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Lotte Kopecky flexes her arms as she crosses the finish line of a bike race first.

The Col du Tourmalet was only the beginning for Lotte Kopecky

Kopecky out-climbed some of the best to take stage 3 and the overall lead of the UAE Tour with one stage remaining.

Lotte Kopecky ahead of Neve Bradbury, stage 3 of UAE Tour

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 10.02.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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News of the day from the women’s peloton: Lotte Kopecky is even scarier this season.

Last year in the seventh stage of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, Kopecky, wearing the yellow jersey, became one of the main talking points of the Queen Stage when she rode to sixth atop the Col du Tourmalet. At the start of the stage Kopecky’s goal was to see how far she could get into the stage with the lead group. As it turned out, she could get quite far.

That performance has clearly planted some ideas in the head of the world champion because on Saturday, Kopecky dropped some of the best climbers in the peloton to win the third stage of the UAE Tour, and take the lead from her teammate Lorena Wiebes.

“Crazy,” Kopecky said of her first mountaintop victory. “I was really motivated and wanted to see how far I could go on this climb. I dreamed of winning this stage and to do it is very good for the confidence.”

The final 10 km of the stage took place on the Jebel Hafeet climb where last year Lidl-Trek’s Italian duo Elisa Longo Borghini and Gaia Realini rode the rest of the bunch out of contention. This year an elite group of climbers emerged early in the climb, but from the base, it was clear SD Worx – Protime was putting their eggs in the Kopecky basket. Wiebes did the most damage to the peloton, using her extraordinary power to set the base on the lower slopes. By the time the race leader peeled off the front of the peloton, not many were left.

As soon as Wiebes was out of the picture, Realini was on the front to keep the pressure on the peloton. With the young Italian at the helm, the head of the race was quickly down to only six riders, with Kopecky hiding in the group wearing the black points jersey.

Mavi García, a new signing for Liv AlUla Jayco, was the next climber to take the race into her hands, and the Spanish champion succeeded in distancing last year’s winner Longo Borghini with still 6 km to go to the finish. But the speed of García wasn’t fast enough to distance either Kopecky, who is – in theory – not a climber, or Neve Bradbury. The Canyon-SRAM rider launched her own attack with just under 3 km to go, while behind, García started to get nervous about having the world champion on her wheel.

In the end, Kopecky left García in the dust to chase down Bradbury. She caught and passed the Australian youngster in the end, and took her first (road) win of the season, and her first mountaintop victory.

“I went kilometre by kilometre because I know on this climb your legs always hurt. In 30 seconds it can go from a good rhythm to blowing up, When the Canyon girl went, I was in a bit of a panic but I could find my rhythm,” Kopecky said. “I came closer again and it looked like I could make it.”

When she was chasing down Bradbury, Kopecky looked like she’d been dreamed up by AI. Her pedalling style was smooth as butter and beautifully controlled compared to the climbers faltering around her.

Kopecky in the world champion's jersey on the podium at the UAE Tour
Could the podium become Kopecky’s second home this season?

And even though this win is great for the Belgian, she’s not even in her best form yet. A terrifying thought, but she said after the stage that she has her heart set on the prestigious one-day races coming up this spring, with the general classification at the UAE Tour just a bonus.

“We are here for preparation to go into Classics season, so it’s really good for confidence to know the shape is good and that we can improve more.”

Yikes.

Kopecky’s entire 2023 was one for the books. She started the season winning on the velodrome when she took the European Championship title in the Elimination race in Switzerland. She won her first road race, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and from there the hits kept coming. Tour of Flanders, the Madison at the Milton World Cup, the opening stage of the Tour de France Femmes, and then three world titles – two on the track and then the road race – before she won the Simac Ladies Tour to close the year.

She started her 2024 campaign not in UAE but on the track in Apeldoorn where she won two European Championship titles in one evening, the Points and Elimination races.

Evening four of the European Track Champs in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, was the Kopecky party as the Belgian won two consecutive races to claim as many continental titles in less than an hour.

So if she’s not even at her peak yet, we’re going to see a lot of that world champ’s jersey in the coming months (not really because if she’s leading the WWT she has to wear the purple UCI jersey). But Kopecky’s goals are much later in the season. She wants to win some more big one-days this spring, of course, but she has also been clear about her goals later in the year. Specifically, the Olympics where she is slated to compete on the road on top of a busy track schedule.

“I aim for the big races: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche, Gent-Wevelgem, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix and Amstel God Race. Then I will go to the Nations Cup on the track in Milton, Canada, to collect points for the Games again.”

After a disappointing 2020 Olympics (DNF Omnium and 10th Madison), Kopecky has been flying high in the build-up to Paris 2024.

Something else to boggle the mind – Kopecky is coaching herself this year.

“I lost 3.5 kilograms. I wasn’t too fat, I could climb well enough, otherwise, you won’t win the Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders,” Kopecky said in an interview in early February. “But let’s just say there was room for improvement.

“Because of that weight loss, I don’t lose power, because that’s dangerous. I now mainly see the advantages of it and should be able to climb even better. I’m still kicking the same values. Those extra percentages can make a difference.”

The self-coaching could either be the key to * even more * success or be disastrous, but if anyone can pull it off, it will be Kopecky.

With a 13-second lead in the general classification ahead of Bradbury, Kopecky is all but assured of taking the overall victory at the UAE Tour on Sunday’s flat finale. And chances are her teammate Wiebes will also win the third sprint, making it four from four for SD Worx – Protime.

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