gave fans a scare earlier in the season when she announced her retirement, this British wonder apparently had a change of heart and committed her future to Trek-Segafredo until the end of 2022, and aren’t we all grateful for that! After winning the WorldTour individual standings with three one victories, it seems that we can expect to see our beloved Deignan enjoy at least two more years at the top. Over the second part of the 2020 season, she won GP Plouay in tough conditions and followed it up with an extraordinary win at La Course, before completing the season with a stunning win at Liege Bastogne Liege. Add top 10 places at the World Championships and Flèche Wallonne as well as the overall win in the UCI Women’s World Tour, and we are beyond grateful to have more to look forward to from the pelotons’ (arguably) most complete all-round rider.
Fans show up for women’s racing
Fans might not have been allowed to be physically present at events this summer, but that doesn’t mean their support was lacking. As we’ve been emphasizing for years, increased television coverage is crucial to the viability of women’s cycling and 2020 proved that there is more than enough of an appetite to sustain it. The races that did end up being broadcast live were received with a ton of enthusiasm, and viewing numbers also confirmed the popularity of women’s cycling. Anyone who tuned into Grand-Prix de Plouay, the European Championships, or La Course were treated to some great entertainment and helped prove that more women’s cycling should be televised going forward. The announcement and support of a future women’s Tour de France in 2022 was also a welcome development, as fans have long been waiting for La Course to be extended from a single-day race.
Zwift World Championship sets the bar high
And the year’s not quite over yet either! Another nail in the coffin for the days when women were expected to race for a fraction of the prize money, next month, online training platform Zwift will host the first-ever UCI Cycling Esports World Championships with rainbow jerseys up for grabs for both the men’s and women’s races. The races will take place on a 50km course, taking in the Watopia Figure Eight Reverse route, finishing atop the Hilly KOM. Both the men and women will compete over the same course with the same distance. Sounds like a great way to wrap up the season and to set the right tone going into 2021.