Whilst men’s cycling may see the most investment and the largest amount of screen time each season (at least for the time being), the women’s side of the sport also happens to have its own rich history and is currently thriving thanks to the recent Tour de France Femmes that took place for the first time this season.
In this piece we will be focusing on the women and taking a look at the 10 best female cyclists of all time.
There are no strict requirements to feature on this list such as being a climber, sprinter, etc. as the women’s side of cycling has long been more open and competitive in some regards to the men’s races.
10. Elisa Balsamo
First up on our list is the former world champion Elisa Balsamo who currently races for American based team Trek – Segafredo. Balsamo won the rainbow jersey in spectacular fashion in 2021, winning the race from a reduced bunch sprint ahead of Dutch legend Marianne Vos.
Prior to this success, Balsamo was a junior world champion having won that particular event back in 2016. This led to the Italian being scouted by a number of WorldTour teams, eventually deciding to sign for Valcar – PBM for the following season.
In the years that followed, Balsamo proved herself to be an excellent one – day racer and has won some of the biggest spring classics including Gent – Wevelgem, Brugge – De Panne, and Trofeo Alfredo Binda.
Despite losing the rainbow jersey in 2022, Balsamo still had an incredible season that included all of the classic’s triumphs mentioned earlier alongside stage wins at the Giro Donne and Women’s Tour. All she needs now is to add a stage at the Tour de France Femmes.
9. Ashleigh Moolman – Pasio
One of the finest climbers and stage racers of her generation, South African rider Ashleigh Moolman – Pasio has had a long and storied career in the sport that perhaps hasn’t delivered the number of successes you may expect.
Moolman – Pasio has long been the dominant force in African cycling and has shown this dominance by winning a number of domestic and continental championships during the course of her career.
In terms of WorldTour successes, her biggest win came at the end of the 2022 season when she won the overall standings at the Tour de Romandie.
Alongside her success on the road, the South African also became the inaugural women’s E-Sports world champion in 2020 after the postponement of the road race due to the coronavirus pandemic.
8. Ina Tuetenberg
In a time where the women’s side of the sport was often forgotten about by many fans and media outlets it was hard for some of the best riders to gain popularity and show themselves on the world stage. One of those that did manage to break through was German rider Ina Tuetenberg.
Tuetenberg was an excellent one – day racer and stage hunter, with her excelling in races across the cycling calendar.
The biggest wins in her career came at the Tour of Flanders back in 2009, as well as taking 11 stage wins at the Giro Rosa which was the biggest event in the women’s side of cycling before the launch of the Tour de France Femmes.
Alongside her prowess in road stages, Tuetenberg was also a brilliant time trialist and showed this when she won the world team time trial championships in 2012.
After retiring, the German has continued to work in cycling and is now a sporting director at Trek – Segafredo.
7. Lizzie Deignan
One of the finest British riders to have graced the sport in any form, Lizzie Deignan has achieved so much and given birth to two children during her career. If that doesn’t show how strong the women’s side of the sport is, I don’t know what does!
On the bike, Deignan was the 2015 world champion having won the race in stellar fashion by beating off the best riders in the world in a reduced sprint to take the rainbow bands.
Outside of this triumph, the Brit is a domestic champion and commonwealth games champion on the road. Despite not being able to complete her set in 2012, Deignan took home the silver medal at the London Olympics.
After a brief hiatus from winning, Deignan shot back into the limelight in 2021 when she won the first edition of Paris – Roubaix Femmes whilst racing for US bases team Trek – Segafredo.
6. Nicole Cooke
If Deignan was one of the best that Britain has produced than so is Nicole Cooke, the rider that really paved the way for a new generation of British starts in women’s cycling that now doesn’t seem to want to end.
Cooke was born in Wales and soon had a talent for cycling, she would eventually sign for Deia – Pragma – Colnago in 2002 and set sail on a path to stardom. The best years of her career came in the mid noughties, where she became both world and Olympic champion in the same year (2008).
This skill for one – day racing was clear as Cooke also took major victories at the national championships and many other classics. Her stage racing abilities were also very strong, as shown by her win at the old Giro d’Italia Feminile in 2004.
Cooke also excelled at some over disciplines such as cyclocross, where she was also a national champion.
5. Anna van der Breggen
It may come as a surprise to see the great Anna van der Breggen taking no higher than 5th place in this list, but as we will soon discover there were better riders than her over the years.
This does not detract from the success of the Dutchwoman’s career, which was vast and spellbinding at times.
Van der Breggen was one of the most complete riders to have ever graced the sport and won too many races to count in all honesty.
To pick out just some of her biggest achievements, she won 4 editions of the women’s Giro alongside 4 stages at the race. Alongside these wins, van der Breggen also won 7 other stages races during her career.
She was also a phenomenal one – day racer and showed this by winning multiple European, Olympic, and World Championship titles on both the road and on the TT bike.
The Dutchwoman is perhaps most well known for her success at La Flèche Wallone though, a race that she won 6 times in a row, being dubbed the queen of the Mur de Huy.
4. Beryl Burton
We have already mentioned a few great British riders in this piece, but there is one that stands out as the ultimate trailblazer in the women’s side of the sport in Britain, Beryl Burton.
Burton wasn’t a natural cyclist and was actually brought into the sport as an amateur by her husband who saw a talent in his wife.
He was certainly right and just a year later; Burton was winning national titles in the time trial. Eventually this talent went worldwide, and Burton took the world championship title on two occasions in 1960 and 1967.
Burton excelled mostly on the track though, with her winning a medal at nearly every world championship event in the individual pursuit for nearly 30 years, a sensational record for any athlete.
The funny thing about Burton is that despite receiving offers from teams throughout her career, she decided to decline them all and stay as an amateur.
3. Fabiana Luperini
Arguiably the best Italian rider in the history of women’s cycling, Fabiana Luperini raced in a time where her exploits weren’t truly appreciated by the wider cycling fanbase.
The Italian specialised in stage racing and was especially successful at her home race, the Giro d’Italia Feminile. Luperini won the race a record 5 times, taking four consecutive wins at the race in the late 1990’s.
Perhaps her greatest achievement came a decade later though, as an aging Luperini returned to the scene of her greatest wins and added a 5th pink jersey to her palmares.
The Italian also performed well over in France, where she won the unofficial women’s Tour de France that was held in the 1990’s a total of 3 times.
2. Annemiek van Vleuten
Certainly the best rider of the current generation, Dutch dynamo Annemiek van Vleuten has simply been putting everyone else to the sword over the past few seasons.
Van Vleuten started out as an academic and actually holds a master’s degree in epidemiology, she later moved into cycling and discovered her true calling.
The Dutchwoman has gone onto become an imperious races, the likes of which haven’t been seen since her countrywoman Marianne Vos.
In 2022 alone, Van Vleuten took all three Grand Tour titles, a feat that had never been achieved in women’s cycling. She is setting new records all over the place, and despite being towards the end of her career is simply looking stronger than ever.
Van Vleuten is also a talented one -day racer and is a two-time world champion on the road and in the time trial. She is also an Olympic champion, having taken the gold medal in the time trial at the Tokyo Olympics.
1. Marianne Vos
For me, the undisputed ‘GOAT’ of women’s cycling and arguably cycling as a sport, Marianne Vos redefined what it meant to win and turned it into a hobby.
She may be getting towards the twilight of her amazing career but is showing no signs of letting up whilst riding for her home team Jumbo – Visma.
In terms of stage racing success, Vos has won 2 stages at the Tour de France Femmes and also took home the first ever green jersey at the race. She has also taken a plethora of overall wins at races across Europe such as the Giro d’Italia and the Women’s Tour.
It is in one-day races that Vos truly excels though, with her record in these events being unrivalled by anyone else.
Vos is a multiple world road race champion as well as an Olympic and world cyclo-cross winner, she is a jack of all trades like few others in the sport.
2023 could be the last we see of Vos, so enjoy watching her tear it up whilst you can.
So, they are the 10 best female cyclists of all time. If you haven’t tuned into women’s cycling before, I implore you to do in the 2023 season as you have been missing out on some of the best races of the year.