Lorena Wiebes wins the sprint to take the 2022 European Championship title.

Preview: Women’s European Championship road race

Courses and favorites for the U23 and elite women's road races at the European Championships.

Lorena Wiebes wins the sprint to take the 2022 European Championship title.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 21.09.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
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First held in 2016, the women’s European Championship has been won by top riders like Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen, Annemiek van Vleuten, Ellen van Dijk, and most recently Lorena Wiebes. Only one non-Dutch rider has ever won the event; Marta Bastianelli in Glasgow in 2018.

Like the World Championships “Europeans,” as the riders call it, move around. The first edition was in Plumelec-Morbihan in France, and the second in Herning, Denmark. This year the race takes place on familiar roads in Drenthe, a Northern province of the Netherlands, and home of the long-running women’s WorldTour race Ronde van Drenthe. Here’s what you need to know about the 2023 edition.

The Basics

The race takes place on Saturday, September 23rd in Drenthe. Live coverage, on GCN+, starts at 13:45 CEST and wraps up around 17:15, so it will cover most of the race. Since the event is on Dutch soil, expect a Dutch showdown, if they don’t sabotage themselves. The women will race 129.6 km, including five laps of a 13.7 km circuit that includes the Col du Vam.

Unlike at the Worlds, the U23 event is separate from the elite. They race only 106.4 km but still have five laps of the VAM-Berg circuit to enjoy. Unfortunately, there is no live coverage scheduled for the U23 women.

The Route(s)

The women roll out of Meppel on a course that centers on the Col du VAM. The climb, made out a pile of trash, literally, is a famous one in cycling. It’s been the home of the Dutch National Championships as well as a stage of the Healthy Ageing Tour in 2021 (won by Lonneke Uneken).

Map of the road race route for the 2023 European Championships.

The almost 60 km run-in to the circuits is, in classic Dutch fashion, flat, but with ample opportunity for crosswinds depending on the weather. Once the race enters the circuits it’s going to be hectic. Each circuit is only 13.7 km long, and although the climb is short at only 400 meters it’s enough to stretch the peloton. After they cross the finish line the peloton races the descent into Drijber and then heads back out to the climb for a total of six ascents.

The profile of the 2023 European Championships women's road race, with a flat first half and a series of five circuits of mostly flat terrain interrupted by the Col du VAM.

The finish is atop the Col du VAM, so it’s not going to be a bunch sprint; that much is clear. A small group could definitely come into it together, but the climb is not the type that will allow any kind of sprint. Make no mistake that doesn’t mean a sprinter can’t take this one *cough* Lorena Wiebes *cough* but it will more than likely be a poppy-type rider who can climb and accelerate who wins.

As for the U23 race, it’s similar in that they also do five laps of the Col du VAM, however, it’s a shorter lead-in to the circuits at only 36.1 km which means the race is even more selective.

Map of the U23 race route for the European Championships.

The Favourites

Naturally, the Dutch team is coming in with the heavy favourites in Demi Vollering, defending champion Lorena Wiebes, and even Shirin van Anrooij, who opted out of the U23 event to race with the elites. They have options: Vollering if it comes down to the best climber (she also has a good sprint) and Wiebes if it’s a group at the base of the Col du VAM. Wiebes has proved this season she is way more than just a sprinter, and she will want to retain her hold on the European Champ jersey.

Lorena Wiebes embraces her Dutch team after winning the 2022 European Championship road race.
Lorena Wiebes embraces her Dutch team after winning the 2022 European Championship road race.

Other SD Worx riders riding for their nations that need to be watched include Lotte Kopecky, the world champion, riding for Belgium, and Swiss racer Marlen Reusser. Reusser just won the Europeans ITT for the third year in a row after a disappointing Worlds and she has the power to win the road race as well if she can get up the road. Kopecky is finally coming off a few insane months of form, but she still just won the Simac Ladies Tour including the stage that finished atop the Cauberg.

Anna Henderson of Great Britain and Marlen Reusser of Switzerland during the 2023 World Championship road race.
Anna Henderson of Great Britain and Marlen Reusser of Switzerland during the 2023 World Championship road race.

Great Britain actually has a pretty strong team between Anna Henderson, who recently finished second behind Reusser in the Europeans ITT and Pfeiffer Georgi. The two are very different riders who complement each other. Henderson is really strong but lacks tactical know-how (she’s getting better every race), while Georgi has been at this for a while and seems to thrive when tactics are more important than form (and is still super strong).

Denmark has both Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Emma Norsgaard, another set of very different riders. Based on how she’s been riding lately Uttrup Ludwig is a great pick for this race. She’s aggressive, she can climb, and she’s always there or thereabouts.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig pictured during the 2023 edition of Strade Bianche.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig pictured during the 2023 edition of Strade Bianche.

Liane Lippert will be headlining Germany’s team. She will miss some of the strength from her young countrywomen Antonia Niedermaier and Ricarda Bauernfeind, who are respectively racing the U23 event and not starting, but she can really do a lot on her own. She’s fantastic at being in the right place at the right time and deadly in an uphill sprint.

Another rider who has come into form for the second half of the season is Poland’s Kasia Niewiadoma. She was on the attack at the Simac Ladies Tour and Tour de Romandie, and eventually, she’s going to slip away. Could it be Saturday at the Europeans? A lot of people hope so (it’s me, I hope so).

Worth a mention is Christina Schweinberger. She finished third in the World ITT, third in the Europeans ITT and fifth in the Worlds road race in Glasgow. She’s in flying form. She lacks the depth of support from Austria that some of the other favourites have from their nations but she could definitely land herself on another podium.

Soraya Paladin races the 2023 eidtion of the Tour of Flanders, or Ronde van Vlaanderen
Soraya Paladin races the 2023 edition of the Tour of Flanders, or Ronde van Vlaanderen

This might be the first time in a long time that Italy is coming in without a clear favourite. Elisa Longo Borghini has had a really rough season with illness, the finish doesn’t quite suit Elisa Balsamo, Silvia Persico also hasn’t been riding as well this year as last. Really, it would be amazing to see the Italian team ride for Soraya Paladin. Paladin has helped Canyon-SRAM to multiple WWT victories this year and has been super valuable on a variety of terrain for her team leaders. She’s got a great sprint but can also climb decently well on the shorter stuff. It’s a bit of a long shot, but she would be a worthy winner.

For the U23 event Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands all have strong teams. The heavy favourite is the winner of the Europeans U23 ITT earlier in the week Zoe Bäckstedt. She is well supported by her sister Elynor, Alice Towers and Abi Smith. GB’s other hope for victory is Anna Shackley, who finished third in the U23 worlds road race which was raced within the elite women’s race. No, it doesn’t make sense.

Zoe Jane Backstedt pictured during the third stage of the 2023 Simac Ladies Tour
Zoe Jane Backstedt pictured during the third stage of the 2023 Simac Ladies Tour

Italy is starting with Gaia Realini, but the course isn’t quite her style. Eleonora Gasparrini won a stage of the Tour de Suisse earlier in the year and finished third in the Youth classification at the Tour de France Femmes.

Fem Van Empel pictured during fifth stage of the 2023 Giro d’Italia Donne
Fem Van Empel pictured during the fifth stage of the 2023 Giro d’Italia Donne

Unsurprisingly the Dutch team is the strongest with Maike van der Duin, Fem van Empel, and Femke Gerritse. They have the depth for any type of finish and the strength to control the race from the start.

Other U23 riders worth mentioning: Julie de Wilde of Belgium, Antonia Niedermaier of Germany, Cédrine Kerbaol of France, and the Spanish sisters Lucía and Laura Ruiz Perez.

Escape Collective star ratings

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Lotte Kopecky, Demi Vollering, Lorena Wiebes
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Anna Henderson, Kasia Niewiadoma
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Liane Lippert, Marlen Reusser
⭐️⭐️: Emma Norsgaard, Pfeiffer Georgi
⭐️: Christina Schweinberger, Soraya Paladin, Shirin van Anrooij

Wheel Talk Podcast picks

Loren Rowney: Lorena Wiebes for the elites, Fem van Empel for U23

Matt de Neef: Lotte Kopecky ??‍♂️, Anna Shackley U23

Gracie Elvin: Mischa Bredewold and Antonia Niedermaier for U23

Abby Mickey: Kasia Niewiadoma ?? and Zoe Bäckstedt for the U23

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