SD Worx’s bold gamble pays off

A look inside the team tactics: they knew DSM-Firmenich would chase eventually, so they put their hands in the air and said nope not today.

Wiebes and SD Worx played a dangerous game but it worked out perfectly. Photo © Rafa Gomez/Cor Vos

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 25.07.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
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They’re the best team in the world, with 50 wins so far in 2023 including the third stage of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift on Tuesday, and the best sprinter in the game right now is on their team. So when it came time for the first true sprint of the Tour, it makes sense that teams would look to SD Worx to do the work.

But as the kilometres ticked away and the line drew closer, a lone rider remained out front. In a panic, DSM-Firmenich moved to the front, and even with help from Canyon-SRAM and Jumbo-Visma, they almost left it too late. It wasn’t until the final push when Lotte Kopecky took to the front that the pack closed the gap to solo breakaway leader Julie Van de Velde (Fenix-Deceuninck) with seconds to spare. In the end, SD Worx won on a gamble only they could really try.

The final 10 km were a confusing stalemate: everyone looking at SD Worx, SD Worx twiddling their thumbs. In the end, DSM-Firmenich did most of the chasing for their sprinter Charlotte Kool, but burned through their leadout in the process and left Kool stranded when it came time to sprint. “We had a really strong team today,” said Megan Jastrab of DSM-Firmenich at the finish. But SD Worx played a masterful game.

It started when Jastrab’s team captain, Pfeiffer Georgi, asked SD Worx if they would help chase, and was told no. “And then, after the main climbs, there was still one [rider] off the front so we decided to take up the chase because other teams said that they needed help,” said Jastrab. “So then, the leadout kind of did not go to plan because we spent the time chasing and using our riders. Yeah, so not the ideal situation.”

Other teams with sprinters got in the mix, but the lack of concerted effort from the top team had everyone confused. That’s not to say SD Worx didn’t ride at all. “We were looking to go into the break today,” said Jumbo Visma’s Anna Henderson. “But yeah, SD Worx was controlling it for Lorena.” But they were willing to play chicken with Van de Velde up the road. “They really let Julie have a really big gap,” she said. And DSM was in a bind: “they had to chase, they really believed in Charlotte,” said Henderson. Meanwhile, “[SD Worx] like the other teams to do the work in the end. So yeah, they were smart.”

Emma Norsgaard of Movistar said the day was hectic and that DSM-Firmenich was right to take up the chase when SD Worx looked like they weren’t super keen to bring Van de Velde back. “I think they saw DSM [Firmenich] was starting to work and then they were thinking, ‘Oh, nice we will just let the other team work like always,'” said Norsgaard. “I guess that was the plan but it was nice work.”

It also made things sketchier in the final, Norsgaard said. “It was really hectic, like, ‘Whoa!’ I really don’t like sprints like this; it’s super dangerous and you risk so much for nothing. So yeah, I prefer days like yesterday for sure.”

The roads and general disposition in the bunch also made it hard for anyone to really put riders on the front during the day, really. According to Jastrab and Marlen Reusser of SD Worx, it was hard to move up. Jastrab is quite skilled in the bunch, despite being relatively new to the European peloton. “You get to a position and then if you lose it, you spend a lot of time fighting for that position, because the level is so high. But yeah, it’s the Tour. So it’s what it is,” Jastrab said.

On the other side of the fence, SD Worx saw the race a little differently. According to Reusser, an outside GC favourite but also a key player for the team on almost any terrain, Fenix-Deceuninck was doing a good job disrupting the chase, allowing their teammate Van de Velde to stay out for longer.

“We saw that DSM is working to close that gap, which was good for us and then at one moment our smart DS, ‘Dr. Stam’ understood that it’s gonna be too tight so we should assist them, but it was so difficult to move up to be there honestly,” Reusser said at the finish. Even after she and Christine Majerus got to the front, she said, “Fenix did a very very good job of breaking the whole thing [up].”

There were other factors at work too. Reusser’s teammate Mischa Bredewold noted that the high speeds and tailwind also helped Van de Velde stay out front for so long in the finish. “It’s always difficult to chase in these types of courses,” Bredewold said while cooling down on the rollers at the team bus. “So that’s, of course, an advantage for the break. And I know the organization with teams combining two pulls came a bit late. But yeah, in the end, it was just enough.”

But the true genius of SD Worx’s strategy was to use DSM-Firmenich’s tactics against them. After the race, Wiebes pointed out that, with the yellow jersey and one of the top GC favourites for the final in the team, they have more to worry about than chasing down Van de Velde on the third stage of the race. That gave them tactical flexibility that DSM – focused on Kool – didn’t have. “We gambled on [DSM-Firmenich] and I think yeah, they really started chasing,” Wiebes said.

Wiebes is a former member of the DSM team, having ridden for them from 2020 to 2022. Up until this season, Kool was her leadout woman, and they know each other’s style well enough to anticipate their actions on a stage like Tuesdays.

“It was obvious that they were going to do that,” Bredewold said of DSM-Firmenich taking up the chase. “And I think they also really pull, once they get responsibility to go for the stage win. For us, of course, stage wins are nice, but the priority is the yellow jersey. It’s also easy to let them do the work and in the end, I think when we notice they’re not going to close it and we started to pull.”

And SD Worx does have bigger ambitions than just a sprint finish victory, although Wiebes was clearly happy to take the stage. She wasn’t really worried about Van de Velde out front. From where she was sitting, they were going to catch the solo rider. For her in the final stretch the focus was on staying with Kopecky, who threw down such a good leadout she not only closed the gap to Van de Velde but ended up third on the day herself.

“It’s good for television,” noted Bredewold. And she’s not wrong.

The edge-of-your-seat finish isn’t something we’ve seen in a while, with the WorldTour teams taking control of every race. It was almost the perfect day for a young Belgian rider from Bruges, and it was almost a Tour stage win for Kool, but SD Worx overpowered everyone again, this time by testing their competitors’ patience more than legs.

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