Demi Vollering signs onto a big board at the start of a bike race.

Wheel Talk Newsletter: No SD Worx-Protime at Classic Brugge-De Panne

You won't see SD Worx-Protime at the Classic Brugge-De Panne sign-on, but why does it matter? Plus, why you should be a fan of Jessie Diggins.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 19.03.2024 Photography by
Kristof Ramon and Cor Vos
More from Abby +

Good day and thank you for reading this week’s edition of the Wheel Talk Newsletter. Woah, what a race we got on Sunday at Trofeo Alfredo Binda! Some things are resting on my mind after recording the podcast with Gracie and Loren so today I’m going to touch on those before moving on to the two Belgian one-days we’ve got coming up, and (you’ll forgive me) fangirling over Jessie Diggins.

But before we dive in, this newsletter is available in email format, if you’d like to get it straight to your inbox.

A few quick hits.

Let’s get the not-so-awesome stuff out of the way first.

Scrolling the Trofeo Alfredo Binda results after the race I was surprised to see only 57 finishers. Sure, it was a hard edition, but even on circuits it doesn’t make sense for so many riders to be slapped with DNF. That only happens in a race like the Tour of Flanders or something with shorter circuits where riders are pulled for safety reasons.

Hours after Elisa Balsamo stood on the podium one of those DNFs Brodie Chapman, who would have done a ton of work in the early stages for her teammate Elisa Balsamo, took to Twitter X with some insight.

It was pretty disappointing for the organizers to put a whole lot of riders in danger just because they weren’t “in the points.”

And speaking of disappointment: When the live coverage finally lit up we were a mere 48 km from the finish, and while that would have been considered a win a few years back, this is 2024 and we expect more. With 48 km to go the race is already nearly at the critical point, so we got to see a lot of the good stuff, but even an additional 20 km would have given a lot of things more context.

It’s hard to sit there and accept 48 km of coverage when a day earlier we were treated to seven-plus hours of pictures for a men’s race that could get away with only showing the last 50 km.

Finally, I need to apologize to Lidl-Trek. Because we didn’t see a more extended version of the coverage, not only the length but also the number of cameras on the road, I didn’t give the winning team nearly enough credit. Shirin van Anrooij in particular has been labeled the MVP of the race by Wheel Talk’s Discord group and I agree wholeheartedly. She was unreal in those final two laps but Amanda Spratt and Gaia Realini were also fantastic in helping Balsamo stay in contact over the climbs, covering moves, and doing all the good things support riders do.

Thinking back on the race maybe there was so much going on at the front of the race it was easy to overlook what was going on at the back of the bunch, but still. Van Anrooij’s performance in particular should have gotten a stand-alone story.

Fortunately, Cosmo Catalano of How The Race Was Won put together a perfect recap for us to relive the race.

Moving on!

Trofeo Alfredo Binda wasn’t the only edge-of-your-seat race on Sunday.

In the world of Nordic skiing, Jessie Diggins coated the snow in glitter as she powered to win the final distance race of the season, a 20 km Mass Start Free. The win guaranteed her the World Cup overall title (as well as the distance title) for the second time in her career.

It was always going to come down to this final weekend of racing for Diggins. With only three races remaining Diggins led Sweden’s Linn Svahn by about 122 points. I won’t dive into all the details when it comes to the three events themselves, Classic vs Skate, sprints vs distance but with the gap she had Diggins needed to have a decent weekend to keep the overall title.

Friday’s Sprint Classic didn’t go awesome for Diggins, she didn’t qualify for the semi-finals which put her in 18th on the day. Svahn finished second behind Norway’s Kristine Stavaas Skistad and was awarded a good chunk of points. Saturday went better for Diggins, another Classic event (not her bread and butter), she finished 5th after 10 km. Svahn finished 18th.

Now I feel like I’m getting into the weeds, so I’ll wrap this up. Diggins almost lost it but after a phenomenal performance on Sunday, she walked away the overall winner for the season. Why does this matter? Well, if you care about cross-country skiing, it matters because since the dawn of time, the sport has been dominated by the Scandinavian countries, with a few non-Scandinavians slipping in there every once in a while, but Diggins became the first non-European to win the overall title three years ago and hasn’t slowed down since. She’s changing the game for the niche sport, especially in North America and if you watch any of her interviews or follow her social media it’s easy to see why she’s gained such a huge following.

I could go on and on about Diggins, which I did in this week’s podcast, but in case you missed it I’ll drop her interview from after Sunday’s race here for you.

After the race, Diggins wrote on her Instagram:

“Winning the World Cup overall and distance globes was the cherry on top, but the most important thing to me was that I was able to have fun and be healthy and happy on that start line. I think I’m finally learning how to enjoy the sport I love through the pressure and the noise, both inside my head and outside it. It’s going to always be a work in progress, and that’s ok. 

This has been a wild year of ups and downs, and what got me through it is belonging to a group of people who have unconditionally had my back. Thank you, I truly couldn’t be here without you! ❤️”

Not only is Diggins an incredible athlete, but she is also raw and unfiltered when speaking about the uglier side of the sport. She exudes joy and positive energy but in a real way that is impossible not to love. That she is also completely reshaping the sport I grew up in is almost unreal to watch and for that, I will never stop singing her praises.

Alright, that was a long intro…let’s keep moving.

Racing continues…

At Classic Brugge-De Panne!

Back to Belgium, and there to stay for a few weeks at least, the women line up again on Thursday for the windy, sprinter-y Classic Brugge-De Panne.

Since 2018 Classic Brugge-De Panne has been, for the most part, won by a sprinter. Lorena Wiebes, Elisa Balsamo, Jolien D’Hoore, and Kristen Wild have all won this race, but the crosswinds always make sure the finale isn’t a straightforward one.

In 2021 Grace Brown caught a group of favourites off guard and rode solo to her first WorldTour one-day win and last year Pfeiffer Georgi won a full minute ahead of a group of the fastest women on two wheels … on roads (track riders are a different breed when it comes to speed).

So while Balsamo and Charlotte Kool will be in attendance, there are other riders who could take advantage of the unknown.

The Basics

When? Thursday, March 21

How to watch? 🇬🇧 Discovery+, 🇺🇸 MAX, 🇨🇦 FloBikes

Coverage starts: 15:15 CET / 10:15 ET / 01:15 +1 Melbourne

The Course

There is no reason to include a profile for this race because it is as flat as the surface of an Ikea table. There is no elevation, none.

What the race lacks in elevation it makes up for in possible wind, always a fun little addition to a Spring Classic. Thursday’s weather prediction calls for 30 km/h winds with 50 km/h gusts … fun! For us. Not really for the riders. The real race will take place on the 43.9 km local circuits which the peloton will hit it twice.

A map of the Brugge-De Panne route, showing a start in Brugge with a zig-zag route toward De Panne on the North Sea coast. The circuits around De Panne go close to the coast at Koksijde where there will be crosswinds.

The Players

Unfortunately, SD Worx-Protime announced on Monday that, due to rider injuries and conflicts with a training camp, they will not be able to attend Classic Brugge-De Panne on Thursday, which means we are down the best sprinter in the bunch right now, Lorena Wiebes. For those hoping to see Wiebes finally line up against Charlotte Kool and Elisa Balsamo on a flat finish (it’s me) we have a few more days of waiting.

At least Kool and Balsamo are both slated to race on Thursday. Balsamo is arguably the better of the two at this moment, especially after her win on Sunday, but Kool has quite the team around her with DSM Firmenich-PostNL.

Some other favourites to keep in mind include FDJ-Suez’s Vittoria Guazzini, who’s on a run of great form at the moment and Lily Williams of Human Powered Health, who (after a shocker of a race at Ronde van Drenthe) finished third behind Wiebes and Lotte Kopecky at Nokere Koerse.

A few riders will benefit from the lack of SD Worx-Protime, Emma Norsgaard (Movistar), Maike van der Duin (Canyon-SRAM), and Chiara Consonni (UAE Team ADQ) among them. All three are strong sprinters who can adapt to what the other teams throw at them.

EF Education-Cannondale has a few good options on their roster. Lotta Henttala and Alison Jackson stand out as riders who are scrappy enough to deal with the winds.

If anything, the results of the race on Thursday will tell us a thing or two going into Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. I will be writing a full preview for that one later in the week, so keep an eye on Escape Collective for that.

Wheel Talk Podcast

Gracie, Loren and I return this week to talk about Trofeo Alfredo Binda, the curious case of Ellen van Dijk winning the time trial at Tour de Normandie but losing the overall on Sunday to Mie Ottestad, and the upcoming one-days in Belgium.

Find the episode titled “Attack! Attack! Attack!” everywhere podcasts are streamed.

Let’s Discuss

SD Worx-Protime missing Classic Brugge-De Panne.

There’s no denying that when SD Worx-Protime isn’t on the startline the races are more dynamic. That has been the case on a few occasions, but when the top team is missing from a race it’s almost worse than if they were there. Their absence leaves a hole in proceedings, not to mention questions of how the juggernaut that is SD Worx-Protime would have changed the race outcome.

It’s not uncommon for a WorldTeam to miss a WorldTour race. Teams often skip the Australian Summer, for example, and usually, teams will pick and choose between Ronde van Drenthe and Trofeo Alfredo Binda. Weirdly, Visma-Lease a Bike missed both but was at the Tour de Normandie. An odd choice for a team that is claiming to want to be the best team in the sport after all their female staff members left.

Now, as we move into the leading events of the spring SD Worx-Protime is down enough riders to have to miss a race that they probably could have had a good shot of winning, if Wiebes wasn’t one of the riders currently out of commission.

Despite dislocating her shoulder in the crash at Nokere Koerse, Wiebes went on to finish second behind her teammate Kopecky, who rode away to win solo. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak also went down in the mid-week 1.Pro race, so that’s two of the team’s 16 riders down. Demi Vollering and others are up in Sierra Nevada getting ready for a hillier time of year.

Christine Majerus, who was phenomenal at Ronde van Drenthe, didn’t start Nokere Koerse due to illness, and it seems like it’s just that time of year.

Side note: If you don’t follow Majerus you should. She loves to post dogs and her art. 10/10 would recommend.

In the press release announcing they would miss Brugge-De Panne Danny Stam, the team’s lead director, highlighted that the team is hoping to be able to start Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, which is only a few days after Classic Brugge-De Panne.

What is worth noting here isn’t that SD Worx-Protime is missing Thursday’s race; some things can’t be helped and rider health is above all the more important thing. We’d rather have Wiebes at full strength than put the rest of her season in jeopardy by having her start on Thursday. It’s that SD Worx is not alone in struggling to field full teams for races.

SD Worx-Protime is a team of 16 riders, a pretty standard number. Roland has the smallest roster among WorldTeams, at 12, and Lidl-Trek has the biggest team at 19 (Fenix-Deceuninck has 19 as well but a few of their riders focus mainly on cyclocross). The size of SD Worx-Protime has for years been a totally valid number of riders; usually it’s only the end of the year when a team will struggle to field a full roster. Last year Trek-Segafredo had a rough early season and was starting Classics with four riders, and now SD Worx-Protime is in a similar boat.

In the past 16 may have been a fine number, but as the quality of racing increases and the WorldTour calendar grows, there is more strain on the riders themselves. Finding time to recover in between the spring races is hard enough, but illness has taken a toll more now than ever (I am not a doctor but I do have a toddler) and as the races get faster injuries are also more of a threat.

Teams are only now being able to adapt to the UCI’s minumum salaries, and only the top teams can bolster their rosters with additional riders. SD Worx-Protime’s addition of a second naming sponsor might mean they are able to add a few more riders in 2025, but for the 2024 season they only picked up Femke Gerritse (not that they needed more talent after their 2023 season). They won almost everything with the team they had, but the world of women’s cycling is ever changing, growing, and demanding more.

It’s a notable contrast to Lidl-Trek; after their year came up short in 2024, the team hired an additional six riders. But money isn’t the only problem when it comes to the number of available riders for the WorldTeams.

The sport is still in the process of attracting new women to pick up bikes. The Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, among other high-profile races, has pushed the sport in front of more people, but it will be a few years before those inspired by it can get to the level to join the professional peloton.

That can leave teams to unorthodox approaches in the search for talent. For example, Visma-Lease a Bike in the past has outsourced new talent by looking at other sports; in 2022 they plucked speed skater Carlijn Achtereekte off the ice and signed her through 2025.

The women’s WorldTour is growing and professionalizing at a rapid pace, and both the strain on rosters and the costs for teams are clear. As the sport develops, we will get there and solve these issues; already this season the peloton’s depth is more noticeable than even the tail-end of last season. But it’s going to take time.

I don’t know the solution to teams like Visma-Lease a Bike and SD Worx-Protime missing big races. It’s not mandatory participation for WorldTeams; the riders are always the top priority and sick and injured riders need time and respect.

While the top team will be missed on Thursday, we can enjoy a little SD Worx-Protime-free racing for a day and hopefully they’ll be back on Sunday to push the limits of the rest of the peloton.

The joys of social media

This post from Neve Bradbury is from a few weeks ago but is too good not to share.

Little Neve alongside her future teammate Tiffany Cromwell. So wholesome.

A picture worth a couple of words

After Sunday’s race I couldn’t help but be in awe of the riders gutsy and strong enough to relentlessly put themselves in front of the race. One rider I didn’t mention in detail was Yara Kastelijn. She attacked a few times in support of Puck Pieterse, but more importantly with Tayler Wiles out of the peloton we needed a new “Best Suffer Face.” The hunt is over. We’ve got our new favourite face of pain.

One rider grimaces as they try to get away from the peloton during a bike race.
Yara Kastelijn pictured during Trofeo Alfredo Binda 2024.

Taylor Swift trivia

We are one month (!!!!) away from a new Taylor Swift album, but the Tortured Poets Department isn’t the only new music to be excited about.

On Friday Kacey Musgraves released her newest project Deeper Well and it does. not. disappoint. Get ready to feel all the feelings, sway around the living room, and hold your loved ones close. It may not be as sharp as some of her previous works, but I found the album to be exactly what I needed right now, as the seasons change and the world keeps passing by.

Until next time!

As always, I can’t thank you all enough for reading this newsletter. Thank you, thank you! If you have anything specifically you want me to dig into, let me know on the Wheel Talk Discord or on social media @abimickey and come back later in the week for a Gent-Wevelgem preview that includes Wheel Talk Podcast picks!

What did you think of this story?