A female cyclists grits her teeth as she races up a hill

Pieterse, Swinkels and Paternoster: the breakthrough stars of the Classics

We've had the pleasure of watching several emerging talents in recent weeks.

Puck Pieterse during the Tour of Flanders, 2024

The 2024 Classics season is almost wrapped up. Only Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift remains.

The buildup to the Spring Classics campaign centred around the SD Worx-Protime team and how they could be beaten. After Lotte Kopecky displayed such strong early season form at the UAE Tour, all eyes were on her. But the peloton wasn’t about to give the world an excuse to keep asking “How do you best SD Worx-Protime?” Instead, collectively, they took the reins and the chances away from the powerhouse squad. Integral to those efforts were a handful of breakthrough stars.

Lidl-Trek came into the season strong, winning Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Gent-Wevelgem and after Sunday the Tour of Flanders, and a few seasoned riders remain at the top – Marianne Vos, Kasia Niewiadoma – but three new(ish) names have made their way into cycling’s collective conscious over the last few weekends of racing.

Puck Pieterse

It’s no surprise that a cyclocross star would rock up to the road scene and almost immediately become a major player. Pieterse started her road season at Strade Bianche and as the weeks progressed she was harder and harder to miss. She finished 13th at Strade Bianche but followed it up with a ride at Ronde van Drenthe that put pressure on the best sprinter in the peloton – Lorena Wiebes. She finished third there then turned around and finished third in the reduced bunch sprint at Trofeo Alfredo Binda a week later.

In Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen she was all over the front of the races again, and during the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, she muscled her way into the move of the day and ultimately walked away with sixth.

Pieterse has been flirting with a WorldTour win through the entire Classics season and the question isn’t will she but when. The Fenix-Deceuninck rider proved time and time again that her prowess in the dirt seamlessly transfers onto the road, and if road fans didn’t know her name a month ago they definitely do now.

Karlijn Swinkels

The UAE Team ADQ rider is not new to the road scene; in fact, the 25-year-old Dutchwoman started her career in 2017 with Parkhotel Valkenburg, the team that developed both Wiebes and Demi Vollering, among others.

From left to right: Puck Pieterse, Shirin van Anrooij, Karlijn Swinkels and Elisa Longo Borghini during Gent-Wevelgem.

Swinkels spent the last three seasons with the Jumbo-Visma program but was one of the riders who left at the end of the 2023 season. Her move to a new team set something loose in the Dutch rider, and while she finished fourth at Gent-Wevelgem last season, it’s the amount of screen time she’s had this spring that has put her on the map.

Results don’t always paint a picture and a glance at her stats will show you a series of decent finishes: fourth at Le Samyn des Dames, 13th at Ronde van Drenthe and Dwars door Vlaanderen, and finally 10th at the Tour of Flanders. But it’s the role she’s played in the races that will make her a favourite once these events roll around a year from now.

“I’m super happy with my spring so far,” Swinkels said after Flanders. “Personally I think I made a step forward, I am really happy about today’s race because we fight until the finish line.

“Now I am playing the game every race in the final.”

In Flanders, in particular, Swinkels was part of the move of the day containing Elisa Longo Borghini, Marianne Vos, and Kasia Niewiadoma. She was the only rider to react when Shirin van Anrooij shot past the leading group like she’d been shot out of a cannon.

“I try because I know that, ok, if I don’t go in the breakaway for sure I will not win the sprint [against] Wiebes and Marianne [Vos], so I gave my everything and after I am happy Silvia [Persico] could be there to finish it off,” Swinkels said of Sunday’s race.

Letizia Paternoster

The Italian first joined the professional peloton in 2018 with Astana but made her true start to road racing in 2019 with the then-new Trek-Segafredo team. Her first race with the American outfit was Tour Down Under, where she won the first stage. After that, it was mostly track where the Italian made her results. In 2021 she bested Lotte Kopecky to win the Elimination race at the world championships. But on the road, she barely made an appearance.

In 2020 she raced only the Vuelta España Femenina but didn’t finish the third stage. In 2021 she raced a handful of races but wasn’t able to rack up any notable results. By 2023 she joined Jayco-AlUla.

The move kickstarted a renaissance for the Italian’s road career that landed her just off the podium in Ronde van Drenthe and third at Dwars door Vlaanderen. On Wednesday, she won the reduced bunch sprint 19 seconds down on the race-winning duo of Vos and Van Anrooij. On Sunday at Flanders, she was again part of all the action and made it into the select Vos group after the Koppenberg.

“I am proud of me, of what I did,” Paternoster said after Flanders. “I think we are at the start of my career.”

Letizia Paternoster finishing third at Dwars door Vlaanderen.

For Paternoster, her spring performance has given Liv AlUla Jayco a campaign to be proud of. The team is in a rebuilding phase, having just merged with Liv Racing at the end of the 2023 season. Paternoster’s ninth-place finish at Flanders gives the team a rider to fight for in these races while their strong Australian contingent finds their legs across the cobbles.


All three of these riders added to what has been a fantastic Spring Classics season. With them in the mix, alongside Lidl-Trek, SD Worx-Protime hasn’t been able to dominate the calendar quite as much as last year. For Pieterse in particular, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

But one thing is certain: confidence gained in these races will carry over into the races to come, which means more cards on the table and more dynamic racing for us to watch at home.

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