Riding is Life


Canyon-SRAM is one of the best teams in the world; why isn’t it winning more?

Kool was always going to win a sprint; to beat her requires fresh thinking.

Charlotte Kool sprints to victory in the first stage of RideLondon Classique. Photo © Cor Vos

With just seven kilometres to go in the first stage of the RideLondon Classique, the team with the upper hand was clearly Canyon-SRAM. Trek-Segafredo, Team DSM, and Jumbo-Visma all had two riders but the team in pink was one up on the rest with three. And not just any three, but a solid climber and threat for the overall (Soraya Paladin); a young, but promising sprinter (Maike van der Duin); and of course a former World Time Trial Champion, Chloe Dygert.

With three of the strongest riders in the race, you’d tip the German team to win, but up against DSM’s Charlotte Kool, the win had to come from some aggressive tactics. Instead, they did Kool’s work for her and helped deliver the Dutchwoman another sprint victory in 2023.

It’s not the first time this season Canyon-SRAM has been in position to win but walked away without a place on the podium. All spring their lineups for the Classics included at least three favourites between some combination of Elise Chabbey, Kasia Niewiadoma, Paladin, and Van der Duin. Now in the stage races, they’ve added Ricarda Bauernfeind and Chloe Dygert to the mix.

Especially in a field missing SD Worx and Lorena Wiebes, Kool was the top pick to win the first (and, frankly, second and third) stage of RideLondon, and the Dutchwoman delivered a convincing victory in Colchester. What was puzzling was how it wasn’t her teammate, Pfeiffer Georgi, but Canyon-SRAM that did most of the work in the final 10 km.

Trek-Segafredo was aggressive all day and eventually forced a move with Lizzie Deignan and Lauretta Hansen present. The two were joined by 11 other riders including Kool, Georgi, Paladin, and FDJ-Suez’s Clara Copponi. With 17 km to go Dygert, who showed good form recently in Spain, and Maike van der Duin, tried to bridge.

With just under 10 km to go and Dygert setting a blistering pace, the two Canyon-SRAM riders and Liv Racing-TeqFind’s Thalita de Jong joined the front move. So far so good, but from there the German team’s tactics went awry. Since the start of the season, Kool has been one of the top two sprinters in the world. The Dutchwoman is hard to beat, and if she is in a race it behooves the other riders to avoid taking her to the line.

The first stage of RideLondon was a good stage for a single rider to ride away, and with her raw power, Dygert was the perfect rider to try it. Granted, she had just chased for 7ish km, but with three in the group, Canyon-SRAM had the numbers to try something.

But as soon as Van der Duin was in the group Paladin set to work at the front. The group didn’t have the luxury of resting, with the peloton only 20-odd seconds behind, but it was DSM that had the most incentive to stay clear of the chase. Instead, the 15 riders up front settled in behind Paladin for a sprint, and Kool and Georgi calmly let the Canyon-SRAM rider dictate the pace. Georgi didn’t hit the wind until 1 km to go.

At La Vuelta Femenina Dygert attempted multiple late race moves, but she was up against a full-strength peloton. It was the American’s first time racing a WWT stage race, yet she still put enough pressure on the peloton to challenge some of the veteran riders.

Close but not quite: Chloe Dygert raced aggressively at the Spanish WorldTour races, but hasn’t yet solved the SD Worx riddle. Photo © Cor Vos

By contrast, in the finale of RideLondon’s first stage Kool had only one teammate. SD Worx was not at the race, so everyone in that move would have had an eye on the DSM rider. Van der Duin is a talented sprinter (third at Gent-Wevelgem and Ronde van Drenthe), but with Kool and Copponi in the mix, the competition was tough.

In the end, Kool won by multiple bike lengths with Copponi second and Deignan finishing an impressive third. Van der Duin was fourth, just off the podium, and will start stage 2 fifth overall 12 second down on Kool (UAE Team ADQ’s Eleonora Gasparrini is fourth, courtesy of a time bonus from an intermediate sprint).

So in hindsight, Canyon-SRAM had the numbers in that group and it would have been hard to outsprint Kool. With the former time trial world champion should the German team have tried a different tactic to win the race? All season SD Worx has been unstoppable, and roster strength is only part of the reason; the team also knows how to use it.

Every rider on the start line for SD Worx can usually win the race, but the same applies to Canyon-SRAM. Of all the teams in the women’s WorldTour, Canyon-SRAM is the top team to rival the Dutch team on paper, but they continuously fail to land on the top step.

Since the team formed in 2016, they’ve picked up some of the most exciting prospects in the sport including Dygert. On paper, they are always a favourite for the win. It’s hard to say what the team is missing (there’s a reason I am writing and not directing a team), but even from the sofa at home it’s clear the team is missing some essential ingredient that could put them on the top step of the podium. With the roster and the equipment to challenge SD Worx, perhaps one tiny change is all they need for a breakthrough.

The team has strong leadership in their new director Magnus Bäckstedt. The former professional and winner of Paris-Roubaix is a fresh set of eyes on a team that’s been around for a while.

Hindsight is always easy. But perhaps a better use of the team’s strength could have been for Van der Duin to do the majority of the work to bridge to that front group and have Dygert launch an attack as soon as they made contact. They were coming at the group with speed already, it would have been a good time to surprise those out front.

Canyon-SRAM is comfortably safe in the relegation standings; they don’t need to chase podium places, so why not gamble for a win?

Canyon-SRAM is a team that can win races. They’ve proved it before. But while SD Worx continues to run away with the season, a team with such a strong roster needs to suss out how to beat the Dutch super squad. With their depth and breadth of talent, Canyon-SRAM is just the team to do it.

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