Well, well, well. One race into their season SD Worx-Protime, the top team of 2023, is already back to their winning ways.
With Charlotte Kool home from the race, Lorena Wiebes had next to no competition taking the opening stage of the UAE Tour. The Dutchwoman won the crash-marred stage by a full bike length ahead of Kool’s new teammate at DSM Firmenich-PostNL, Rachele Barbieri, and with it, a shudder rippled through the peloton. Is this the start of another season with just one team at the top?
Going into the UAE Tour it looked like another rematch between the two best sprinters in the game Wiebes and Kool. Last year Kool came out swinging when she bested Wiebes in two of the three sprints, and after the year SD Worx-Protime had in 2023, many were hoping to see Kool repeat this year. Alas, the DSM Firmenich-PostNL rider said via her social media on Tuesday that she would not be attending the race due to illness.
The start list includes a few incredible sprinters, UAE Team ADQ’s Chiara Consonni among them, but already one stage in Wiebes hasn’t missed a step. A textbook leadout from Lotte Kopecky and Barbara Guarischi and the first stage was hers.
There are still three stages to go, two of which are expected to be for the sprinters. The peloton might get a day-long reprieve from SD Worx-Protime on stage 3 when the race finishes atop Jebel Hafeet, but stages 2 and 4 will be hard to take away from today’s winning team. Stage 2 has potential for crosswinds, but with Kopecky on her side it’s hard to see the wind getting the better of Wiebes. In fact, it’s more likely it will be her ally on the road.
“It was a big chaos in the fight before the final corner but I still had Lotte Kopecky and she made it perfect,” Wiebes said at the finish. “She’s a great rider to have to help [me]. I’m happy with how we work together.
“We now have the race lead and so there’ll be pressure on us for stage 2 but we’re ready for that.”
Pressure is something that seemingly only fuels SD Worx. The team went into most races last season as the team to beat and walked away from the vast majority of them victorious.
They won 62 UCI races in 2023, 40 of those – GC included – were WorldTour. That’s almost half of all available WWT victories. At the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, they took four of the eight stages, went one-two in the general classification and won the points classification. During the Spring Classics they were next-level, winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche, Ronde van Drenthe, Tour of Flanders, and all three Ardennes. The only race that wasn’t completely dominated by SD Worx was the Giro Donne, but even then Wiebes and Blanka Vas each took a stage.
Everyone who followed women’s cycling in 2023 went away asking who could best the Dutch team. And as the 2024 season kicked off the question remained, which team is going to step it up and challenge last year’s nearly unbeatable team?
The women’s peloton saw a fantastic start to the season in Australia at the Tour Down Under and the Deakin University Road Race, but SD Worx opted not to travel all the way to Adelaide for the first WWT race of the year.
At both the TDU and Deakin, we saw youngsters flourish and new names on the podium almost daily. Going into the UAE Tour that was not likely to remain the story of the season with SD Worx back on the start line. And already we return to familiar territory with Wiebes getting the team their first road win of the season.
SD Worx-Protime will eventually be beat, every winning streak comes to an end. Maybe it will be with the loss of their two biggest stars, as rumours swirl that both Kopecky and Demi Vollering are keeping their options open for 2025. Vollering was supposedly offered €1 million to join UAE Team ADQ at the end of this year and SD Worx – Protime’s lead sports director has now gone on record that the Tour winner’s current team isn’t willing to shell out that much to keep the Dutch champion. So perhaps we’ve only got one more season of the SD Worx show.
Either way, the team that ended 2023 on top is starting their 2024 season right where they left off, winning by a considerable margin. As we’ve seen before, dominance tends to raise the level of the peloton, and we’re just getting started on the new season.
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