Riding is Life


Kopecky and Vollering embrace after a bike race

SD Worx-Protime had a bad day, Lidl-Trek and Vos had a great one

The GOAT rode a smart race and Lidl-Trek rode an aggressive one, but the most dominant team in women's cycling showed an unusual vulnerability that rivals will be sure to try to exploit again.

Going into Omloop Het Nieuwsblad all eyes were on the World Champion – and last year’s winner here – Lotte Kopecky and her SD Worx-Protime teammates. The peloton has already experienced another round of the team’s characteristic dominance, carried over from 2023, at the UAE Tour and to a lesser extent the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana recently. So when Marianne Vos outsprinted the rainbow jersey on Saturday, after some aggressive tactics from Lidl-Trek, the Classics season got a whole lot more interesting.

What happened? Why did SD Worx, the best team in women’s racing, with the best Classics rider in the world, get outfoxed in the first big Classic of the season?

Some would say Lidl-Trek rode an aggressive race by sending former Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift winner Elisa Longo Borghini up the road on the Haaghoek cobbled ascent, which put SD Worx on the backfoot early. Demi Vollering could be seen in the distance on the climb trying to follow the move as the Italian National Champion rode over the top with Vos on her wheel, but Vollering couldn’t quite get there.

One could also say Visma-Lease a Bike’s Vos was just on a really good day, back from injury and surgery, and ready to re-establish herself as the peloton’s best. And she absolutely was in the end. Make no mistake; the G.O.A.T. is back.

But when Vollering couldn’t bridge back to Longo Borghini and Lorena Wiebes sat on the back of the elite group chasing the Italian champ, the conclusion you could come to is that SD Worx just wasn’t having a good day.

As soon as Longo Borghini was clear and Vollering was on the front chasing her down, it was obvious that Kopecky was the protected rider. Vollering took up much of the chasing after an initial attack from Kopecky whittled the contenders to just eight riders. But more surprising than SD Worx picking one rider to back rather than throwing their arms in the air and letting their riders pummel the peloton, after an injection of speed from Kasia Niewiadoma of Canyon-SRAM on the Muur-Kapelmuur and subsequent attack from Kopecky, Vollering (and Wiebes) were spat out the back of the group.

To be fair to Vollering, it’s her first race of the season, while Longo Borghini and Kopecky started their seasons at the UAE Tour and Vos and Shirin van Anrooij raced in Valenciana. But it was still surprising to see the Tour de France Femmes champion distanced after the overarching dread that SD Worx carried into Opening Weekend.

That also makes it a puzzling choice for SD Worx to leave Marlen Reusser, who just won Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, at home for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Where they would normally have four riders in the front group they had only three. And when Lidl-Trek was able to put two riders in the front against one Kopecky and one Vos, of course, the American team would focus their attention on their numbers.

Their attacks in the finale played to the strength of the two riders they were up against. Neither Longo Borghini nor Van Anrooij would outsprint Vos and Kopecky in a sprint, so why not try to get away? There were two of them, they had an opening.

When it was clear their attacks were not going to shake the two sprinters and with 1 km to go, Van Anrooij did the only thing she could: When in doubt, lead it out. And of course, all eyes were on Kopecky.

But after all the attacks, and without the usual numbers, Kopecky simply didn’t have it in the end. It was Vos – who mostly let Kopecky do the work of chasing down the Lidl-Trek riders’ flurry of attacks – who held onto the match needed to win the race.

With Strade Bianche next on tap for Saturday, March 2, SD Worx will rock up with the numbers again, but a win like this can start to show the cracks in the Dutch team’s steel exterior. The rest of the peloton now knows that Lidl-Trek can force the numbers and that Vos is back in form. Lidl-Trek didn’t win the race, but they will walk away from this race knowing they gave it everything they had and were maybe one attack away from an entirely different result.

The peloton now knows that the unbeatable team can be bested, and the Classics are anyone’s for the taking.

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