Who is the best sprinter in the women’s peloton?

Analysing the fast finishers ahead of the Giro d’Italia Donne and Tour de France Femmes

Clock08:00, Tuesday 13th June 2023
Some of the best sprinters battled it out at Scheldeprijs.

Velo Collection (Arne Mil) / Getty Images

Some of the best sprinters battled it out at Scheldeprijs.

Stage race season. It’s a part of the calendar that we tend to associate with climbers and GC contenders, but it’s also an important time for the sprinters. After the cobbled Classics, a stage win in one of the Grand Tours is one of the biggest successes a sprinter can claim, and they’re always hard-fought races. After the Vuelta Femenina, the Vuelta a Burgos, and the double-header of the Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour and the RideLondon Classique, the battle between the sprinters is hotting up and the questions around who will come out on top in the summer are gaining pace.

So, who will it be? At last year’s Tour de France Femmes, Lorena Wiebes seemed to cement herself as the very best sprinter, but that’s changed this year, with former teammate Charlotte Kool testing her limits, and the desire for versatility at SD Worx meaning Wiebes is moving slightly away from the pure sprinter mould. Moreover, the top sprinters have gone head-to-head relatively few times this season so far, so it’s hard to sort out a clear hierarchy. The Tour de Suisse will tell us a little more, as will the Baloise Ladies Tour, likely to be popular with sprinters preparing for the Tour de France Femmes. With just a few weeks until the Giro Donne starts, though, let’s take a look at how the sprinters are currently lining up ahead of the next Grand Tours.

Who is the best sprinter so far in 2023?

With Lorena Wiebes’ move from Team DSM to SD Worx over the winter, the sprinting debate was one of the key storylines in the women’s peloton from the very first day of the season. Wiebes faced off with her former lead-out rider and closest rival Charlotte Kool in their first race of the year, the UAE Tour. On the opening stage, Kool resoundingly answered all the questions about how she would fare against her old leader, by beating her emphatically in the sprint in Dubai. From then, the pair traded wins, with Wiebes taking stage 2, but Kool coming back for a second win on the final stage.

So the answer was clear, then - the sprinting narrative of the year would be equally-matched Wiebes vs Kool? Well, it wasn’t quite as clear as that. Firstly, Elisa Balsamo was also winning sprints in February, just not against Wiebes and Kool, and into the spring the duel we were expecting didn’t quite materialise as Wiebes took on a more puncheur type role in the Classics. It’s now June, and Wiebes and Kool haven’t raced each other since the start of April. Do we really know enough to say who is the best?

At this point in the season, numerically, Wiebes wins: she’s taken eight victories so far. You could also say she’s looked faster and more dominant, taking wins by bike lengths when Kool was being close-run by riders like Clara Copponi and Chloé Dygert in RideLondon. However, making a definitive judgement is made difficult by the fact that so far, the contenders for the title have gone against each other sparingly few times.

Are the top sprinters avoiding each other?

To answer this question with a question: how many times have Lorena Wiebes and Charlotte Kool faced each other this season? Just nine times, or six if you only count the occasions on which either of them were contending for the win. They come away with two wins each. Add Elisa Balsamo into that mix, and the three biggest names have only started four races together this season: Omloop het Nieuwsblad, Brugge-De Panne, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix. If you remember how those races went, you’ll have worked out that that means the trio have gone head-to-head-to-head in a sprint exactly zero times so far this season.

Whether it’s on purpose or not, the biggest names in sprinting have successfully avoided each other so far in 2023. The bad news is that after Elisa Balsamo’s heavy crash at RideLondon last week, her injuries are such that a return to competition before the Tour - let alone the Giro - is up in the air. It’s likely that Wiebes and possibly Kool will skip the Giro, but we’re hoping for a big showdown at the Tour. After Kool led Wiebes to two stage wins in 2022, will she be the one to deny her victory when they finally meet again this July?

Who could surprise us this summer?

Wiebes, Kool and Balsamo may fill up the podium spots in our best sprinters hierarchy, but there are a lot of riders coming up very fast behind them. Perhaps the biggest revelation of the spring has been Canyon-SRAM’s Chloé Dygert, who has returned from a few injury- and illness-plagued seasons with a bang. At the Vuelta Femenina and the Vuelta a Burgos, the American was giving the likes of Wiebes, Kool and Marianne Vos a run for their money, and at RideLondon she finally picked up her first WorldTour win on stage 2. Whether sprinting is even Dygert’s speciality is yet to be determined - she’s one of the best time trialists in the world, and was even climbing impressively in Burgos - but the basic fact is that her sprinting has been on a high level this season. She’ll be looking to start the Tour de France Femmes this year after missing out on the inaugural edition, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see her in the top five on any fast finish.

A rider we’ve seen relatively little of this spring, but who is sure to be at her best for the Grand Tours, is Marianne Vos. The Dutchwoman is pegged as an all-rounder, and we might expect that she’s slowing in the later years of her long career, but Vos proves again and again that she can win even the purest sprints. She won two stages of the Vuelta Femenina, and will be hoping to continue her Grand Tour record in the summer. We’ve not seen Vos better Wiebes in recent years, but she’s certainly capable of beating the likes of Kool, Dygert and Balsamo, and must not be left out of the sprinter conversation.

Other riders that have been knocking on the door of a big win this spring are names like Clara Copponi (FDJ-SUEZ), Chiara Consonni (UAE Team ADQ) and Ruby Roseman-Gannon (Jayco-AlUla), all of whom have been rubbing shoulders with Wiebes and Kool this season. Grand Tours are notoriously unpredictable, and all it would take is an off day for one of the bigger names for one of these riders to sneak into a podium finish or even a win.

There’s also one of the veteran sprinters of the peloton, Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ) who will be hoping to go out with a bang at the Giro, as it is her last race before retiring. The Italian had a successful Classics campaign, taking three podiums and a win at Le Samyn, and whilst she was slightly off the mark at the Thüringen Tour, Bastianelli is always consistent and will be carefully building towards the Giro.

The title goes to…

Well, that’s what we’re hoping to find out this summer. It’s easy to suggest that Lorena Wiebes is still wearing the crown of best sprinter, and perhaps she is, but with so few clashes between all the top sprinters on the record so far, it’s difficult to say that with absolute certainty. The sad news is that with Elisa Balsamo’s injuries, we may be waiting even longer for the next three-way battle, but we’re certainly expecting some good Wiebes vs Kool vs the best of the rest action at the Tour de France.

After a 2022 season of total Wiebes dominance, the Dutchwoman is really being pushed this year, and things are getting tight at the top of the sprinting hierarchy. The Grand Tours may be mostly about the GC, but we’re gearing up for some great sprint fights, too.

Watch live and on-demand coverage of the Tour de Suisse, Giro Donne and Tour de France Femmes on GCN+ this summer. Territory restrictions will apply.

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