Riding is Life


Lotte Kopecky sits up to celebrate her victory in the 2023 Tour of Flanders. She's looking to her right with an expression of confidence and satisfaction, and the road behind her is empty of riders as she crosses the line solo.

Lotte Kopecky’s contract will shape women’s cycling for years to come

The deal puts her on par with only Jonas Vingegaard, raises the game for women's cycling and may mean Demi Vollering will leave SD Worx.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 23.02.2024 Photography by
Gruber Images and Cor Vos
More from Abby +

After a fun few weeks of speculation, Lotte Kopecky put the kibosh on all the questions about her future home by announcing a lengthy contract extension with SD Worx-Protime. Her new deal with the Dutch team is through the next Olympic Games – Los Angeles 2028.

The extension also represents a watershed moment for women’s cycling. Just one other rider, male or female, has that kind of long-term contract security – two-time Tour de France Hommes champion Jonas Vingegaard – and the deal is an entirely new frontier for women’s cycling.

It also clearly establishes Kopecky as a core focus (maybe the core focus) for SD Worx; the length speaks volumes of the team’s and Kopecky’s mutual trust and vision for the future, a kind of long-term partnership that other riders and teams will certainly want to emulate. And it may be a key factor in deciding the eventual destination of SD Worx’s other superstar, Tour de France Femmes champion Demi Vollering.

For Kopecky, the new deal is a kind of affirmation of the team’s original trust in her. “When I [first] signed with SD Worx-Protime, first of all, I was very honoured,” Kopecky said in the team video that accompanied the news of her extension. “It was kind of a dream come true because it’s the best and the biggest team in the peloton. I felt quite good immediately and through the year that feeling only grew. In this team now I can really be myself.”

That 2022 contract was a dream come true for a then 25-year-old Belgian with only two WorldTour wins – a stage of the Giro Femminile in 2020 while with Lotto-Soudal and a stage of the Vuelta Ceratizit Challenge in 2021 with Liv Racing. But it also ended up as a massive success for the Dutch team that was able to pilot Kopecky to new heights. In her first year with the team Kopecky seemlessly fit into the gaping hole left behind by the team’s previous superstar Anna van der Breggen. Together with Demi Vollering, the two youngsters set the cycling scene on fire.

In 2022 she won Strade Bianche, the Tour of Flanders, and a stage of the Vuelta a Burgos. The second year of her contract was the year that drove home what a good decision SD Worx-Protime had made. Even though Vollering topped the WorldTour points standings, Kopecky was the talk of the season for her growth as a rider. Wins at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the Tour of Flanders, and the Tour de France plus multiple days in yellow and second place overall, capped off by a World Championship on the road – the whole year was astounding.

In that light, her long-term extension is not surprising. But it also highlights how uncertain is SD Worx’s future outside of that. A day before the start of the Classics season 12 of the team’s 16 riders are on expiring contracts, including Vollering, Blanka Vas, Marlen Reusser, Niamh Fisher-Black and Mischa Bredewold. There have already been rumours about Vollering’s potential departure from the team.

Lotte Kopecky and Demi Vollering sprint for the win at 2023 Strade Bianche.
Strade Bianche was the first real sign of potential tension between SD Worx’s two superstar talents.

That’s because the two superstars increasingly seem to occupy overlapping roles, never crystallized more clearly than when Vollering and Kopecky found themselves in a two-rider sprint for the win of last year’s Strade Bianche. Vollering took the win, but she seemed surprised that Kopecky had even raced her for it.

It’s entirely possible that the whole thing was blown out of proportion by internet sleuths starved for scandals but it’s impossible to deny that as Kopecky continues to progress she is a threat to Vollering’s current role on SD Worx-Protime.

When the two first started out they were very different riders. Vollering was a climber with a kick that made her a threat in any hilly races that weren’t selective enough for Annemiek van Vleuten and Van der Breggen to ride away, while Kopecky was a track rider whose sprint on the road steered her to be a Classics star in the making.

After 2023, however, Kopecky’s performance on the Col du Tourmalet at the Tour spurred the now-World Champion to dream bigger. Already in 2024, she has outclimbed some of the best in the peloton to win the queen stage of the UAE Tour and the overall, and although Vollering hasn’t raced yet this year, anyone looking at Kopecky now would be silly not to think the Belgian woman could win the Tour someday.

Looking up at Kopecky, wearing the yellow jersey, from the start line of a stage of the Tour de France.
Kopecky’s revelatory performance at the Tour de France Femmes suggests she’s far more than a Classics specialist.

SD Worx-Protime sees it. Their four-year extension with Kopecky, announced before any news of Vollering’s future, hints at the team throwing their weight behind the World Champion. And reading between the lines of the recent back and forth in the media around Vollering’s contract, it doesn’t look like those negotiations are going great. Rumours of a €1 million contract offer from UAE Team ADQ were met with hesitation by SD Worx manager Danny Stam, who told the press he wanted to keep the Tour winner, but not for a “blank cheque.” The team’s CEO, Erwin Janssen, was even more pessimistic, telling Het Nieuwsblad, “If you ask me what the chances are that Demi Vollering will still cycle with us next season, I will answer that it will be difficult.”

Lotte Kopecky and Demi Vollering lean in close to talk while waiting for a bike race to start.
Kopecky and Vollering are both superstars with increasingly overlapping abilities and objectives; will that force a split?

Now Koepcky’s future is secured while Vollering’s still lies in the balance, at least in the eyes of the public. And by putting their money where their mouths are, SD Worx-Protime has put their force behind Kopecky for the next four years.

The team is more than capable of backing two horses. They’ve done it before. But as Kopecky’s star rises, it’s less and less likely there is room for both her and Vollering in one team.

Regardless of whether Vollering extends or moves on, Kopecky’s contract means the other teams of the women’s peloton will be forced to step up to compete for top talent. Other established stars, and young riders brimming with potential, will be looking for the same kind of security, and teams will want to lock them in as more teams grow and the sport steadily professionalizes. As we get closer to the Olympics, we will see more contracts like this lasting multiple years alongside retirement announcements.

Women’s cycling continues to grow, and Kopecky’s contract is just another example of where the sport will go. SD Worx-Protime and Kopecky both see big things coming for the Belgian in the future and what better place than where she discovered her potential to begin with? That the team extended her contract and announced it before Opening Weekend on Saturday drives home their belief in the defending Omloop Het Nieuwsblad champion.

SD Worx-Protime has a lot of Kopecky to look forward to for the next four years.

What did you think of this story?