Riding is Life
Lights

Comments

A women's peloton races over a cobbled street in Belgium

The 2024 women’s Classics season is upon us

Can anyone take down SD Worx-Protime? Can cycling's superteam find enough results for all its stars? We'll find out starting this weekend.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 23.02.2024 Photography by
Gruber Images
More from Abby +

There’s a reason the Spring Classics season is such a big deal in cycling. No matter how long it has been running, every race holds its own prestige, its own magic. There are opportunities for almost every rider and with so much unknown at the start of each race, every rider in the peloton dares to dream.

This year even more so, as riders will be fighting not only for glory in the famous one-day events but also to prove themselves to their nations for Olympic selection, and for a wild upcoming “silly season.” Adding to the intrigue, a lot of riders are out of contract after this year, so expect some riders who may have enjoyed riding in support in the past to push back for their own results.

The Classics are a cycling fan’s favourite time of year for a reason. There is something new and exciting to look forward to every week. Here’s everything you need to know about the Classics from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on February 24th (this Saturday) through Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift. We’ll cover the Ardennes races in an upcoming piece. Looking for info on the men’s races? Dane Cash has you sorted.

More detailed previews of each race, including maps or profiles and specific riders to watch can be found each week in the Wheel Talk Newsletter.

The races

RaceDateHow to Watch (start times vary)Finishes before/after men’s event
Omloop Het NieuwsbladSaturday, February 24??Discovery+, ??FloBikes, ??FloBikesAfter
Strade BiancheSaturday, March 2??Discovery+, ??Max, ??SBS, ??FloBikesBefore
Ronde van DrentheSunday, March 10??Discovery+, ??Max, ??FloBikesN/A – women only
Trofeo Alfredo BindaSunday, March 17??Discovery+, ??Max, ??FloBikesN/A – women only
Classic Brugge-De PanneThursday, March 21??Discovery+, ??FloBikes, ??FloBikesN/A – separate day
Gent-WevelgemSunday, March 24??Discovery+, ??FloBikes, ??SBS, ??FloBikesAfter
Dwars door VlaanderenWednesday, March 27??Discovery+, ??FloBikes, ??FloBikesAfter
Tour of FlandersSunday, March 31??Discovery+, ??FloBikes, ??SBS, ??FloBikesAfter
Paris-Roubaix FemmesSaturday, April 6??Discovery+, ??Peacock, ??SBS, ??FloBikesN/A – separate day
Mainland Europe is covered by Discovery+ or Eurosport, depending on country. Not all races have streaming options in Australia ? but you may be able to access Italian or Belgian coverage with a VPN.

A different mix than the men

Racing gets underway with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the newest addition to the WorldTour calendar even though it has been running since 2006. One thing we love about Omloop, which largely mimics Flanders, is that most of the peloton is in a state of unknown. No one really knows their form yet in this type of concentrated event, where even the smallest mistakes can cost you.

From there, racing heads to Italy for a Classic that is not cobbled, but fits in well with the spring campaign even though the rider mix is a bit different from the rest of these races, with climbers like Kasia Niewiadoma and Demi Vollering taking part. Strade added a women’s event only in 2015, but it’s quickly become a favorite for riders and fans alike. Personally, this is one of my favourites as we get to see a completely different style of racing from the other spring races.

A change of scenery for Strade Bianche, 2023.

No rest, as it’s back to the north of the Netherlands for some more cobbles, at Ronde van Drenthe, normally one for the sprinter-y types, but after three years of Lorena Wiebes wins, 2024 will likely see a new victor.

This year the race will hit the Vam-berg, a trash mound turned into a local hot-spot climb, six times before it finishes near where the Dutch National Championships crowned Riejanne Markus in 2022.

Back to Italy (there really is a better way to structure this calendar) for another non-cobbled “Classic” Trofeo Alfredo Binda. This one piques the interest because it has more climbing than most classics and a lot of the big names don’t show up, they are focused on the chunk of racing to come in Belgium, but the racing is usually fantastic and there have been some wild victories (take Kasia Niewiadoma winning the race in the rain in 2018). Binda doesn’t get nearly enough credit. It’s been running since 1974, a heck of a lot longer than most of the other women’s races and provides a nice reprieve from the Belgian weather.

Casual Saturday fun in Belgium.

From there it’s all cobbles through early April. A race defined by its wind, Classic Brugge-De Panne is one of the spring races the sprinters look forward to, even if a lone attacker has caught them off-guard in the past (Georgi) the race is often one for the fastest women. But the real star of the show is the crosswinds, as you might expect with a race so near the sea in Belgium.

Gent-Wevelgem has a bit of everything that makes Belgian racing worth watching. Cobbles, short yet brutal climbs, and crosswinds for good measure. The race has ended in a reduced bunch sprint, like in 2022 when Elisa Balsamo won over Marianne Vos, or by a solo winner like last year when Marlen Reusser took a monumental win.

Along with Dwars door Vlaanderen, Gent-Wevelgem also serves as a kind of final tune-up before “Holy Week” (aka Flanders and Paris-Roubaix Femmes). Speaking of the Ronde, before there was a Paris-Roubaix Femmes the Ronde van Vlaanderen was the biggest event of the spring for the women. For some, it remains the premier race of the season, especially for the Belgians, and especially now that Lotte Kopecky has taken the victory twice in two years.

Since 2004 the Tour of Flanders has marked the end of the cobbled classics, and even now with Paris-Roubaix finishing off the block, Flanders, with its relentless poppy climbs, makes for some spectacular viewing.

Kopecky on the Bosberg, soloing away to her second Flanders title, 2023.

For all Flanders’ prestige, there is no better race to finish the spring calendar than Paris-Roubaix Femmes. The most brutal of all the spring races, Paris-Roubaix is a beast all its own. Only three years into the formation of the women’s edition Paris-Roubiax Femmes is already in some ways more significant than the rest of the Classics calendar.

It’s hard to overstate what this race means to the peloton. It’s a race rider’s dream about out on long winter training rides, one families come over to watch. The atmosphere and the history of the men’s event alone fuel an otherworldly feel of importance for every rider on that startline, and because of that the racing is always full gas from the word go.

What makes Paris-Rouabaix even more special? It’s the major one-day with a men’s event that is not on the same day. The women get the Saturday, and the men Sunday. So for one day, all the attention is on the women.

Paris-Roubaix cobbles are something else entirely.

Contenders: stars and surprises

There will be some women who are better suited to specific races. Wiebes probably isn’t going for Strade Bianche, and Vollering will likely sit out Brugge-De Panne, but overall we’re looking at the following riders to at least be present at a majority of the big races this Spring.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Lotte Kopecky, Lorena Wiebes
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Demi Vollering, Marlen Reusser
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Lizzie Deignan, Elisa Longo Borghini, Elisa Balsamo, Kasia Niewiadoma, Marianne Vos
⭐️⭐️: Pfeiffer Georgi, Arlenis Sierra, Emma Norsgaard, Charlotte Kool (but she’s a 5-star at the flatter races like Brugge-De Panne), Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
⭐️: Liane Lippert, Chiara Consonni, Shirin van Annroij, Grace Brown, Chloe Dygert, Anna Henderson, Soraya Paladin, Alison Jackson, Mischa Bredewold, Grace Brown, Puck Pieterse

Surprises!: Amber Kraak, Maike van der Duin, Ruby Roseman-Gannon, Simone Boilard, Susanne Andersen, Sofia Bertizzolo, Blanka Vas, Clara Copponi, Kristen Faulkner, Ally Wollaston, Rosita Reijnhout

The storylines we’re watching

Lotte Kopecky and Demi Vollering racing for the win at Strade Bianche, 2023.

Will SD Worx-Protime be able to manage their star power?

The team of the World Champion Lotte Kopecky is going into another season poised to be as dominant as they were in 2023. But, how long can the harmony within the team that allows so many strong riders to work together last? Now that we know Kopecky isn’t going anywhere next year (or until after 2028, in fact), will Demi Vollering and the Belgian be able to set aside their similar goals to ride for the team?

The two are different enough that some races could go to Vollering, but most of the spring calendar favours Kopecky. Vollering’s time will come during the Ardennes – she won all three last year after all – but the Dutch National Champion will still want to win Flanders. She will want to win Strade again. She will want her own victories. The team might not have much to deal with though, if Kopecky is just better.

And of course don’t forget Marlen Reusser. Were she at any other team she would be the number one, no questions asked, star of the show. But at SD Worx-Protime she’s going to spend half the spring working with the occasional chance at her own opportunity.

But it’s not just those three! Lorena Wiebes, the fastest woman in the peloton right now, will have her own targets. Then there’s Mischa Bredewold, the new European Champion, who will be ready for more responsibility after a fantastic 2023 season. There will be a lot for the management of SD Worx-Protime to juggle this spring.

How will Elisa Balsamo and Charlotte Kool stack up against Wiebes this year?

Wiebes has already had the chance to sprint unchecked to two WorldTour wins this year at the UAE Tour, but come the Classics she will have her old rival Charlotte Kool to race against. Kool bested Wiebes early season last year, but once the racing was in full swing in Europe she couldn’t quite beat her. Will this year be the year she overturns her old team leader?

Another potential opponent for Wiebes is the former World Champion, Elisa Balsamo. Back after a nightmare in 2023, Balsamo racked up bookend wins at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana last week, a nice start to the year. The last time Balsamo won her first race of the year in Spain before racing the Classics she ended up winning Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Brugge-De Panne, and Gent-Wevelgem back to back to back. And this year she has two early season wins! Watch out world!

Can the peloton outsmart SD Worx-Protime?

With the pure power and depth at SD Worx, it’s unlikely the rest of the teams can find the numbers to beat the Dutch team in strength, but if they play the game properly they might be able to outsmart the strongest team on the scene. It would take the teams banding together, trying some new tactics, and in general shaking things up. They need to come out of the left field and hit them when they don’t see it coming. I, for one, would love to see it (for entertainment).

Marlen Reusser leading out Kopecky at Tour of Flanders, 2023, with Elisa Balsamo close behind.

Will Canyon-SRAM continue their rise?

After a multi-year drought, Canyon-SRAM finally threw down last year and won stages at three WorldTour races: One at RideLondon with Chloe Dygert, one at the Giro Donne with Antonia Niedermaier, and one at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift with Ricarda Bauernfeind.

The vibes are strong, and the talent and strength are there. This team can do great things, they just need to keep the momentum going. The Classics aren’t really their strongest races, they are more suited to the stage races in the summer, but Niewiadoma for one will be eyeing races like Strade and Flanders. Bauernfeind, Elise Chabbey, Maike van der Duin, Zoe Backstedt, and Dygert could do well in a few of the races, and Trofeo Alfredo Binda could for sure be theirs for the taking.

Is the G.O.A.T. back? (?)

The G.O.A.T. after finishing 10th at Paris-Roubaix Femmes, 2023.

Marianne Vos is another rider whose 2023 didn’t go to plan, but the former World Champion is back in the peloton and eyeing another Olympic medal (and some more victories along the way *cough* Roubaix *cough*). Last year her best spring result was 10th at Roubaix, and she ended her season early to have iliac artery surgery. With those difficulties hopefully behind her, can the greatest of all time get back on the top step this spring?

Can Lidl-Trek live up to expectations with the return of Lizzie Deignan and eventually Ellen van Dijk?

One team that had a relatively disappointing 2023 was Lidl-Trek. Their riders were dropping like flies and on a few occasions, they were lining up without the full six-rider team. This year they have a few of their top stars back, most notably Lizzie Deignan, who returned to the peloton last year after giving birth to her second baby. Deignan, like Vos, has her eyes on Paris, but the spring will be an important time for the British rider.

Elisa Longo Borghini and Lucinda Brand at Paris-Roubaix in 2023.

Alongside Deignan is another new mother, Ellen van Dijk, who will also return to the peloton this year. There’s no pressure on Van Dijk to win, it will be wonderful just to see her back in the peloton, but Lidl-Trek definitely need her strength to help guide Balsamo to the finish safely.

If there is one team that has the squad to rival SD Worx-Protime it’s Lidl-Trek, as long as they all stay on their bikes and stay healthy (*knocks on wood*).

How will Movistar do without Annemiek van Vleuten?

Movistar’s top rider Annemiek van Vleuten is officially out of the peloton; in fact, she just rode a gravel stage race in Colombia, for funsies. Now the leadership of the Spanish team is handed over to her former teammates. When it comes to the Classics that means Emma Norsgaard, Floortje Mackaij, and Arlenis Sierra. Sierra especially could walk away with some results thanks to the new freedom, but Norsgaard proved last year she’s willing to get out of her comfort zone to win.

What did you think of this story?