Wheel Talk Newsletter: Confidence is a set of white bibs on a rainy day

It's been seven years since the women's world champion pulled on all-white bib shorts.

Good day and thank you for opening this week’s Wheel Talk Newsletter! If you didn’t watch Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of Flanders last week, what were you doing?!? Two stunning races that will dominate your cycling WhatsApp groups for weeks to come. The GOAT is back just in time for Paris-Roubaix Femmes, SD Worx-Protime is crumbling and with it their control of the peloton, Kasia Niewiadoma is at her best, and we’ve still got one of the hardest races on the calendar this week. It’s all almost too good to be true.

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Dwars door Vlaanderen, while not a WorldTour race, was an excellent primer for what was to come on Sunday at the Tour of Flanders. It was Lidl-Trek’s test run for throwing everything at SD Worx-Protime, and maybe on Wednesday it didn’t work but the “send it” mentality was what won them the next race, the one that really mattered.

Besides the Van Anrooij + Longo Borghini duo we didn’t know we needed, the talk of the race was Marianne Vos. Her win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad should have tipped us all off that the Dutchwoman was coming into the 2024 season on a tear.

On Wednesday Vos secured her 250th road win, an outstanding milestone and further proof that she is the GOAT.

To say the race was chaotic would be an understatement. There were already attacks flying before the race was neutralized for almost 30 minutes with 46 km to go due to a car accident on the course. The delay also meant two climbs were removed from the finale.

Once the race was able to resume it was full on, with Lidl-Trek and Puck Pieterse putting pressure on SD Worx-Protime. The Dutch team said after the race that they were in control up to that point, but after the neutralization, they lost the upper hand. Demi Vollering suffered an ill-timed mechanical that would see her out of contention when the winning move went with a little over 25 km to go.

SD Worx-Protime was so out of it that it took Kopecky bridging to the move solo to put them back in the front of the race, but the strength the Belgian champion has shown all season and her presence in the front group didn’t change Lidl-Trek’s plan of attack.

Van Anrooij, who gets better every weekend it seems, was the one to again force Kopecky out of the race for first. Last year’s Trofeo Alfredo Binda winner attacked with 12 km to go and was joined by Vos. The group behind containing Kopecky, Longo Borghini, Letizia Paternoster, and Pieterse spent the final kilometres attacking each other which eventually allowed the two up the road to focus on first and second.

In the sprint Vos was triumphant, but the second place for Van Anrooij was impressive nonetheless.

“A lot has happened,” Vos said after the race. “There were attacks from the start. Then we had this neutralised part. After the start was given again, there were some new actions. There was a new front group, and in the final, I can’t even recall, because so many things happened. At the end, I was happy to be in the break with Shirin van Anrooij.”

The 1-2 was great news for my fantasy team. If only the race had been WorldTour.

All in all, it was a great race. The Wheel Talk Discord was going off. Trying to keep up with all the takes was like trying to put a toddler in pyjamas before bedtime.

It was clear after Dwars door Vlaanderen that the podcast this week would have a long list of talking points, but that was before the Tour of Flanders happened

Racing continues …

At Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift!

The final Cobbled Classic of the season is upon us. On Saturday the women will line up for the fourth edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift.

I will be writing a full, in-depth preview on Escape Collective later this week, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, here are the basics.

When: Saturday, April 6 (this is the only race with a men’s equivalent where the women have their day, all to themselves)

Distance: 148.5 km, 29.2 km of which is cobbled

Live Coverage: 🇬🇧 Discovery+, 🇺🇸 Peacock, 🇦🇺 SBS, 🇨🇦 FloBikes

Weather: It is a bit early to know what the weather might be doing on Saturday, but it appears the peloton will be racing on a gloriously sunny day. However, the week leading up to the race is supposed to be a wet one. On Friday, rain is expected in the morning. So even if the day of Paris-Roubaix is dry, the cobblestones might not be.

Wheel Talk Podcast

In one hour, Loren, Gracie and I did our best to break down everything from both Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of Flanders plus the news about Demi Vollering leaving SD Worx-Protime at the end of the season.

Let’s Discuss

White bibs.

Not every world champion is brave enough to rock up to a race in white bibs, especially on the women’s side. Perhaps it’s because there are only a certain number of weeks per month a woman would feel safe wearing a white pair of bibs, but in recent memory, they’ve mostly opted for black bibs.

But on Sunday, with torrential rain on the menu, Kopecky rolled onto the stage head to toe in white.

A woman in white cycling clothing smiles as she rides through a crowd
Kopecky at the start of the Tour of Flanders

Black bibs are often referred to as the “safe” option. Aesthetically they are a classic look, and when the weather is what it was in Flanders they are definitely less likely to end up in the trash. Anna van der Breggen, Annemiek van Vleuten, Elisa Balsamo. They all wore the white jersey/black bib combo.

But Kopecky’s already striking figure was even more formidable decked out in white. As if she didn’t stand out from the crowd in the typical world champ get-up.

A women in white cycling clothing covered in mud races up a hill
Lotte Kopecky leading the chase group up the Oude Kwaremont.

The last world champion to wear white bibs was Lizzie Deignan in 2016. Deignan was a big fan of white bibs – it wasn’t just a look she donned for the rainbow jersey. The Olympic silver medalist also wore white bibs as the British national champion in 2015 and while leading the World Cup series in 2014.

A woman in white cycling clothing smiles as she riders her bike through a parking lot
Lizzie Deignan before the third stage of the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile in 2016.
A cyclist in all white throws her arms in the air as she wins a bike race
Lizzie Deignan wins GP Ouest France – Plouay in 2015.
A group of women race bikes up a hill, one wears white bib shorts
Deignan during the 2014 Grand Prix de Plouay.

It will come as no surprise that during her time in the rainbow bands, Vos also wore white bibs.

A woman raises her arms in victory as she wins a bike race
Marianne Vos wins Gouden Pijl van Emmen ahead of Ellen van Dijk in 2013.

There were also some mediocre attempts at white bibs, like when Pauline Ferrand-Prevot wore these sub-standard bibs at the 2015 Giro Rosa.

A woman raises her arms in victory as she wins a bike race, behind a group of women on bikes chases her.
Pauline Ferrand-Prevot during stage 5 of the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile.

Now, Kopecky joins an elite group of greats as a white-bib-wearing world champion. And really, who else in the peloton could pull it off these days? It takes a certain level of confidence to rock the all-white and, fun fact, if you look up “confidence” in the dictionary it’s just a photo of Lotte Kopecky.

A close up of a woman in cycling clothing, covered in mud, after a bike race.

Hopefully, SD Worx-Protime’s clothing sponsor supplied the world champion with more than one speedsuit. Can you imagine the all-white number during Paris-Roubaix Femmes?

The joys of social media

Who doesn’t want to keep reliving the moment Elisa Longo Borghini won her second Tour of Flanders? Love this behind-the-scenes video from Lidl-Trek.

A picture worth a couple of words

While on the hunt for photos of white bibs I came across this gem:

Marianne Vos circa 2013. Already an absolute legend, by that point in her career she was already a world champion 10 times over, one from her junior years on the road, six cyclocross titles, and three elite road titles (the most recent just months earlier). She had also already won the Olympic road race in London.

Little did she know she would only keep winning for 11(+) more years and be one to watch for another Olympic gold medal so many years later. She hasn’t been able to reclaim the road world title since 2013, although she came pretty close in 2021 against Elisa Balsamo.

Is 2024 the year Vos can finally regain the (road) rainbow jersey?

Taylor Swift Beyoncé trivia

Beyoncé dropped her eighth studio album on Friday. Cowboy Carter is, as she puts it, not a country album, it’s a Beyoncé album.

The album is Act II in her three-act series that started with Renaissance released in 2022. The trilogy was first conceived during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is so much I could write about this album. From Beyoncé’s upbringing in Texas and how the cowboy and music history there influenced her upbringing. I could write about Beyoncé’s Country Music Association Awards (CMAA) performance of “Daddy Lessons”, from Lemonade, alongside the Chicks, a performance that was stunning, moving, all the words. There aren’t enough words. I could write about how she blends her traditional Beyoncé sound and daring approach to songwriting with country music to create a truly unique piece of work. This entire newsletter could be about Cowboy Carter. Instead, I will share one song with you and focus on that.

The album features legendary country singers Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson and after its release, it broke the internet with Beyoncé’s cover of Parton’s Jolene. She also features Linda Martell, the first “commercially successful” Black woman in country music. But Jolene isn’t the only cover on the album. The second track is a Beatles song, one of their best (in my opinion).

That song is Blackbiird, a cover of the Beatles song Blackbird by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. McCartney also came in to help produce the new version of the song. The track features Brittney Spencer, Reyna Roberts, Tanner Adell and Tiera Kennedy, four Black women currently making country music.

The original song, released in 1968, was McCartney’s response to seeing the violent reaction to the Little Rock Nine and the Civil Rights movement in Southern USA during the 1960s.

Beyoncé, after not only the reaction to her performance at the CMAAs with the Chicks, but also the reaction to “Texas Hold ‘Em” recently, is not-so-subtly highlighting her place in the music industry by covering this song. Her decision to include four other Black women who sing country music in the cover was not insignificant. This Time piece about the song words the whole thing a lot better than I can. And the song itself is stunning.

Until next time!

Before I wrap up the newsletter, a moment for Marlen Reusser, one of the most exciting riders in the peloton, who will be out of it for some time while she recovers from her early-race crash at the Tour of Flanders. The SD Worx-Protime rider sustained eight broken teeth, two broken ear canals (there are only two and what on earth) and a broken jaw.

The peloton won’t be the same without her, so let’s all send her some good vibes for fast healing. It sounds like she’s in good spirits – a small victory.

I can’t thank you all enough for reading/subscribing to this newsletter, and for caring about women’s cycling. As always, if there is anything you’d like me to elaborate on, please reach out to me via the Wheel Talk Discord channel or @abimickey on social media.

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