The Watersley Ladies Challenge U23 race, a key U23 women’s event on the UCI calendar since its inception after the COVID-19 pandemic, has been officially cancelled for 2024 and going forward. This decision, driven by financial constraints, marks a sad moment for U23 women’s cycling and shows the ongoing challenges in developing this category of racing.

Historical Context and Recent Editions

Over the past three years, the Watersley Ladies Challenge has provided a competitive platform for young female cyclists. The podiums from the past editions reflect the international diversity and rising talent in the sport. Riders have used the race as a springboard to go on to achieve further success at UCI level with several taking wins in their pro careers already.

  • 2023
    • 1st: Dominika Włodarczyk (POL)
    • 2nd: Valentina Basilico (ITA)
    • 3rd: Eline Jansen (NED)
  • 2022
    • 1st: Dominika Włodarczyk (POL)
    • 2nd: Ella Wyllie (NZL)
    • 3rd: Lieke Nooijen (NED)
  • 2021
    • 1st: Marit Raaijmakers (NED)
    • 2nd: Shari Bossuyt (BEL)
    • 3rd: Pien Limpens (NED)
Caroline Andersson racing at the 2021 Watersley Challenge

The State of U23 Women’s Cycling

For a period, the Watersley Challenge stood alone as the only U23 women’s race, offering a crucial competitive opportunity for young cyclists transitioning from junior to elite levels. The addition of the Tour de l’Avenir to the calendar last year was a significant development, providing another high-profile U23 race for these athletes to compete at the age-group level.

However, the lack of attention and acknowledgement from media outlets, such as the notable omission in a major article about the women’s U23 cycling calendar, suggests a broader issue within the coverage of this level of racing. The underrepresentation and lack of promotion for U23 women’s races other than the Tour de l’Avenir. reflect systemic challenges that hinder the development and visibility of young female cyclists.

Lieke Nooijen in yellow
(Photo Credit: Bjorn van der Schoot)
Lieke Nooijen in yellow in 2023 after the prologue
(Photo Credit: Bjorn van der Schoot)

Reasons for Cancellation

The decision to cancel the Watersley Ladies Challenge U23 race is rooted in financial difficulties. The event was part of a broader series of races held at Watersley, including junior boys and junior women’s races. Unfortunately, with strong waiting lists of teams applying over the years for the junior categories and a struggle to attract entries for the U23 races, the latter became the most feasible option to cut.

Despite three years of effort, the race did not see the anticipated growth in participation, leading to this difficult decision. As a result, the focus will remain on the junior categories, which continue to show robust engagement and interest.

The U23 calendar for the women’s peloton will become a single race once more, with just the Tour de l’Avenir on the calendar still as an independent race. The European Championships will see separate U23 races as well and the criticised race within a race U23 option in the World Championships this year too.