Preview: The top women return to the Netherlands for Simac Ladies Tour

Annemiek van Vleuten will race her final race on home soil this week.

Riejanne Markus wins stage 4 of the 2022 Simac Ladies Tour.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 04.09.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos and Simac Ladies Tour
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The WorldTour peloton returns to the Netherlands and Belgium after four months away for the Simac Ladies Tour. It’s a race that has been won by the likes of Marianne Vos (four times), Annemiek van Vleuten (twice), Ellen van Dijk and Kristen Armstrong. Formerly known as the Holland Ladies Tour, it is a race for the sprinters and the time trial specialists, as you may expect of a six-day event in the flatlands of Northwest Europe.

The 2022 edition was won by Lorena Wiebes after she stormed to victory in the first two stages and just held on in the fifth stage time trial to keep the lead by only ten seconds.

This year’s edition still includes a time trial, this time in Leuven, Belgium, plus a quick prologue to kick off the week of racing. There’s also a really excellent stage in Valkenburg, which includes the Cauberg and a couple of other climbs the peloton will recognize from the Amstel Gold Race. The final stage is basically a kermesse, aka a criterium, in Arnhem, Netherlands.

It’s going to be a week of great racing, and the most notable entry on the start list is Annemiek van Vleuten. The two-time Simac Ladies Tour winner, Olympic gold medalist, and multi-time world champion will wrap up her 17-year career on Sunday in Arnhem. Van Vleuten comes into the race a favourite, after winning the Tour of Scandinavia thanks to a stronger time trial performance than Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who she took the jersey from.

The Basics

The Dutch six-day stage race starts Tuesday, September 5th, with a 2.4 km prologue in Ede before moving on to Gennep for a flattish stage and then hopping over to Leuven in Belgium for a short time trial. From there the race returns to the Netherlands and gets a little more hectic with some less-flat stages finishing in Lelystad and Leuven before the race concludes in Arnhem on Sunday, September 10th.

Live coverage for each stage can be found on GCN+, with the first stage starting at 14:45 CEST. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday viewers can tune in at 14:30 CEST to watch all the action, however, the stage 2 time trial is on a bit earlier at 12:30 CEST.

The Route

The Simac Ladies Tour is one of the few stage races that consistently includes a time trial, because of this it almost always attracts the riders who spend time focusing on the discipline. It also usually happens before the World Championships, which allows time trialists to test themselves against their competition before the big day.

This year, with the Worlds over, the race will still play host to the best of the best, with a little bit for everyone except perhaps the climbers. There are a few sprint-friendly stages, some stages that are a bit up in the air as to how they’ll go, and of course, two chances for the peloton to jump on their time trial bikes.

Prologue: Tuesday, September 5 – Ede (2.4 km)

The opening prologue is short at 2.4 km (obviously, it’s a prologue), with some serious twists and turns to keep things interesting. It’s a chance for the riders who have stayed away from the peloton since Worlds to shake their legs out and get back into the swing of racing, but also allows the leader’s jersey to go to a rider who is fast but maybe not a pure sprinter.

Prologues like this are often favoured by riders who split their schedules between road and track since the short effort is similar to what they do in a velodrome.

Riders to watch: Wiebes has that short powerful side that will suit this type of effort, but so does her SD Worx teammate Lotte Kopecky. The Belgian recently won two titles at the track World Championships in the Points Race and the Elimination Race.

Outside of the Dutch super-squad, there are a few names to keep in mind. Elisa Balsamo and Lisa Klein of Lidl-Trek, Charlotte Kool of DSM-Firmenich. The strong Australian track rider Georgia Baker will be eyeing this after some strong performances in Glasgow. Same with the Italian on UAE Team ADQ, Chiara Consonni, and Denmark’s Amalie Dideriksen of Uno-X. Speaking on Uno-X…could Tuesday mark the first WorldTour win for British track legend Elinor Barker? It’s definitely possible. She won the Madison and was part of the winning Team Pursuit squad in Glasgow and has continued to improve on the road with the help of her teammate Dideriksen.

Stage 1: Wednesday, September 6 – Gennep to Gennep (139.6 km)

The first proper road stage is 139.6 km in length starting and finishing in Gennep and is pretty much flat. There is one climb that the peloton completes twice, but it’s nothing leg-breaking, the most damage it will do is thin the peloton but it won’t be long enough for any teams to shed the sprinters.

The stage is also pretty twisty, so while you can never discount crosswinds in the Netherlands, the road will bend many times, changing the direction of the wind and allowing groups that may have been caught out to come back together.

Riders to watch: Wednesday is for Wiebes, and if not her, Kopecky, but DSM-Firmenich will no doubt throw everything they have at getting Kool to the line first. Another strong sprinting team is Jayco-AlUla with Alexandra Manly. Balsamo‘s sprint was coming around at the Tour of Scandinavia as well, and Consonni continues to make a name for herself in the sprinting department.

Stage 2 ITT: Thursday, September 7 – Leuven (7.2 km)

The stage 2 time trial is when the general classification favourites will likely start to make moves. It is the first time we will see if Van Vleuten, who claimed she wasn’t going for GC before the race, was telling the truth (she said the same thing before the Tour of Scandinavia). At 7.2 km it is a very short time trial, with two lumps to keep riders on their toes.

Home to the 2021 World Championships, where Balsamo took the rainbow bands ahead of Marianne Vos in a stellar display of Italian teamwork, the peloton will be somewhat familiar with the area in general.

The profile provided by the organizers makes the climbs at the finish and at 2 km look quite dramatic, but they really aren’t that significant. Near the start/finish area, in downtown Leuven, the roads are narrow and a few corners might mean riders need to come out of the aero position.

Riders to watch: Van Vleuten, while not in the same form we’ve seen in previous years, it’s still Van Vleuten. You can never, ever count her out. The Dutchwoman’s top rival in recent years Demi Vollering will make her first appearance (probably) on the podium on Thursday.

Another Dutchwoman to watch is Riejanne Markus for Jumbo-Visma, the ITT Dutch national champion. Her teammate Anna Henderson is also showing great form, after finishing fourth in the ITT at Worlds. Coming off another impressive performance at Worlds is Christina Schweinberger. The Austrian rider impressed in the road race where she finished fifth, but also took the final podium spot in the ITT earlier in the week. And don’t forget about Georgie Howe. The Aussie who came into cycling late has already impressed on the time trial bike, landing herself inside the top ten at her first Worlds.

Stage 3: Friday, September 8 – Emmeloord to Lelystad (149 km)

Once again in the Netherlands, Friday’s 149 km stage from Emmeloord to Lelystad is the flattest of the race (despite the deceptive profile below). It’s definitely one for the sprinters.

It’s likely going to be a traditional cycling stage where we see a doomed break spend a lot of time out front only for the sprinters’ teams to control the pace for their leaders, regardless of who is wearing the leader’s jersey.

Riders to watch: It’s a stage for Wiebes, Balsamo, or Kool. We haven’t gotten to see the three sprint against each other all that often, especially when Balsamo has been in good form, so we’re in for a treat.

Stage 4: Saturday, September 9 – Valkenburg to Valkenburg (131.6 km)

The fourth stage is easily the most challenging stage of the race. At 131.6 km it’s not the longest, but the course is constantly up and down, never leaving a second for recovery. This stage is basically an Ardennes Classic, taking place mostly on the same roads as the Amstel Gold Race and finishing atop the Cauberg, the finishing circuits also include multiple ascents of the Geulhemmerberg and Bemelerberg.

This is probably the stage where we see the most movement on the general classification, especially if it’s only seconds between the top riders. It’s the stage where SD Worx will excel, with both Vollering and Kopecky on their roster, but also the stage with the most opportunity for other riders to give it a go.

Saturday’s stage is going to be a very good, very chaotic stage.

Riders to watch: Vollering, the winner of this year’s Ardennes Classics (all three of them) will be targeting this stage. Vollering’s biggest competition is her teammate Kopecky, who was clearly climbing well at Worlds and the Tour.

Outside of SD Worx, if Van Vleuten is going to win a stage (and hasn’t already won the ITT) it’s this stage.

Then there’s Kasia Niewiadoma, who rode well at the Tour to finish third overall but was unable to test herself in Glasgow due to a viral infection. She’s won the Amstel Gold Race in the past, so she knows the finish well.

Lidl-Trek has some good options for this stage with Shirin van Anrooij, who recently won the inaugural Tour de l’Avenir with a storming ride on the final stage and Lucinda Brand, who is gearing up for cyclocross season.

If DSM-Firmenich is going to hand leadership over to Pfeiffer Georgi on any stage it’s going to be this one. The British national champion is strong on these types of climbs and has a kick.

Stage 5: Sunday, September 10 – Arnhem (150.5 km)

The final stage is like two kermesses back to back. Basically, there are two circuits the peloton does multiple times. They start on a longer 14 km circuit which they will race seven times before heading back to the start/finish for a shorter 8 km circuit they will race five times for a total of 150.5 km, the longest of the week.

It looks like a good stage for a reduced bunch sprint but it really depends on the general classification, if there are only seconds separating the GC it could definitely get interesting. It could be a race like we just saw in France at Classic Lorient Agglomération-Trophée Ceratizit, where the race was so aggressive the winner came from a reduced bunch but it wasn’t who you would have expected.

Riders to watch: Once again…Wiebes. She is climbing so well at the moment, which she showed in Scandinavia and will be hard to shake no matter how many attacks there are.

The Favourites

The theme of the season continues…SD Worx will enter the race with not one, not two, but three favourites, depending on how things play out. They have Wiebes if it’s a sprint/time bonus situation, Kopecky for some solo move, a combo of sprints, even if the ITT make the difference, and Vollering if it comes down to the Valkenburg stage.

Lotte Kopecky, Demi Vollering, and Lorena Wiebes pictured during Profronde van Etten-Leur 2023

Van Vleuten has said she’s not going for GC, but do we believe her? Never. Movistar is not bringing Liane Lippert, which is a shame given how strong she looked this past weekend in France.

Jumbo-Visma might be the second-strongest team on the start with Markus and Henderson. The Dutch team hasn’t really been as strong this year as last, although they’ve had some good performances, with Vos not at her best the team has suffered. But she’s not the only strong rider on the squad. Markus really stepped it up this year, especially in the time trial, so if the race comes down to the third stage she might stand a chance. And don’t forget that Markus won the fourth stage in 2022 with a solo move, in the Dutch national champion jersey. It was quite the sight.

Anna Henderson and Riejanne Markus pictured during the Simac Ladies Tour, 2022.

With her strong performances at Worlds, Christina Schweinberger could sneak onto the overall podium. A win would be hard, but she is riding well and it’s all about consistency. Fenix-Deceuninck will no doubt be behind her.

Christina Schweinberger pictured during Dwars door het Hageland women, 2023

Lidl-Trek and Jayco-AlUla are both lining up with sprint/time trial-heavy teams. The American outfit has Balsamo with her leadout woman Ilaria Sanguineti for the sprints, and Brand and Van Anrooij for everything else. The Australian team has Baker for the time trials and the duo of Manly and Ruby Roseman-Gannon for the sprints.

Shirin Van Anrooij pictured during Vuelta a Burgos Feminas, 2023

DSM-Firmenich’s Kool might have a chance at an overall podium if she can pick up some seconds. She is really the only one challenging Wiebes when it comes to fast finishes. Her British teammate Pfeiffer Georgi could also come into the mix but that really depends on how the race plays out. It would need to be clear that Kool won’t factor in the sprint for DSM-Firmenich to change leadership roles.

Elinor Barker on the attack in Volta Comunitat Valenciana Femines, 2023

For maybe the first time since their creation Uno-X could be looking at a possible WWT GC podium finish with Barker. The British track cyclist is flying and has veteran professional Dideriksen to guide her through the week. All Barker has to do is send it in the stage 2 time trial and hold on for the rest of the race.

Escape Collective star ratings

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Lotte Kopecky, Lorena Wiebes
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Demi Vollering, Annemiek van Vleuten
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Riejanne Markus, Shirin van Anrooij
⭐️⭐️: Kasia Niewiadoma, Lucinda Brand, Charlotte Kool
⭐️: Anna Henderson, Elisa Balsamo, Pfeiffer Georgi, Elinor Barker, Alexandra Manly

Conversations with the Wheel Talk Podcast

Abby Mickey: I don’t want to spoil anything, but you think, or maybe you hope, that Annemiek will win this race, the last of her career?

Matt de Neef: I think I hope that she will. It would be a nice ending for her career, to win her final stage race on home soil. She isn’t going for GC apparently, but she said that before Scandinavia as well. While the course probably suits Liane Lippert better, I can’t imagine Van Vleuten not giving her all in her final stage race so she will be up there in some capacity I’m sure, and there will be a kind of satisfaction to seeing her win.

AM: So am I right in saying that you don’t think that this is a race for the sprinters?

MdN: I think some of the sprinters will do just fine, I think SD Worx with Wiebes and Kopecky will be just fine. They’ll probably win the race, realistically, but it depends on how it’s raced on those last two stages. The first four are two sprint stages and then a couple of short-time trials. The last few stages are where all the climbing happens. Maybe the climbs won’t be long enough for the climby riders to excel but, I don’t know, it depends on how it is raced I suppose.

AM: I’m curious how much impact the time trial is going to have. Because 7 km is really not very long to take time. But I don’t see the final two stages, especially the Valkenburg stage, being selective enough to make a massive dent in the general classification.

MdN: Yeah, it does finish with the Cauberg, right? So we could see decent gaps there. Not minutes, obviously, but with the time trials being short, I think we could well see time gaps on the Cauberg that are big enough to change the GC, but I think the bigger question for me is whether anyone’s able to put enough time into someone like Wiebes or Kopecky because if they rock up in good form they are the favourites for sure.

AM: I do think the way Wiebes was climbing in Scandinavia should have everyone a little worried because the time trials aren’t long enough for her to lose significant time. Especially the prologue. She’s a favourite to win, in my eyes.

MdN: Ya it’s so short, only 2.4 km? Do we know if Kopecky is racing? Is that confirmed yet?

AM: I am pretty sure. It would be her first professional race since winning Worlds. She’s on the provisional start list, and the race starts tomorrow, so I hope it’s correct.

I also wonder, there are a lot of track riders that are showing up to this race that I think will be eyeing that prologue and thinking they might be able to take their first WorldTour victory, like Georgia Baker, for example, or Elinor Barker, who just had an incredible week in Glasgow. So that first stage I feel like it’s short, but it’s super important for the race overall.

MdN: Yeah, I agree with that. I don’t think it’s going to affect the final GC but definitely like you say, it’s an opportunity for someone to take a big win. Alex Manly could see a possible opportunity there for Jayco-AlUla. These short prologues are always fascinating because they are suited to those track endurance riders.

AM: I feel like this race is coming at such a great time for them, as well, having just done Worlds and peaking for Worlds. Usually, track Worlds are at a completely different time of the year. So at this point, the track riders are in a completely different form. Right now it’s this weird combination of track riders being in perfect form and the road season kind of reaching its end. While I do see SD Worx kind of as the favourites for this race, I also think that there are a handful of riders on the start list that are going to make the race a lot harder for them than perhaps the Spring Classics.

MdN: That sounds good, sounds like a great spectacle.

AM: Wishful thinking perhaps.

MdN: The more teams throwing it to SD Worx the better, really. But if Kopecky shows up in good form, then she’s going to be pretty hard to beat. That stage 4 Valkenburg stage, like a mini-Amstel Gold Race, kind of suits her pretty well if she’s in good form. If she can win there that could well lead to an overall victory.

AM: I think the big question with Kopecky is can she hold her form all the way through the Tour de France Femmes, which at this point, it was over a month ago, through Worlds and continue to hold it on into September? Because at that point, it’s getting a little ridiculous.

MdN: Yeah, there’s an issue of motivation as well. Will they be as motivated to perform at their absolute best as they have been? Probably, yes. But I don’t know how much left they have to prove.

AM: No, and I mean, I think I’m still wondering how many riders in that team are feeling the same way as Marlen Reusser without saying it out loud.

MdN: Yeah, for sure. As we’ve talked about a lot of times it was kind of heartening to see that very human moment from Reusser at Worlds, and hopefully others aren’t feeling the same amount of overwhelming pressure as she was.

AM: Yep. Alright. Picks!!

Wheel Talk Podcast picks

Loren Rowney: Lotte Kopecky

Matt de Neef: Annemiek van Vleuten for a fairytale last GC win

Gracie Elvin: Shirin van Anrooij

Abby Mickey: Lorena Wiebes

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