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Welcome back to the SD Worx show

Was stage 1 a preview of what's to come throughout the race?

Seven riders, only two that aren’t a national or continental champion.

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 23.07.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
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It’s a measure of SD Worx’s dominance this season that two stage wins at the Giro d’Italia Donne felt somehow underpar. In the shadow of a rampaging Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), SD Worx didn’t dominate the Italian ‘Grand Tour’ the way it has dominated just about everything else this season.

But on today’s opening stage of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, the Dutch superteam was back to business. For the 49th time in 2023, the team found itself on the winners’ list, this time courtesy of a late solo move from Belgian champ Lotte Kopecky. With those 49 wins, SD Worx now has more victories than the three next best teams have managed this year, combined. 

It doesn’t stop there though. Today is also the 16th time this season that SD Worx has gone one-two in a race, this time thanks to Lorena Wiebes winning the reduced-bunch sprint behind Kopecky.

Saluting second place? If you’ve just gone 1-2, again, go for it.

SD Worx were never far from the front of the bunch on a nervous but mostly pedestrian stage that started and finished in Clermont-Ferrand. And when the pace ratcheted up on approach to the decisive final climb, they were front and centre. The team’s Swiss juggernaught, Marlen Reusser, led a quickly thinning lead bunch up the lower slopes, and then when she could go no longer, Demi Vollering – SD Worx’s big GC hope – even did her bit.

“The first part of the climb Marlen did very strong, and then I felt she could not really keep it up anymore,” Vollering said afterwards. “And then I thought, ‘OK, I take over because otherwise, they will attack if the speed drops down.’”

Only one rider managed to attack from behind the pace set by Reusser and Vollering: their teammate, Kopecky, who hit out from a few wheels back in the group with just under 10 km to go, quickly building a gap.

“This final climb I had the feeling that I had something left,” Kopecky said. “And I just went and I thought, yeah, probably somebody will follow but nobody could follow.

“Once I was on the top, I knew it was mostly downhill or slightly dragging down, so I was like, ‘Yeah, if I can keep my power, they will not catch me back.’”

She was right. While Kopecky rode away, the group behind showed a distinct lack of cohesion – something of a trend in group 2 this season. It was a frustrating finale for many who’d been in contention until Kopecky attacked, but for SD Worx, it panned out exactly as planned.

“We have the luxury in this team that we have a lot of good riders,” Kopecky said in the very definition of understatement. “I could do this attack today, but if I didn’t, then there was just Lorena Wiebes there for the sprint. And we could also just have gone for that option. I mean, same for Demi or Marlen – both of them could also have done this I think.”

Vollering or Reusser might have been capable of a similar move, but it’s doubtful anyone on SD Worx wanted the win today as much as Kopecky.

“When I saw it on VeloViewer a few weeks [or] months ago, I thought this first stage was for sprinters,” Kopecky said. “But then, the team director went for a recon of this race and he already texted me that, yeah ‘This first stage suits you very well.’ And when we did the recon two days ago, I was really happy to see this final climb.”

Kopecky and a friend had even predicted how it would pan out.

“I think it started like, three, four weeks ago – we were joking that I would attack on this final climb and then do a solo for 10 km,” Kopecky said with a chuckle. “So it was something that was already in my mind for quite a long time. And every day, we texted each other every morning, and we said like ’10 kilometers’ with a yellow heart behind it. So yeah, it was not something that just happened.”

“10 km. ?”

Being the opening stage of the race, Kopecky’s victory comes with a few additional prizes. For starters, being first over the day’s only categorised climb means she now leads the QOM competition. She also leads the points classification. And of course she now leads the race overall, by a total of 45 seconds.

That’s an impressive margin, not just for what it says about Kopecky’s ride today, but for what it could mean going forward. It’s conceivable that Kopecky could lead the race for some time.

Tomorrow’s stage 2 is among the hardest in the race, with six categorised climbs, including a 3.4 km ascent close to the finish. But if she can get through that with her lead in tact, it’s not impossible for her to wear yellow all the way to the race’s encounter with the Col du Tourmalet, on stage 7.

Kopecky herself isn’t sure how the team will approach her time in yellow. She is sure about the bigger picture though.

“The biggest goal of the team is GC with Demi and whatever needs to be done …” she said, clad in the maillot jaune, at her winner’s press conference. “Tomorrow, if we have to sacrifice this yellow jersey then yeah, we will not hesitate to do so.

“Whatever needs to be done for the final GC will be done. That’s for sure. But for myself, of course, it would be nice to wear yellow for a few days.”

The 2023 Tour de France Femmes is still so young, with so much racing still to come. And as Kopecky notes, the biggest battle is still to come. For the sake of the spectacle, though, hopefully SD Worx’s show of power today doesn’t become a recurring pattern throughout the Tour, like it has for so much of the season.

Then again, what SD Worx has managed this year is something extraordinary, far beyond the norm. Perhaps we should all just sit back and enjoy the show.

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