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Wheel Talk Newsletter: The art of the leadout

Vollering's contract negotiations continue to play out in the media, 13 WorldTeams will line up in Valenciana, and how sprint trains work.

You don’t see roads like this every day in WorldTour racing…

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 13.02.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Hello and thank you for reading this week’s edition of the Wheel Talk Newsletter! We are fresh off the back of a super exciting UAE Tour, with a healthy dose of SD Worx-Protime dominance, some surprise performances, and edge-of-your-seat action. The Demi Vollering 2025 contract negotiations continue to play out in the media, with her team manager and teammate chiming in. And we are closing in on the Classics.

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Last week I wrote about Demi Vollering’s rumoured €1 million contract offer from UAE Team ADQ, and since the last newsletter, more developments have made the whole situation just fascinating.

Nevermind that this is all playing out in February, before the “real” season has even started and before Vollering has entered a road race: this is perhaps the first time we’ve watched a major deal go down in the media. It’s been somewhat one-sided so far, as UAE Team ADQ has yet to publicly comment beyond saying, “No, the team does not want to comment on these rumours.”

There have been major deals making the rounds before: Lorena Wiebes when she broke with Parkhotel Valkenburg to sign for DSM, for example, but never with a number attached.

As the salaries rise in the peloton it was only a matter of time before someone was on a €1 million contract, and perhaps as the reigning Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift winner, along with everything else she did last year, Vollering is the one who would be the first to get this kind of deal. But it seems her current SD Worx-Protime team isn’t willing to dish out the sum to keep her.

Last week Danny Stam, Sports Director for the team, told GCN that of course, the team wanted to keep her, but that €1 million is a lot of money.

“She’s one of the best riders at the moment, so of course we want to keep her but not for a million Euros,” Stam said. “It’s a lot of money and if someone can pay that amount it’s good but of course, we want to keep Demi but not for a blank cheque.

“It’s obvious that we want to continue with the key riders in our team and if they’re happy then we have a chance. If they’re not happy then they can leave. That’s how the world is going and we have our own budget. We need to see what fits in our budget. We want to keep our best riders but not against any price.”

Kind of a bizarre statement to make about your top rider, but the Dutch aren’t known for holding back.

Demi Vollering embraces Lorena Wiebes after a bike race
Demi Vollering and Lorena Wiebes after Vollering won the Dutch Road Race Championships in 2023.

The consummate supporter, Lorena Wiebes told the media that Vollering is worth the asking price to keep her. But the sprinter made a really good point, however, that it’s not only about the top salaries. Support riders must be also making enough.

“It is good that salaries are going up, but we also need to think about the other riders, not just the top,” Wiebes said in a press conference after winning the opening stage of the UAE Tour. “I would say that Demi is worth it, but it’s also important that the support riders have a good salary; they are really important in the races.”

It’s a valid point, something we talk about a lot on the Wheel Talk Podcast. The importance of growing not just the tip-top of the peloton but the rest as well.

The saga will no doubt continue to play out, and we might get an answer sooner than we’d expect.

“Things are changing and three years ago you could look in August but nowadays if you look in August then you’re far too late,” Stam told GCN. “We also are busy with contracts for riders and normally there’s a rule that you can only do it in June but I think everyone is doing it earlier and earlier.”

What will be the most interesting in the coming months is how SD Worx handles the growing force that is Lotte Kopecky and Vollering, together. Would recommend this piece by Tilda Price as homework.

Racing continues…

at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana!

Not a WorldTour race but an event worth keeping an eye on throughout the week. For one, it’s the final tuneup going into the Spring Classics, for another, there are 13 WorldTeams on the start list. SD Worx-Protime, Movistar, Lidl-Trek, UAE Team ADQ, FDJ-Suez among them.

It’s women’s cycling so obviously the start list is pretty empty even two days before the race but we do know that FDJ-Suez is bringing the winner of the UAE Tour’s final stage, Amber Kraak, and one of their stronger climbers, Evita Muzic. Lidl-Trek has Amanda Spratt, Elisa Balsamo, Shirin van Anrooij and Gaia Realini on their roster. DSM Firmenich-PostNL will start with Juliette Labous, who finished second overall at the Giro Donne last year and fifth overall at the Tour.

The race is going to be on. Throughout the four stages, there will be opportunities for sprinters, for breakaways, and a day (or two) for the climbers.

Stage 1: Thursday, February 15 – Tavernes de la Valldigna -> Gandia (113 km)

The first stage in 2024 is pretty much the same stage the race ended with in 2023. If there weren’t so much information on the graphic I would think there was a mistake. So right from the start, the opening stage is for the climbers. A different way of doing things, but one way to shake things up for sure.

Profile of the first stage of the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, showing a lumpy profile with a number of climbs, including a summit less than 10km from the finish.

Last year’s final stage was won by Elise Uijen (DSM-Firmenich) from a two-person break with Justine Ghekiere (AG Insurance- Soudal-QuickStep). They finished with a gap of 16 seconds ahead of a group of 24. The gap was enough for Ghekiere to take the overall from teammate Ashleigh Moolman Pasio.

Stage 2: Friday, February 16 – Borriol -> La Vall d’Uixó (117 km)

The second stage is a bit more for the sprinters, or at least a select group. There are a few climbs near the end that will challenge the peloton, but overall the stage will depend on how hard the peloton races on Thursday.

Stage 2 profile of Setmana Ciclista, showing a slightly easier route that still includes two late climbs.

Stage 3: Saturday, February 17 – Alacant -> Xorret de Catí (129 km)

Another good day for the sprinters, especially if stage 2 ends in a small group or breakaway.

Stage 3 Setmana Ciclista profile, with the notable point of one small climb just before the finish.

Stage 4: Sunday, February 18 – Sagunt -> València (118 km)

The final stage is very similar to the first stage of 2023, with L’Oronet being the main climb of the day. The first stage last year finished in a bunch sprint won by Elisa Balsamo ahead of Lotta Henttala.

Stage 4 profile, with one prominent climb, l'Oronet, 30km from the finish.

Hopefully, geoblocking will not impact live coverage of the race. It was decent last year, and we can expect the same this year. Check here for coverage info closer to the event.

Wheel Talk Podcast

Loren Rowney is back on the podcast this week with Abby and Gracie to break down everything that happened at the UAE Tour!

Catch the episode everywhere podcasts are found.

Let’s Discuss

The art of the leadout train.

At the UAE Tour, we saw two successful sprint stages, won by Lorena Wiebes, and one botched chase that ended in a solo winner with Wiebes hot on her heels.

There were a few factors that went into Kraak’s impressive victory, but I’d like to focus our attention on the first two stages for a moment when SD Worx-Protime was solely focused on getting Wiebes to the line first. It’s easy to overlook a sprint stage. Traditionally a break goes, the teams with sprinters bring it back, and a sprinter wins. On paper, it’s not the most exciting. But the key is to look at the individual parts. There’s the stage-long race to either get up the road or make sure no one does; depending on the technicality of the finish, teams start to get into formation at the front of the race with around 10 km to go.

There is no “most important player” in the leadout because even the last woman in the train before the sprinter relies on the work of the teammates in front of her. And the success of the whole thing depends on much more than just who can churn the most watts. There is placement on the road, plus dodging obstacles and other teams; timing, of course, is critical.

After the first stage of the UAE Tour Wiebes said the team had been aiming for the right side of the road, that was their plan a day before the race even took place.

UAE Tour is a unique example because the roads are so wide SD Worx wasn’t at the front until about 5 km to go. In a race like Gent-Wevelgem, that would never fly. Your race would be over. But UAE Tour also gave us a great example of how a well-oiled leadout works when there is little to slow it down.

Let’s look at stage 1, starting with just under 5 km to go. While roads like this make for less need to get to the front early and stay there, they do provide another issue for a sprint train and that is the rest of the teams being able to fit at the front of the peloton. As you can see with just under 5 km to go, SD Worx is not leading the bunch, they are hanging out on the right side, letting others dictate the pace.

What is important to note here is that they are holding the right side of the road. Wiebes (16) is sitting comfortably on the wheel of Barbara Guarischi (13) while Kopecky sits just to the right of Wiebes. Femke Gerritse (12) and Femke Markus (14) at this point in the race are tasked with protecting the other three, keeping them near the front and on the left side of the road, before the final kilometre.

Once inside the final km Guarischi hits the front. This is the first time SD Worx has been setting the pace, and Guarischi’s job is to stretch the peloton so there is room for Kopecky and Wiebes to move.

When Kopecky goes, it’s the classic leadout that everyone is familiar with. She is making it possible for Wiebes to open up her own sprint, already at speed. Kopecky’s job is to go as fast as she can so anyone who is not on Wiebes’ wheel will run out of road. The faster she goes the less people Wiebes has to sprint against.

By the time Wiebes goes, there’s really no one else in the picture. And by staying on the right side of the road, Wiebes also has the wind on her side (or rather, coming from the opposite direction). So no one can pass her on the right (barriers) and anyone who wants to pass her on the left will be in the wind.

Throughout the whole lead into the sprint SD Worx-Protime stayed calm, stayed well positioned (but not at the front) and most importantly they stayed together. While the rest of the peloton was panicking, they were racing their own race.

They also always made sure they had an opportunity to move by staying on the edge of the road.

Come the Classics, it will be a very different situation, but for a race like the UAE Tour, it’s easy to see why Wiebes is the fastest woman in the peloton.

The joys of social media

A little late perhaps, but I’ll throw it in here anyway.

Of all the prep that went into the UAE Tour, Kopecky’s approach was the most unique. If altitude training is all the rage, how does skydiving fit in?

Happiness Watts flying high!

A picture worth a couple of words

It’s not been a smooth two years for FDJ-Suez. After they blew everyone away during the 2022 season, with both Marta Cavalli and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, the French development team turned WorldTour powerhouse floundered.

Over the last two off-seasons, they’ve filtered out some of their long-lasting members and signed some new noteworthy names, and already in 2024, it’s working for them. The additions of Loes Adegeest and Gladys Verhulst-Wild in 2023 and now Amber Kraak continue to strengthen the team after its successful 2022 season increased the pressure.

The new additions are absolutely living up to it, and two months into the season they have two WorldTour wins with Uttrup’s Tour Down Under stage and Kraak, which is more than most WorldTeams can say.

The team after Kraak’s stage win at the UAE Tour.

But they started 2023 strong with Grace Brown and Adegeest and then plateaued during the Classics, so let’s hope they can keep this ball rolling into the spring.

Taylor Swift trivia

After this weekend people are swinging one of two ways.

Either you can’t get enough of the Taylor Swift + Travis Kelce (or as they are formally known: TNT love story). Swift won her 13th and 14th Grammy awards last weekend and Kelce won the Super Bowl on Sunday with the Kansas City Chiefs. They were both constantly dragged by the media and the Dads, Brads, and Chads on social media for months but continued to live their best lives and look great doing it (minus Travis’s beard).

Or you are sick of the popstar constantly being everywhere and you’d like a break (can’t relate).

So I will just share this TikTok Swift shared from a Super Bowl afterparty. Who doesn’t love clubbing with your parents?

I saw some amazing social media posts on Monday from families watching the Super Bowl. One was of two men watching the game together in 2023 and celebrating the Chiefs win, followed by a video of the same men surrounded by their kids in 2024, a few young girls wearing 87 t-shirts, all of them dancing around the room. I wish I could find it, because it wasn’t just the T.S. content bringing joy post-Super Bowl. 

Until next time!

Thanks so much for reading this week’s Wheel Talk Newsletter. I’ll be back next week but in the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out on the Escape Collective Discord or on Instagram/Threads. You can find me @abimickey.

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