A cycling team of women sit on the ground while they watch their teammate hoist a trophy.

Wheel Talk Newsletter: It’s all in the teamwork

Lotte Kopecky highlighted at Paris-Roubaix why teamwork is more than bringing up bottles and executing a leadout.

photo: Dominique Powers

Hello and thank you for opening this week’s Wheel Talk Newsletter! I hope everyone is surviving their post-Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift withdrawal. What a day it was! The winner may have been the most likely one, but it was so close to being a day for the GOAT, and there was so much that happened up to the velodrome. But more on that in a minute. 

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Paris-Roubaix round-up

Almost the entire Escape Collective team was on the ground in France over the weekend, meaning readers of EC were treated to an abundance of stories before and after the race. Instead of diving into something news-y, I want to give those stories a second life here, so we can relive some of the Paris-Roubaix magic. 


First, a few from myself before the race. Sure, they might be dated, but they were fun to write.

On the Wednesday before Paris-Roubaix Femmes, I called up Emma Norsgaard to ask her how she would win the race. We had a great chat, and even if the day didn’t go her way, Emma will be back for more pavé in the years to come. Her thoughts on the race will never age, because it’s a race that no matter how it goes can almost always come back around.

A side view of a woman's legs while riding a bike, covered in mud.

For Emma Norsgaard, Paris-Roubaix Femmes is about never giving up

I also got some pre-race predictions from some other riders, including 2022 Paris-Roubaix winner Elisa Longo Borghini.

“In the finale on Carrefour, the front group is made up of all six SD Worx riders plus three from Lidl-Trek,” Longo Borghini predicted. “However because a famous energy drink gives you wings, Zoe Bäckstedt [who is sponsored by Red Bull – Ed.] passes over the heads of the group and lands into the velodrome alone. As she flies over the group though the wind causes everyone’s helmets to go over their eyes and they take a wrong turn.

“Elynor Bäckstedt is a little bit behind and so she doesn’t go wrong and so she gets second place. The third-place rider was alone behind but has a puncture on the cobbles of Hem and has to wheelie until the velodrome.”

For more predictions, check out the whole story here.

And if you missed it, Alison Jackson and I sat down after she won last year to relive her monumental victory. In the buildup to Jackson passing on the crown, we looked back at how her win came to be.

A woman wearing a Canadian jersey mimics taking a crown off and passing it as she crosses the finish line of a bike race.

Alison Jackson: The Making of a Monument

The morning of the race Matt de Neef ran around the buses, gathering quotes for me. Two people he spoke with are directors for Continental teams up against the big dogs in the biggest race of the year. Their tactics across the cobbles were the same: get into the early break.

For the underdogs, a breakaway is the only option

After the race…

First, the straightforward race report, video clips included! To refresh your memory.

Paris-Roubaix Femmes report: Kopecky’s kick for the win

Jonny Long broke down Lidl-Trek’s race on Saturday. Elisa Balsamo and Ellen van Dijk were in the winning move, and the Italian finished second (a fantastic result) but for a team that aims only for the top step, they just missed out.

A female cyclist stands out the saddle during a bike race.

Tactical nous counts for nought as Lidl-Trek settle for second place

Matt de Neef highlighted how Lotte Kopecky’s Tour of Flanders frustration made her Paris-Roubaix Femmes victory all the sweeter …

A woman raises her arms in triumph on the podium of a bike race

Lotte Kopecky, Queen of the North

Meanwhile, Dane Cash focused on the 2023 winner, Alison Jackson, who passed her crown to Kopecky as she crossed the line, bloody from an early race encounter with the pavement.

Jackson hands over the crown at Paris-Roubaix

A little further down the results page, and even farther from home, Iain Treloar tells the story of Xin Tang and Luyao Zeng, two Chinese riders for Winspace, racing their first Paris-Roubaix Femmes.

A team of female cyclists stands side by side with their bikes

The first Chinese rider to finish Paris-Roubaix

Iain also wrote an absolutely stunning piece (of course he did) about the riders’ hands after the finish of Paris-Roubaix, complete with only slightly gruesome pictures. This was one of my personal favourites from the weekend.

The hands of the Hell of the North

And finally, Matt dug through the thousands of photos to put together a gallery of both the men’s and the women’s races.

A woman and her daughter ask a professional cyclist for her autograph

This race rarely disappoints when it comes to photos.

Gallery: The beauty and brutality of the 2024 Paris-Roubaix

Racing continues …

At Amstel Gold Race!

After a week containing both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix Femmes, you’d think the peloton (and us!) would get a rest but no, we’re back at it again on Sunday at the Amstel Gold Race. At least some of the women will be able to step back and watch their teammates take over in the Netherlands. A lot of teams swap out their “Classics” squad for some more climb-y type riders, but some are going to push through to Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

One of the few spring one-days in the Netherlands, the Amstel Gold Race is a true sign that warmer days are on the horizon. Unlike the Classics before it, the Amstel Gold Race takes place before the men’s race. It is one of the few races not run by the ASO (Paris-Roubaix Femmes, Liège–Bastogne–Liège) or Flanders Classics (Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad).

Amstel Gold Race is the first of a three-race block that includes Liège–Bastogne–Liège and La Flèche Wallonne, the hillier races favour riders like Demi Vollering, Kasia Niewiadoma, and Liane Lippert.

The Basics

When: Sunday 14 April

Distance: 156.7 km

Live coverage: 🇬🇧 Discovery+, 🇺🇸 FloBikes, 🇦🇺 SBS, 🇨🇦 FloBikes. This one is a little earlier, live coverage kicks off 13:00 CEST / 5:00 MDT / 21:07 AEST

The Course

The 156.7 km race rolls out of Maastricht towards the Limburg region of the Netherlands. The climbs in the first half of the race are few, but the elevation gain picks up significantly when the race reaches Valkenburg after 77 km.

At the 77 km mark, the peloton turns right onto the circuits that will finish the race. They then complete four laps of an 18 km course that includes three climbs – Cauberg (800 m, max 12.8%), Bemelberg (800 m, max 8%), and Geulhemmerberg (900m, max 8%).

Four times over the three climbs is enough to shred the legs, but the race finishes with a new flourish. The fourth and final lap takes a detour 1.6 km from the finish, into the base of the Cauberg this year which is meant to make the finale more challenging (seen below in red).

The course is selective; by the time the peloton starts the final circuit half of the field will already be long gone. Attacks will fly; it is always an aggressive final leading into the Cauberg, but that final climb is typically where the race is won.

The Cauberg is where we’ve always seen late-race attacks go, like Kasia Niewiadoma’s win in 2019. Even if it’s not the attack on the Cauberg that wins the race, that same attack will almost always create a selection of riders in contention for the win. Marta Cavalli’s win in 2022 is particularly memorable.

The Players

Last year’s winner Demi Vollering is back in play alongside Paris-Roubaix winner and world champion Lotte Kopecky. When both are present it always makes for an interesting dynamic at SD Worx-Protime, even more so when both are in good form. Vollering perhaps didn’t look her best at Flanders, but has had a few weeks away to fine-tune the form. Last year she became the second woman in history to win all three Ardennes Classics – the other is her DS at SD Worx-Protime Anna van der Breggen.

The rider that everyone will be cheering for is Kasia Niewiadoma. She would have been on the radar even before her second-place finish at Flanders, and now she is the people’s favourite to win on Sunday. Canyon-SRAM will have Chloe Dygert alongside Niewiadoma for backup and support.

Marianne Vos, winner of the race in 2021, lines up after a disappointing end to the Cobbled Classics. Fourth at Paris-Roubaix Femmes is still fantastic, but for Vos, the top step is the goal. The Visma-Lease a Bike rider is in top form this season, and climbing the best we’ve seen in some time. She will definitely be in the mix.

Movistar, who had a bit of a quiet spring, will swap out a Classics rider for Liane Lippert. The German Tour de France stage winner has the kick and the climbing skills to win this race, but we haven’t seen much from her yet this year.

Coming off a really impressive cobbles calendar, Pfeiffer Georgi will hopefully be able to keep her third-place finish at Paris-Roubaix rolling for another week. The British rider is on the rise, and the top step is in sight.

Elisa Longo Borghini returns after her win at Flanders. The Italian champion was targeting these three races from the start, hence her choice to skip Paris-Roubaix. She has spring phenom Shirin van Anrooij by her side, along with Ellen van Dijk.

The preliminary start list includes Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who started the season strong with a win Down Under but has been out of the scene following a crash at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Outside favourites include: Sarah Gigante (AG Insurance-Soudal) winner of the Tour Down Under, Kristen Faulkner (EF Education-Cannondale), Christina Schweinberger (Fenix-Deceuninck), and Mavi Garcia (Liv AlUla Jayco).

Please note that this is based on the preliminary startlist that will likely change before Sunday. An updated startlist can be found at

Wheel Talk Podcast

Loren Rowney and Matt de Neef were on the ground in the Roubaix Velodrome. The two were recording the moment the sprint started, and Loren takes you through the moment Kopecky won against Vos, Balsamo, and Georgi. They then caught up with Iris Slappendel who spent her day on a motorbike following the race, and Kate Veronneau from Zwift, who is a massive reason this race is so well supported.

But that’s not all! Loren, Gracie and I will record another episode later this week to break down the finer points of the race. It will be released a few days after the usual Tuesday podcast, but we couldn’t resist getting on Zoom to talk about everything that went down on Saturday. 

Let’s Discuss

Off-bike teamwork.

Trying to explain that cycling is indeed a team sport to those who aren’t well versed in the more technical side of the sport can be complicated. But only one person gets a medal? Correct. So they all get points when they help one person win? No. Does the team get a trophy? No. Honestly, sometimes it’s not a team sport, but teams that don’t work well together are also usually out of the spotlight because they are not the ones winning.

Teamwork is a key component in bike racing. There is a backup plan, in case plan A falls through, there are worker bees who help control the peloton and protectors who shield the leader. There’s even a boss on the road to instruct in case things go sideways. A lot of the teamwork we put so much weight into happens on the road, but that’s not the only way strong team dynamics can impact a team.

Cycling is a time-consuming sport. There are many months spent away from family and friends, on the road literally, not just in the races. Starting in December riders are scooped up and sent away to training camps where they spend up to three weeks with their teammates, staff, and management preparing for the season ahead. The camps include long days on the bike, and getting the body ready, but they also include at least two meals a day in the same room as your teammates, plus in-between time spent doing yoga or lifting weights, even re-watching last year’s races and taking notes to improve. All done together.

The time passes a lot faster when you’re laughing with your colleagues.

A team of women pose on a podium after winning a bike race

During Paris-Roubaix Femmes Kopecky may have been isolated in the front group, outnumbered by two from Lidl-Trek and Marianne Vos, arguably the faster sprinter. Her teammates had done their work earlier in the day, and Kopecky’s victory was far from a one-person effort.

During the race, we saw Elena Cecchini on the front, Lorena Wiebes up amongst the best, and Femke Markus and Christine Majerus doing the grunt work (collecting bottles, shepherding Kopecky and Wiebes around, etc). Team SD Worx-Protime may not have been as blunt with their teamwork on Saturday as Lidl-Trek’s Ellen van Dijk, who pulled back a dangerous move singlehandedly, but they were there.

After the race Kopecky gave us a peek behind the Dutch team’s curtain into their week before the race, and how important her teammate’s presence was to her success on the day.

“I tried to stay as calm as possible actually but after [Flanders] the feeling was just not what I wanted it to be,” she said in the press conference after the race on Saturday. 

“Luckily I have really good friends and a really good team behind me who tried to keep me calm, and give me confidence and over the last two days, we have laughed about so many things.”

After Flanders the teams usually remain together, with staff to take care of them in the days leading up to Paris-Roubaix, and for Scheldeprijs on the Wednesday before. Final recons are done, plans are made, and through it all it’s not your family and friends sitting with you at the end of a long day, it’s your teammates.

A cycling team poses on a podium after winning a bike race

If you’re all laughing and together in shrugging off the disappointment of a race that didn’t end in victory, it’s easier to turn your attention forward and not focus on the failure of a week before. Kopecky said as much after the race. Not only were the good vibes of SD Worx-Protime beneficial in forgetting the Tour of Flanders, they also helped Kopecky not feel the weight of pressure before Roubaix.

Once it was time to race, the teamwork we know a bit more about took the reigns.

“It was exactly as we planned, we hoped to try and stay out of trouble in the first 60 km, then be good in front in the first three sectors and we knew that afterwards, there was crosswinds,” Kopecky explained.

“Lorena [Wiebes] and me were there always, so that was already the good thing. Then before the sector where I attacked for the first time, there was still Elena Cecchini with me who tried to position me.”

Two teammates of a cycling team hug in a crowd of people.

We’ve talked about it so often in the podcast –  the importance of having a strong team around you – but that doesn’t always mean literal strength. A sour team can make for sour results, and having a strong environment is as important as strong legs.

Kopecky will go home to Belgium to celebrate the mighty victory with friends and family, the people who hold a person together, but the first people she celebrates with are those who stood by her physically and mentally in the days before the race, the months training in foreign countries, and years cementing bonds over inside jokes and bad hotel coffee.

Kopecky spoke to that in the press conference after answering many questions about one of her greatest victories. “It is almost 7 pm so I just hope we can get some nice food and have some good time with the team together and just really enjoy this moment,” she said.

The joys of social media

How cool would it be to race something as iconic as Paris-Roubaix Femmes, a race your dad won, alongside your sister, and then finish the race where your mom (also a former top-level cyclist) is waiting with hugs. Only the Backstedt sisters know the answer. (The last picture tho 💛)

A picture worth a couple of words

Speaking of mothers … a lot has been said about Ellen van Dijk and her return to the peloton, but she is far from the only one.

A woman in cycling kit gives her son a kiss on the forehead before starting a bike race

Jos Lowden of Uno-X brought a pretty cute +1 to sign on before the first stage of the Volta a Valenciana. When Theo is all grown up he will have this picture with his mom, a professional cyclist, before she went off to race. Moments like this, and what they mean for this sport and so many others, will never cease to amaze me.

Taylor Swift trivia


Until next time!

Before we wrap up, it was really disappointing to see Sarah Roy’s post on Instagram about her day on Saturday at Paris-Roubaix. The Australian riding for Cofidis was having a decent day, in the front of the race, when she flatted. She was then passed by multiple neutral support vehicles, effectively ending her race. Her caption says it all.

Thank you so much for reading/subscribing to the Wheel Talk Newsletter. It means so much that you all are fans enough of women’s cycling to read this.

As always, if you have any questions or specific topics you’d like me to discuss, please reach out on the Escape Collective Discord or via social media. You can find me at @abimickey on Threads and Instagram.

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