I confess I did not have anywhere near enough time to watch the ladies in action this year, and since the main culprits are kids' sports and my job, the outlook isn't going to change very soon. [Sigh.] But I know enough about who lit up the sport this year, and with your help we can declare our #1 rider for 2016. Let's go!
Megan Guarnier, Boels Dolmans
Hardware: Won overall title of Giro d'Italia Femminile, won stage and GC of Amgen Tour of California, won USA Nats road race, won Philadelphia Classic, won Durango-Durango Emakumeen classic, won stage of Euskal Emakumeen Bira stage. Ranked #1 in PdC and CQ Rankings.
So? The numbers don't lie. Guarnier was the stage racer of the year, and buttressed her overall case with enough additional high finishes in big races -- like second in Trofeo Binda and fourth (at 2") in Flanders -- to cement top ranking by any and all point systems. She's been on a remarkable rise from nowhere in 2010 to top 50 for four years, then seventh last year and #1 by a clear margin in 2016. At 31, no less. But people's peaks last longer nowadays I guess, especially if they have a huge engine and get a late start in the sport.
Anna van der Breggen, Rabo Liv
Hardware: Olympic road race gold medal, won European Championships RR, won La Fleche Wallonne, won Omloop van del IJsseldelta. Ranked #2 (CQ) and 5 (PdC) in world.
So? Can van der Breggen get a break? Oh, wait, she finally did. As a top level rider from pretty much day 1, van der Breggen has been deserving of a world title, which continues to elude her, as have a lot of other top races -- Flanders, Trofeo Binda, Drenthe -- where she is always in the mix. Not that she had never broken through, as the winner of the Giro and La Course in 2015, but her wins don't say quite enough about how great she's been. Sometimes it takes an iconic victory, one with a fancy jersey or something to attach to it, to get the full recognition. Does the Euro win come with some jersey stripes? Will she get a gold bike for Rio? Whatever, just being Olympic champion is something nobody will overlook.
Emma Johanssen, Wiggle High5
Hardware: Won Swedish nats road race and ITT, won Euskal Emakumeen Bira overall and two stages, Olympic road race silver medalist. Ranked #3 (PdC and CQ).
So? Ho hum, another year among the top three in the world, with a variety of wins, near misses, and constant production. At age 33, there's not much more to say about her besides "I'll have what she's having." Ah, but a Flanders win, snatched away in the sprint by Lizzie Deignan as the cap to a wonderful day of racing... that would have pumped up her case here a lot.
Lizzie Deignan, Boels Dolmans
Hardware: Won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, won Strade Bianche, won Ronde van Vlaanderen, won Trofeo Alfredo Binda, won Boels Rental Hills Classic, won Aviva Women's Tour. Ranked #6 (PdC and CQ).
So? Are we running out of sports curses? Between the Red Sox and Cubs vanquishing theirs, Armitstead and Peter Sagan took turns driving a stake into the Rainbow Curse. Now recently married and known as Lizzie Deignan, the reigning world champion went on a spring tear that would make Marianne Vos blush. Then came a break, then more results, until the reality of the sport caught up with her, in the form of an illness that scuttled her Giro Rosa where she withdrew on stage 7. The doping whereabouts dust-up (where she was initially given a third strike for missing tests but had one reversed) added more stress in her Olympic run-up, and she made more news off the bike (marrying Philip Deignan) than off it from there. But that spring run, in the Rainbow Jersey, it's the stuff that dreams are made of.
Annemiek van Vleuten, Orica-AIS
Hardware: Won Festival Luxembourgeois ITT, won Parel van de Veluwe, won Dutch Nats ITT, won Daags na de Tour Boxmeer, won Dutch Nats ITT, won Lotto Belgium Tour overall and two stages. Ranked #9 (PdC) and 11 (CQ)
So? Today in Cycling is So, So Cruel... van Vleuten was on a roll heading to Rio, fourth in Thuringen and two top results in the Netherlands, showing all the signs of a classics rider on top of her form. And when she overcame the Vista Chinesa climb with a solo advantage, it was all coming together in a moment of glory. Then her wheel slipped out and it all went blank, like someone pulled the plug. A severe concussion and some cracks in her back were what she got for her troubles, and it may be the cycling story of the year that she not only survived but thrived in her return to racing in September, where she won the Lotto Ladies Tour. Really, truly mind-boggling. Also of note were some seconds in the Boels Rental Hills Classic and the Energiewacht Tour, plus a decent run in the spring where she was top ten in the Omloop, Binda, Drenthe, Strade Bianche, Gent-Wevelgem and Flanders.
Amelie Didericksen, Boels Dolmans
Hardware: Won World Championship road race, won stages of Energiewacht Tour and Boels Rental Ladies Tour.
So? One line entry. She's your world champion, and at age 20, having just come around Kirsten Wild, Armitstead, and everybody else, she's a heck of a sprinter.
Elisa Longo Borghini, Wiggle High5
Hardware: Won the Giro dell'Emilia, won Italian Nats ITT. Ranked 4th (PdC) and 5th (CQ)
So? Kind of an "almost" season for the 24-year-old Italian, with near misses in Flanders, Strade Bianche, Durango, Philly, Italian Nats, Olympic road race and time trial... I mean, if you're in position to win all those races, it can't have been too bad, right? Bigger things to come, for sure.
Katarzyna Niewiadoma, Rabo Liv
Hardware: Won Ronde van Gelderland, won stage and overall of Festival Luxembourgeois, won two stages and overall Giro del Trentino, won Polish Nats road race and ITT, won stage of Boels Rental Ladies Tour. Ranked #2 (PdC) and 6 (CQ).
So? Speaking of young and AWESOME, Niewiadoma might have surprised people in 2015 but everyone saw her coming this season. Like, all season long. Faded after Boels Tour in September. Since she just turned 22, it's possible she needs some more miles in her legs.
Evelyn Stevens, Boels Dolmans
Hardware: Three stages of Giro d'Italia Femminile. Ranked #12 (PdC) and 14 (CQ).
So? Stevens goes out almost on top, as the American ended her rather curious and glorious career on the bike. Seems like the Giro was her main target and she fell just short of Guarnier in the overall, despite three stage wins. She never did quite take charge of that race.
Marianne Vos, Rabo Liv
Hardware: Won Ronde van Oud Vossemeer, won Wielerweekend von Kessel, won Pajot Hills Classic, won Ronde van Lekkerkerk, won stage of Amgen Tour of California, won Zuidkempense Ladies Classic, won stage of Aviva Women's Tour, won two stages of Thuringen Rundfahrt, won Acht van Chaam, won Profweieleronde Effen-Leur, won stage of Lotto Belgium Tour. Ranked #7 (CQ) and 8 (PdC).
So? With news today that she just landed a five year contract for her and her newly renamed WM3 Team, it's clear that Vos is back, one way or another, from a couple years in the wilderness. Well, one for sure, and then a somewhat slow return this year to form, which might never be what it had been before. But as a team leader and reliable point scorer, she's still doing a lot. And there's always a good chance that her perseverance will lead her back to her old ways of winning not just this collection of nice trophies but the real hardware.