Glasgow Worlds women’s road race preview: Kopecky vs the Dutch

The Belgian has the form and skills for a technical course, but Vollering and the Dutch have the numbers.

Elisa Balsamo wins the rainbow jersey ahead of Marianne Vos in 2021.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 11.08.2023 Photography by
Kristof Ramon and Cor Vos
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Only two weeks after the top women in the sport raced the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift they will line up again, this time in Glasgow, to race for a year in the rainbow jersey.

Unlike other years, the women’s race is separated from the men’s by a whole week, when usually it takes place the day before. This means the women got to watch their male counterparts race the circuits in Glasgow and were able to take notes on how the race was won.

There are multiple things they will have learned from watching Mathieu van der Poel’s incredible victory on Sunday: only the strongest will survive, the circuit is hard to control, weather can change the game, and numbers don’t mean much when it comes down to it.

It’s going to be every woman for themselves by the pointy end of the race.

As usual for a national team event, the Dutch will line up with a host of contenders, but they will need every watt they can put out if they’re going to best Lotte Kopecky. The Belgian was on top of the world in France and will be holding that form through the Worlds easily. A few other riders are coming in on the form of their life, and the challenging nature of the course, plus a little rain, will make for one of the best World Championship road races we’ve had in recent memory.


Kit Nicholson wrote an incredible in-depth preview of the road race routes, so you should definitely read that.

While the men rolled out of Edinburgh before riding to Glasgow for the main event, the women start just northwest of the city in Loch Lomond. The 60 km route into Glasgow includes only one climb at Crow Road, a nice little launching pad for any moves hoping to break away before the hectic city centre hits, but not the type of ascent that will change the outcome once the race picks up.

A map and profile of the women's road race course at the 2023 World Championships. The start is in Loch Lomond and riders travel 60 km to Glasgow with only one significant climb at Crow Road. The Glasgow circuit is technical and demanding, with short, steep hills.

The ride to Glasgow is mostly just a warm-up for the real race that will take place on the downtown streets. With constant climbing and more than 40 corners, the circuit is more like a 13 km criterium course than a road race (it’s awesome).

As soon as they enter the circuits on Gibson Street the riders skirt the edge of Kelvingrove Park, a narrow street where the peloton will be stretched naturally by the terrain. Next, they head towards the busier parts of town, and the big climbs. Although the main climb of the circuit comes closer to the finish, there’s another steep ascent following a sharp lefthand turn onto Scott Street.

A closeup of the Glasgow finish circuit, showing the climb at Montrose Street just before the finish and the technical nature of the circuit, which has 40 turns.

From there they ride towards the Glasgow Cathedral, down High Street, and towards the big one: Montrose Street. This climb is a hard one, even if Lorena Wiebes makes it look easy. After seven ascents the legs are really going to be feeling it.

After winding their way through town the riders will see the finish before taking on six laps of the circuit. As they head back towards the park and the university they will race over some cobbles, which will be extra fun if it rains. The flattest and most visible part of the course is when they take a break from the centre of Glasgow to ride along Sauchiehall Street before they take a few sharp turns and find themselves in the park.

Some additional thoughts

At this point, if a break gets away, it’s really hard to see them. The constant twisting of the road means it’s also really hard for anyone, if they have the numbers at this point, to organize a chase. It would also be really difficult at this point to keep a constant pace, and to control a group if other riders want to attack.

Something we have seen all year is Group Two Syndrome, where the chase doesn’t get organized and lets a rider or two ride away for the win. If that happens on Sunday it’s game over. We saw some attacks in the men’s race get brought back, but it was some of the strongest guys in the world just riding; in the women’s field it would be hard for anyone to control anything if Marlen Reusser were to ride away, for example.

The course is going to exacerbate the lack of cohesive chasing we’ve been seeing all year which could mean a rider like Kasia Niewiadoma is able to get away and stay away.

As mentioned above, Kit wrote an amazing, in-the-know preview of the course with specific details about each hill, how long and steep they are, and so on, so please check that out.


National team events are always weird. You have teams with a lot of strength that have a hard time organizing (Dutch), teams who are happy to go all-in for one strong leader (Danish), and teams with one rider and not much support (Poland). A complicating factor for the women’s road race is that the elite and U23 titles are decided in the same event, not separate like the men, so teams can have multiple objectives.

The heavy-hitters

After her unreal performance at the Tour de France Femmes, Lotte Kopecky is without question the top favourite for the title on Sunday and would be a worthy winner of the World Championship. Over the eight-day race in France, she won the first stage and finished second overall, she only finished outside the top five on two stages, and one was the Col du Tourmalet where she finished sixth (wow). Some would say a performance like that would lead to some fatigue, but her two Worlds titles on the track this week would beg to differ.

Belgian Lotte Kopecky in profile, shown at the 2021 World Championships.
Lotte Kopecky at the 2021 World Road Championships in Leuven. Photo ©kramon

Interestingly, Kopecky’s main rival is her SD Worx trade teammate Demi Vollering. Vollering put on a show of dominance at the Tour rivalled only by the Belgian. The key difference between the two is in their teams. While Kopecky will be the sole leader for Belgium, Vollering will likely share leadership with Lorena Wiebes. The Dutch team has both succeeded in taking the title with a stacked team and also fallen victim to having too many leaders, like in the Olympic road race in Tokyo.

A younger Demi Vollering from 2020 World Championships, before she developed into the best stage racer in women's cycling.
Demi Vollering before the 2020 World Championship road race in Imola. Photo © Cor Vos

It will depend on how the race is raced on Sunday and which of the two will lead the orange team. If it’s a really hard and fast race, Vollering is their woman. If it’s a bit more contained and Wiebes can glide up the hills, the European champion is unbeatable in a sprint.

The Dutch team has eight riders on the start line, with former world champion Marianne Vos, current world champion Annemiek van Vleuten, e-sports world champion Loes Adegeest, and U23 cyclocross world champion Shirin van Anrooij. Of the Dutch team, Van Anrooij is the only one who might not be fully behind Wiebes and Vollering, and only if the team lets her hunt down the U23 title. Based on their performances at the Tour, Vos and Van Vleuten won’t have the ability to vie for their own results. Vollering and Wiebes are clearly the strongest of the team.

Another strong contender fresh off the Tour is Kasia Niewiadoma. The Polish rider, like Kopecky, will have full support from her team – Poland brings six riders, but the roster isn’t as deep as the Dutch or even Belgian squads. Niewiadoma was riding the best form of her life in France and will no doubt carry that over to Glasgow. She finished third at the Worlds in Leuven in 2021 after a gutsy performance there, and not much has changed since – she’s only gotten stronger and more cunning.

Kasia Niewiadoma on the attack at the 2021 World Road Championships, wearing the white and red Polish national team kit.
Kasia Niewiadoma pictured during the 2021 Worlds road race.

The outsiders

While some might consider Marlen Reusser a top contender for the title, especially on this course, it will be hard for her to get away from her SD Worx teammates from other nations. A lot of her success this year has come not only from her strength but also from having Vollering as a teammate. And after her shocking DNF in the time trial – due to what she said was mental fatigue from the long season, although she also crashed in the TT team relay event on Tuesday – her chances for the road race are an open question. Still, you can never count her out.

Reusser’s stunning DNF from the time trial clouds the picture for her road race prospects. But: look at that position. Photo © Luca Bettini/Cor Vos

Another one to watch is Liane Lippert of Germany. Lippert won a stage of the Tour, convincingly outsprinting the yellow jersey of Kopecky in the process. Unlike in the regular races, Lippert will have the support of her nation instead of riding in service of Van Vleuten.

If Elisa Longo Borghini was lining up for Italy she would have been a top favourite. Unfortunately, the Italian national champion is out with a skin infection after a rollercoaster of a year. In her place, Italy has a few good options, one being Silvia Persico. Former world champion Elisa Balsamo is still riding into form after a horrendous crash at RideLondon, so she might have a good day, but it would be surprising if the team leaned on her for a result.

In previous seasons Italy has come out as a fighting force against the Dutch, especially when Balsamo won in 2021, but this year they will find it difficult, even with Soraya Paladin, who is riding incredibly well this year, and Chiara Consonni, who won the final stage of the Giro Donne. They will animate the race, no doubt, but the top step is going to be a tall task.

Pfeiffer Georgi, wearing the British national champion's jersey, signs in at the start of the 2023 Baloise Ladies Tour.
British national road champion Pfeiffer Georgi is an outside contender looking for a win on home soil. Photo © Cor Vos

Great Britain’s team is led by former world champion Lizzie Deignan and they will probably ride for Pfeiffer Georgi on Sunday. The British national champion has had the best season of her career so far, and while she normally rides as the captain on the road at DSM-Firmenich, having Deignan take on that role will free Georgi up to ride for a result. With the support of Anna Henderson and hometown favourite Anna Shackley, their team is a fun one.

Fresh off an incredible stage win at the Tour de France Femmes, Emma Norsgaard is riding high. The Dane will likely share leadership with Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who could also pull out some interesting moves on this course. The two are supported by a strong team, so it will be interesting to see how the race shakes out for each of them.

A smiling Emma Norsgaard waves from the podium after winning the sixth stage of the Tour de France Femmes.
Emma Norsgaard’s win from the breakaway on stage six of the Tour de France Femmes was a career highlight.

As for the Americans, Chloe Dygert will be their best chance. Fresh off a world title in the individual pursuit, and now with an individual time trial title (her second) to match, Dygert is getting better and better the more she races in the European peloton. This course might be a bit too technical for her, but if she gets away she will have a smooth run at the circuit and be impossible to chase down.

The Escape Collective star ratings

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: Lotte Kopecky, Demi Vollering
⭐⭐⭐⭐: Kasia Niewiadoma, Lorena Wiebes
⭐⭐⭐: Marlen Reusser, Liane Lippert, Pfeiffer Georgi, Chloe Dygert
⭐⭐: Emma Norgaard, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
⭐: Marianne Vos, Silvia Persico

Wheel Talk Podcast picks:

Abby Mickey: Lotte Kopecky

Matt de Neef: Demi Vollering

Loren Rowney: Liane Lippert

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