After the departure of Lorena Wiebes, Liane Lippert and Floortje Mackaij at the end of the 2022 season it looked like Team DSM would need a restructuring in 2023. The three were effectively the faces of Team DSM the last few years, racking up most of the Dutch squad’s victories.
So when they all moved on for 2023 the team was surrounded by unknown. Enter Megan Jastrab, Charlotte Kool, and Pfeiffer Georgi. Of the three, Georgi has been with Team DSM the longest even though she’s just 22. She joined when the squad was still Team Sunweb in 2019. Georgi has been flying so far in 2023, with a win at Brugge-De Panne and several other top 10s. And with a 9th-place finish in last year’s Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift, she’s now poised to lead the outfit in this year’s campaign, alongside Jastrab and Kool. It could be a sneaky-strong squad.
“I think there was a lot of doubts about us losing Lorena, Liane, and Floortje, and we’re a pretty young team as well,” Georgi told Escape Collective on the eve of Roubaix. “But I think we’ve shown already this year that we’ve made a step up and are strong overall in sprints, Classics and [general classification].”
The depth of the young team is an advantage going into Paris-Roubaix; with no single designated leader, Team DSM will be able to adapt as the race unfolds and respond with multiple options.
“Roubaix is so unpredictable you have to go in with a few leaders and that will be our approach tomorrow,” Georgi said. “We’re not going to have one set leader, but we will have some girls positioning and a few of us that have an opportunity to race. If something happens to one leader … it’s hard to put everything in one basket it’s better to have more cards to play.”
“The positioning aspect is so much more crucial in this race and that’s completely a team effort. Setting up the leaders in the best position because it can be ‘race over’ if you head into the first sector in a good position compared to being at the back. In that aspect, teamwork is even more vital than some other races.”
“We are a young team, we’ve got these young riders and we are going to build on it into next year, but I think we’re already in a really strong position and we’re able to be an important part of races. We are taking action and getting results and I think this is kind of just the start of it because I think we can just build on this.”
Fresh starts, new roles
It’s only natural when three leaders leave a team for the remaining members to step up. Some teams sign riders to replace the ones they lost, but Team DSM opted to fill its roster with young riders. The average age of the team is only 22.2 years.
According to Georgi, the new riders slotted into the team seamlessly from the beginning.
“Already from the first training camp, it was a really nice atmosphere in the team,” Georgi said. “There are four juniors now and they are so eager to learn and wanting to make the step up. The vibe and the atmosphere between everyone is really good and at races, you can see that everyone is completely committed and taking on their role whether that’s support or lead out, whatever, they just can’t wait to get stuck in and that’s great to see.”
The role of a lead-out rider is something Georgi is familiar with. She, along with Kool, piloted Wiebes to 21 wins in 2022. Now, Kool is challenging Wiebes in sprints and Georgi finds herself with a new role on the team.
“It’s always different when you were teammates with someone you’re racing against but I think we’re still a team, and it’s the same thing this year, we’re a team that wants to race to win, you’re against everyone else,” Georgi said about racing against Wiebes in 2023. “For me the role in the leadout changed a bit, it was me, Charlotte, and Lorena and now I am usually Charlotte’s last leadout.
“Personally, that’s the biggest difference. But when you’re teammates with someone you commit fully to them so last year that was Lorena and this year it’s Charlotte.”
In March, Kool sat out a few races due to illness and the team’s tactics shifted. At the Classic Brugge-De Panne Georgi and Jastrab found themselves in a breakaway with their former teammate Wiebes and two former world champions in Elisa Balsamo and Amalie Dideriksen.
“[Brugge-De Panne] was just due to teamwork that day,” Georgi said. “From the beginning, we kind of knew we wanted to make it hard and we [planned] the points where we were going split it, make echelons, going into De Moeren. And we did that.”
It was a textbook tactical play and worked to perfection, with Georgi crossing the line with over a minute on Balsamo and Wiebes, who took second and third respectively.
“When we had me and Megan in the group we kept talking to each other. We made a plan, because we were with a lot of fast girls we knew we didn’t want to come to the finish. Megan was so strong that day, we tried to split it again. And then she set me up for the attack at the end. It was only possible because we were both there and both committed.”
A few days later Jastrab won a reduced bunch sprint for second at Gent-Wevelgem.
Even though Team DSM has multiple potential leaders, Pfeiffer is still an outside favourite for a result on Saturday. With her win at Classic Brugge-De Panne, her current form, and her experience, she’s made the list of riders to watch on the cobbles. For Georgi, the race is one that would be a career highlight if she were to walk away with a result on Saturday.
“It’s crazy to think about getting on the podium or winning this race,” Georgi said. “If I think about the feeling of riding into the velodrome, the first time and also last year, it’s such a special thing. I’ve watched the men’s race growing up with my family for years so for me it’s one of the biggest races and to win it someday would be a massive goal for me.”
Together with her team, Georgi has done everything possible to be prepared for a race that’s impossible to fully prepare for. She’s ridden the course, she’s studied the cobbled sectors, and she’s ready for what will come her way on Saturday.
“I think one of the biggest parts is course knowledge, doing recons and I think materials play a big part. With tyre pressure, bar tape, everything. Because of the amount of [cobbled sectors] we do, in some ways the tactics are quite simple, it’s all about positioning to the first sector and that’s where the chaos starts.
“One thing about this race is it’s likely something will go wrong and in some ways, you have to accept that, it’s a race where you need to keep fighting because the situation can change ten times depending on who’s in the front. In my experience, you can come back so many times if you have crashes or mechanicals, in that aspect, it’s quite an exciting race, one where you never give up.”
Whatever happens Saturday, Georgi can take confidence in the success she’s already achieved so far in 2022, with a WorldTour win already in the bag before the end of March. “My biggest goals were the Classics in the Spring.” After racing Liège-Bastogne-Liège later this month, she’ll take a break from competition and target the second half of the season. But first, there are some cobbles to contend with.
It will be the third year the peloton has raced the Hell of the North, but it’s the third time for Georgi as well, which is as much experience as anyone else in the women’s peloton has with the race. But even with two editions under her belt, Roubaix remains a race like no other for the former British national champion.
“I’ve done it both years and I am always a bit nervous the day before because it’s such a crazy race,” Georgi said on Friday. “The first year was rain and mud and chaos and last year was just brutally hard, even though it was dry. It’s definitely the race that fills me with the most nerves beforehand just because it’s such a big monumental race and anything can really happen. It’s the most unpredictable race on the spring calendar.”
The women will take on the Hell of the North on Saturday, with live coverage starting at 15:00 CEST. You can find a full preview of the course and other riders to watch here.
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