Christine Majerus snaps a selfie with Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and Lotte Kopecky at the 2022 Tour de France Femmes.

Wheel Talk Newsletter: A dime a dozen

Your weekly dose of women's cycling content (with some extras).

Christine Majerus snaps a selfie with Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and Lotte Kopecky at the 2022 Tour de France Femmes.

Hello and welcome to the Wheel Talk Newsletter, a weekly drop of women’s cycling content right into your inboxes (if you so choose).

Last week I highlighted some issues brought up in the annual The Cyclists’ Alliance survey. If you are unfamiliar with The Cyclists’ Alliance, or TCA for short, it is a union formed by three now-retired professional cyclists Iris Slappendel, Carmen Small, and Gracie Elvin. It’s a union for the women’s peloton by the women’s peloton. They do a ton for the sport, including a mentorship program where they link up young riders with more experienced women in the peloton, advise riders about negotiating contracts, hold seminars that aim to help women of all levels to understand things like nutrition, I could go on and on.

In 2022 Strava came on to support TCA in their mentoring program, and the two entities announced this weekend another super exciting development; the TCAMP Pre-Career x Strava Grant.

The grant will help provide financial assistance to developing riders to overcome barriers created by financial limitations. That’s especially important for riders outside of Europe who need to pay for things like visas and extensive travel only to get to Europe and have to locate accommodation to be close to the races; that’s not to mention getting to the start once on the continent.

The whole thing is rad, and I was excited to speak with Deena Blacking of TCA about it. A deeper dive will be available later this week on Escape Collective (a little tease to keep you all coming back).

There may not have been any WorldTour races last weekend but there was still racing. Some familiar names are turning their attention to the dirt roads to close out the season and Lorena Wiebes may have just missed out on retaining her European road title but she secured the European gravel title last weekend. She was only beaten by Tiffany Cromwell, who as an Australian doesn’t get to contend for the European Gravel Championships title, but the race was also a Gravel World Series event, so that’s why there were two winners.

Tiffany Cromwell rides to victory at Bolero Gravel in Belgium on October 7, 2023.
Tiffany Cromwell rides to victory at Bolero Gravel in Belgium.

The next gravel event is the World Championships in Veneto, Italy this coming weekend where Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift champion Demi Vollering is expected to line up alongside the best of the gravel world. What a way to end the season.

Lorena Wiebes sprints to victory in Belgium ahead of Fem van Empel to take the 2023 European title.
Lorena Wiebes outsprints Fem van Empel to take the 2023 European gravel title

? Let’s discuss ?

Speaking of Tiffany Cromwell …

This week on the podcast we chatted about domestiques. An essential link in a cycling team, a domestique can often be overlooked, especially on the women’s side where live coverage used to cover only the pointy end of the race.

Now we see some races start to finish so we see what happens before the cameras are rolling. We can see which teams have a strong base for their leaders and who is spending time controlling the action. As more races expand their coverage we will learn more of their names, but for now, Gracie gathered some riders who at this point in the season deserve more shoutouts than we can give them.

The loyal ones

Just like there are different specialties in cycling (climber, sprinter, rouleur, etc.) there are also different types of domestiques. There are those who are always there, time and time again they sacrifice their own results and the spotlight for their teammates. They are loyal, unquestioningly loyal. A lot of times these riders stay on the same team for most of their careers, even if their favourite leaders come and go. And in my experience, they are also sunshine on a cloudy day.

Perhaps the most famous domestique in recent years is Christine Majerus. The SD Worx rider has been a fixture of the team since 2014 when it was Boels-Dolmans. Over the years she’s won limited races but been a part of nearly every major victory the team has achieved. Her presence in the peloton is immediately recognizable (she’s been the national champion of Luxembourg every year since 2010. She remains one of the most loyal riders in the bunch and SD Worx would be a little less without her.

Tayler Wiles, a rider who will be sorely missed in the peloton, really embraced becoming a domestique when she joined Trek-Segafredo in 2019. Before the transfer she had been a general classification hopeful, especially on the US racing scene, but the move allowed her to find new depths in her career. In those early years on the team, she worked for Ruth Winder, Lizzie Deignan, and Elisa Longo Borghini. She got some opportunities and took some wins but she loved working for her team and was fantastic at it. She retired in July due to continued struggles with iliac artery endofibrosis.

Lidl-Trek’s other secret weapon is Australian Lauretta Hanson. One of the core members of the American team, Hanson has continued to improve every year. This year especially has been one of the most impressive of her career. It started strong in Australia and continued that way once she came over to Europe. She’s had some major setbacks and injuries in her career and this year she had to work her way back to form after crashing at Nokere Koerse but she came back stronger than ever and was a key member of the team’s Giro Donne and Tour squads.

Similarly to Hanson, Jess Allen is a rider who has been a key feature in Jayco-AlUla’s team since early in her career. She signed for Orica-AIS in 2016 and was part of Annemiek van Vleuten’s transition into a GC rider. She’s been an integral part of that team for years, and as she retires at the end of the season is leaving behind some massive shoes they will have a hard time filling.

Movistar’s Aude Biannic is a rider who skates by under the radar a lot of the time, but Emma Norsgaard is quick to tell you how important she is to the team’s success. The French rider joined Movistar in 2018 from what is now FDJ-Suez and found a home at the Spanish team. She’s been a part of many Van Vleuten victories and has grown as a domestique as the team has grown into one of the best teams in the peloton.

Currently out of the racing and about to have a baby Julie Leth is someone we can’t fail to mention. The Danish rider has ridden for Hitel Products (now Coop-Hitec), Wiggle-High5, Ceratizit-WNT, and is currently on Uno-X. She has been part of some major wins in a lot of riders’ careers from Elisa Longo Borghini to Jolien D’Hoore to Audrey Cordon-Ragot and wherever she goes her strength becomes a key part of the team’s success.

The ones that win on the side

Another brand of domestique is those that are loyal and lay it all out there for the team but can also win. These ones are special because given more chances (as we saw this year for one of the below riders) they can become a leader on their teams.

Marlen Ruesser started out as a domestique, with the option of having her day whenever a time trial rolled around, and this year she was still in that domestique role a lot of the time, becoming Vollering’s main helper in a lot of the harder races like the Tour. But whenever she was given the chance she won, and going into the next season she will probably be doing a lot less domestiquing.

Similar to Reusser, Ellen van Dijk is a rider who wins and wins big but spends a lot of her time on the front doing the work for others, take Gent-Wevelgem 2022 for example. She’s currently out on maternity leave, and her absence has been felt not only by Lidl-Trek. In her place, the team has had Lucinda Brand. Brand does a lot of her winning on the dirt racing cyclocross, and she also wins on the road, but she can turn off that winning mentality to be a worker.

New to the WorldTour peloton Loes Adegeest was immediately put to work by FDJ-Suez at Tour Down Under riding the front for Grace Brown. The team repaid those efforts by giving her freedom to win Cadel Evan’s Great Ocean Road Race, and all-season she’s been putting her power to the test for Marta Cavalli and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig.

Movistar’s Arlenis Sierra is a rider who was a winner on previous teams but came to Movistar and had to readjust her style. She fit into the team seamlessly and has become a staple for Van Vleuten and Norsgaard but when she does get her chance she takes it, like at the first stage of Tour de Romandie last season.

Sofia Bertizzolo is one of UAE Team ADQ’s many domestiques and one that does great work for the team’s leaders, but this year in particular we saw her really get to step into her own. She won the first stage of the Tour de Romandie and the points classification there, plus finished on the podium of the GP de Plouay Classic Lorient Agglomération. And she’s only 26.

There are a LOT more incredible domestiques out there, and thanks to new measures to make women’s cycling more professional riders are able to make a career out of being a domestique. Before minimum wages and mandatory live coverage, riders always needed to think about their own results to keep getting contracts, but now the landscape is changing and these women can remain employed while giving their all to the team.

We talked a lot more about this on the podcast and mentioned a few other riders, so if you want to hear that check us out on the Wheel Talk Podcast. And drop your favourite domestique in the comments 🙂

? The joys of social media ?

While Wiebes was racing gravel Lotte Kopecky was the center of a nationwide celebration. Over the weekend Belgium celebrated the unreal season Kopecky has had from winning her second Tour of Flanders, winning the opening stage at the Tour de France Femmes and wearing the yellow jersey for most of the week, and capping the season with the World Championship title.

Kopecky was mid-autograph signing when this machine of pure joy “drove” by, calling her name.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Team SD Worx (@teamsdworx)

She’s the world champion we deserve, and if these shenanigans continue so will our love for Kopecky.

?️ A picture worth a couple words ?️

(I love a good segue) This week’s picture is from one of the best races of the year, a race that I truly didn’t understand the hype until 2021 when the women finally got their chance: Paris-Roubaix Femmes.

Kopecky will be eyeing this event in 2024, and boy will that be exciting if we get to watch the World Champion win Paris-Roubiax? It was one of the few races that went wrong for the SD Worx team in 2023, and a race that has eluded the Dutch team from the beginning (it’s only been three editions but still).

Lotte Kopecky leads Marta Bastianelli over a sector of cobbles during the 2023 edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes.
Lotte Kopecky leads Marta Bastianelli over a sector of cobbles during the 2023 edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes.

This stunning photo is one of many I have found and saved from the Grubers. Normally the duo follows the men’s peloton, specifically EF Education-EasyPost, but over the past couple of years, they’ve done a bit more on the women’s side. I adore them as humans and as artists, so I am happy to share this photo with you all. Give them a follow on Instagram if you don’t already.

? Your weekly dose of Taylor Swift ?

The last few weeks have been in a word, bonkers for fans of Taylor Swift. Her dating history is not something I care to comment on, you do you girl, but for the first time she is linked to an athlete and when I say the world of football will never recover from the swiftstorm of Taylor-related memes and news and just everything (Google “ketchup and seemingly ranch”).

When Taylor was working with Aaron Dessner of The National on folklore, the first of two “pandemic” albums she released in 2020, there was a song she originally wanted to write about The Last Dance, the basketball miniseries. The chilling song Epiphany which ended up being about war and death and illness was going to be a sports story.

Now, wipe away your tears, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) is only 23 days away.

Thanks so much for reading my Wheel Talk Newsletter! As I mentioned if you want to hear a bit more about domestiques (and women’s cycling) check out the Wheel Talk Podcast. A massive thank you to Gracie Elvin for being the inspiration behind this week’s discussion.

What do you all think? Should I highlight team captains next? Let me know what you want to hear on Discord or find me on Twitter X @abimickey.

And in case you missed it, last week I asked myself what the heck is going on at Jumbo-Visma’s womens team.

Until next time!

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