On the final slopes of the Queen Stage of the 2023 Tour de Romandie, it wasn’t the team of eventual stage winner Demi Vollering doing the work. It was the German outfit of Canyon-SRAM, a team that has been in the peloton in one form or another since 2002, but in recent years has struggled to make their mark on the WorldTour. However, the 2023 season has seen a massive turnaround for the team, with their new signings taking stage victories at RideLondon, the Giro Donne and even the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. And even though Kasia Niewiadoma didn’t win stage 2 in Romandie, Canyon-SRAM displayed team depth the like of which we’re more familiar seeing from SD Worx.
When Canyon-SRAM first formed in 2016, it was out of the ashes of Velocio-SRAM (aka Specialized Lululemon aka HTC Highroad), they brought with them a good portion of the lineup: Tiffany Cromwell, Alena Amialiusik, Barbara Guarischi, and Lisa Brennauer. New riders joined in that first season, Hannah Barnes, Alexis Ryan, and Elena Cecchini among them, and the core group was formed.
Over the next couple of years, that core stayed the same, and although the team kept adding new riders, their exciting attacking way of racing never changed. Perhaps that was why Kasia Niewiadoma found the squad so appealing when she joined in 2018, fresh off five years with Rabobank Liv (and WM3 in 2017). Her style fit perfectly with the team’s, and in those early years they flourished together, but in 2021 the core group started to disband. At the end of the 2021 and 2022 seasons Barnes, Ryan and Amialiusik left and in their place, the team added some young firepower in the form of Maike van der Duin, Alice Towers, Agnieszka Skalniak-Sójka, Ricarda Bauernfeind and Antonia Niedermaier, the last two graduating through the team’s own development pathway, Canyon-SRAM Generation, for 2023.
On paper the 2023 team was young. Younger than a lot of the other WorldTeams, and in the early stages of the season it was clear the team lacked mentorship, a captain on the road to guide them, but then something changed.
It all started when Chloe Dygert, who signed with the team in 2021 but didn’t start consistently racing with them until this year, finished second, third, third in the opening three stages of La Vuelta Femenina, and a further two podium finishes at Vuelta a Burgos, landing just off the overall podium after four hard days. She went on to take an impressive RideLondon stage 2 victory, the team’s first at WWT level since Niewiadoma won a stage of the Women’s Tour of Britain in 2019.
Next, it was the young German Antonia Niedermaier who took a thrilling stage of the Giro Donne, holding off a charging Annemiek van Vleuten in the process. Then Ricarda Bauernfeind did the impossible and won the fifth stage of the Tour de France Femmes solo, with experienced riders Liane Lippert and Marlen Reusser on her tail.
These moments all fit into a bigger picture, one Matt de Neef wrote about during the Tour de France Femmes: Canyon-SRAM was being reborn.
Fast forward to the second stage of the Tour de Romandie, and Canyon-SRAM has put together a stellar lineup. Niewiadoma, their top star since she joined in 2018, Bauernfiend and Niedermaier are all present, as is Elise Chabbey, Niewiadoma’s right-hand woman since she joined the team in 2021. Together the four are a formidable force, but in the early months of the season, we watched as they struggled to put the pieces together.
But looking back to those early days, this might as well have been a completely different team who took charge of the final climb on Saturday. First, it was Niedermaier who set the pace, shelling many of the riders who had held on over the first category 1 climb in the process. Then once the work of the Giro Donne stage winner was done, Bauernfeind took over, continuing the damage done by her countrywoman.
After so many years of SD Worx dominance, viewers are used to the Dutch team having the numbers no matter the race. For instance, at the Giro Donne in 2021 when Anna van der Breggen, Demi Vollering, and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio went 1-2-3, not only in the overall but also on stages 2, 9 and very nearly stage 4 too (Grace Brown took third away from Moolman Pasio, thankfully). It’s a hard race to forget.
Rare is the occasion when another team has so many numbers in the finale of a hard race. The only other teams to come close have been Lidl-Trek and FDJ-Suez, but never at the same time and not nearly as often as their Dutch rivals.
But on the slopes of the final ascent of Romandie’s Queen Stage, the reduced peloton contained four Canyon-SRAM riders to rival the four from SD Worx, Niedermaier on the front with Niewiadoma and Chabbey sitting in, and Bauernfeind waiting for her turn.
Make no mistake, SD Worx still has the stronger lineup here, with Vollering, Reusser, Anna Shackley, and Niamh Fisher-Black still there, but in the final 4 km of the race, for a brief moment, it looked like the overhaul of Canyon-SRAM’s roster had done its trick.
Niewiadoma finished second on the stage, with Bauernfeind coming in seventh, Chabbey 11th and Niedermaier 19th, but it’s a start, the start of another team building up to rival SD Worx. And success breeds more success, as Dani Rowe will tell you on GCN+ commentary.
The German team, after a few disappointing years, is back to challenge the top step. With their goals centred around developing young talent and propelling seasoned riders to new heights, the most stylish team in the peloton is here to play the only way they know how. By being aggressive, opportunistic, and forcing the results they know they are capable of.
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