Riding is Life


Something has changed at Canyon-SRAM

Whatever they're doing, it seems to be working.

Image: Thomas Maheux/ASO

We’re partway through interviewing Canyon-SRAM sports director Magnus Bäckstedt when he’s suddenly interrupted. “Just a second,” interjects team manager Ronny Lauke. He envelops Bäckstedt in a giant, back-slapping hug; two big men sharing big feelings.

As Lauke pulls away, Erik Zabel – six-time Tour de France green jersey winner turned Canyon staffer – takes his place. More back slaps, more congratulations. And then Bäckstedt turns back to the gathered press, collects himself, and continues where he left off.

He’s more than entitled to celebrate. The team’s just had its biggest result of the year – it’s biggest result in years. Ricarda Bauernfeind just won a stage of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.

For several years now, Canyon-SRAM has been something of a loveable underdog. A team of spirited riders known both for their aggressive racing and, sadly, for falling short in the biggest races.

Before this season, the team hadn’t won a WorldTour race since Lisa Klein’s stage win at the 2019 Boels Ladies Tour. In 2023, though, something has changed. 

This season the team has managed three WorldTour wins, two of them in ‘Grand Tours.’ When stacked next to SD Worx’s rampant success this year, three WorldTour wins mightn’t seem hugely significant, but for Canyon-SRAM, a team that remained winless for so long, it’s a notable achievement.

First it was Chloe Dygert winning a bunch sprint at RideLondon Classique. In her first real season in the European ranks, the former world time trial champion was impressive at stage races in May – mostly as a sprinter, surprisingly – but it was at RideLondon in late June that she got her breakthrough win and broke Canyon-SRAM’s WorldTour drought.

Then it was Antonia Niedermaier, the 20-year-old German, newly promoted to the WorldTour, riding away from the world’s best climbers – and holding off a chasing Annemiek van Vleuten – to win a stage of the Giro d’Italia Donne.

And today, on stage 5 of the Tour de France Femmes, it was the 23-year-old Bauernfeind who put in a gutsy late attack of her own and soloed to the line, fending off the world’s best time trialist, Marlen Reusser, in the process.

Canyon-SRAM had been plenty active in the days before, with Kasia Niewiadoma particularly aggressive. But the race hadn’t gone the team’s way. They missed the winning breakaway on stage 4, and then missed the break again today. But they were determined to make amends.

Canyon-SRAM worked hard on a hot day to chase back the break, and then, with 36 km to go, with the leaders caught, Bäckstedt spotted an opportunity. There seemed to be a lull in the lead group.

“I just kind of spoke to Rica on the radio and said, ‘Look, try in this part. It flattens out and then kicks back up a kilometer and a half to the top. Try it and see what we can do with it,’” Bäckstedt tells us. “She committed fully and from that moment on, it was just all her and her ability.”

Bauernfeind came into the day 2:26 down on GC, having lost some time yesterday. That and her status as a relatively new rider made her a great candidate for a late move.

“She’s still, until now, maybe feeling a little bit under the radar,” Bäckstedt says. “I think we’ve changed that today. So I thought she’s the perfect rider to try something like this.

“At the end of the day, she out-time-trialled [Marlen] Reusser. What can you say? I take my hat off to Ricarda. That’s one phenomenal ride.”

The win is easily the biggest of Bauernfeind’s career in her first season as a professional, having come from the Canyon-SRAM Generation feeder team over the winter. But for those in the know, Bauernfeind’s success was hardly a surprise.

She podiumed in last year’s U23 women’s ITT at Road Worlds and she was fifth overall at the Vuelta Femenina earlier this season (which included a third place on a mountain-top finish, behind Demi Vollering and Annemiek van Vleuten, no less). In a lot of ways, Bauernfeind’s progression mirrors that of her teammate and compatriot Niedermaier. Both are from the Canyon-SRAM Generation team, both are first-year pros, both have now won a Grand Tour stage solo, and both are huge prospects for the future.

Bauernfeind got clear with 36 km to go and never looked back. Photo © Rafa Gomez/Cor Vos

So what is it about Canyon-SRAM that’s allowed the team to break its WorldTour drought so significantly this season? New, talented riders is certainly a big part of the equation. When Bauernfeind and Niedermaier attack, they aren’t as closely marked as established riders like Niewiadoma. And then when they’re clear, they have the strength to finish the job.

But as Bäckstedt explains, there might be more to the story.

“There’s been a lot of changes within the team,” he says. “There’s a few riders that are coming new and we’ve started this season in a different way where we have been more aggressive racing and looked for the opportunities.

“I think the riders are committing wholeheartedly to each other and in the bike races and that’s ultimately what creates the opportunities to win. What can I say? I couldn’t be prouder.”

Bäckstedt is new to the team this year too. And while he is only one component in the team’s newfound success, he says he has implemented some changes. Like ramping up the team’s focus on aggressive racing.

“I believe that if we’re going to win bike races, we can’t sit and wait for the wins to come to us – we have to go after them,” he says. “And a lot of the time we have to put pressure on the other teams to force their hand really and hopefully we’ve got riders that can pull it off in the final.

“So far, you know, the season has been really good. And yeah, with today … wow.” 

Wow indeed. The future is looking bright for Canyon-SRAM and its many fans. After many seasons spent nipping at the heels of the top teams, the German outfit has finally found a way to start winning big races again. 

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