Riding is Life


A peloton of cyclists rides through a tunnel of trees covered in bright green leaves.

Wheel Talk Newsletter: The Koppenberg and Flanders

The Koppenberg was added to the women's Tour of Flanders in 2022, but is it necessary? Plus, women's hockey!

Good day, and thank you for reading this week’s Wheel Talk Newsletter. The women’s peloton took a page out of the Canyon-SRAM playbook at both Classic Brugge-De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem, but both races still came down to a sprint. Even SD Worx-Protime’s Lotte Kopecky testing her legs during Sunday’s race didn’t stop the sprinters from having their moment. Will they have one more shot at victory on Wednesday at Dwars door Vlaanderen or are the mid-week race and Tour of Flanders up to the Classics specialists?

Before we dive in, this newsletter and Escape Collective‘s other great newsletters are also available in email format.

A few quick hits to start us off.

By now you’ve probably seen that Marlen Reusser was disqualified from Gent-Wevelgem for riding on a cycle path with about 2.5 km to go. The 2023 winner could be seen weaving in and out of spectators to the right of the peloton. She was apparently trying to move up using the path when it separated from the road. The punishment for riding on a cycle path can sometimes also include a deduction in UCI points, but fortunately for Loren Rowney’s fantasy team Reusser held onto all 273 of her points.

Speaking of the draft! After one heck of a week, including placing four in the top 10 of Classic Brugge-De Panne and two in the top 10 of Gent-Wevelgem, Loren has rocketed to the top of the standings with a staggering 4,812 points over Gracie Elvin’s 4,484. Matt de Neef dropped to third with 3,764 points and Matilda Raynolds and I are flirting with the bottom of the standings. Tils leads me by 477 points, but with Marianne Vos’s return to racing this week my hopes are high (they aren’t).

Big shout out to Elizabeth C on the Wheel Talk Discord for putting together an entire website so it’s super easy to check that I am still in last.

Ironically I am currently leading the Placeholder men’s draft thanks to my first pick Mads Pederson … what is happening?

Mads Pederson scored me 500 points on Sunday. Way to go buddy!

Speaking of World Champions (love a good segue)…

On the track side of cycling the absolute legend that is Laura Kenny announced her retirement from cycling last week. The five-time Olympic gold medalist surprised the world when she announced on Monday last week that she would not compete in Paris. “I always knew deep down I would know when the right time was,” Kenny told the BBC. “I have had an absolute blast but now is the time for me to hang that bike up.”

Kenny gave birth to her second child last year and her first in 2017. In between she won a gold in the Madison at the Toyko Olympics.

“It’s been in my head a little while, the sacrifices of leaving the children and your family at home are really quite big and it really is a big decision to make,” Kenny said.

Katie Archibald and Laura Kenny of Great Britain celebrate winning the women’s Madison final to become Olympic Champions

A true icon who will no doubt go on to do great things.

Racing continues…

At Ronde van Vlaanderen! But first, Dwars door Vlaanderen.

The Tour of Flanders deserves its separate preview, and I will publish that later this week. In the meantime, there is another race this week that serves as a great appetizer to the big Classic on Sunday and that is Dwars door Vlaanderen. Not a WorldTour race, the Wednesday Classic might as well be with the roster of riders that show up and the route it uses.

A map of the 2024 Dwars door Vlaanderen women's route, with a start and finish in Waregem and circuits around Oudenaarde.
The profile of the 2024 Dwars door Vlaanderen, a lumpy 129.9 km with numerous cobbled sectors and small climbs.

After a few weeks away from racing Demi Vollering, the defending champion, will rejoin her SD Worx-Protime teammates on Wednesday. Marianne Vos is also rumoured to return after some time at altitude.

This race has come down to solo winners, to a reduced bunch sprint, and to small breakaways. Last year Vollering won by 38 seconds ahead of Chiara Consonni. Consonni won the race in 2022 from a group of 26. If anything, it’s worth watching this race because it’s a great indication of who is going well ahead of Flanders, besides Kopecky … obviously.

It’s a mid-week race you won’t want to miss, and you can watch it live starting at 15:55 CET on Eurosport, Discovery+ or FloBikes.

Check Escape Collective later in the week for a Tour of Flanders preview that includes Wheel Talk Podcast picks!

Wheel Talk Podcast

Another great episode this week with myself, Loren Rowney and Gracie Elvin. We talked about Classic Brugge-De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem, specifically SD Worx-Protime’s tactics and the sprint finish where Lotte Kopecky made the difference for Lorena Wiebes.

To really pick apart the sprint finish on Sunday we watched it live while recording. If you’d like to join in you can find the video we watched here.

Let’s Discuss

The inclusion of the Koppenberg in the women’s Tour of Flanders.

On the podcast this week Gracie mentioned the controversy around Flanders Classics inclusion of the Koppenberg in the women’s Tour of Flanders. It’s been part of the men’s route on and off since 1975 but was first added to the women’s only in 2022. The 600 meter-long berg with a 22% maximum gradient drew out some opinion from fans and riders alike, with some deciding it was an unnecessary inclusion.

Flanders Classics added the Koppenberg to the women’s event as part of their ‘Close the Gap’ initiative. The four-year plan aims to equalize their events; Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen, Tour of Flanders, Scheldeprijs, and Brabantse Pijl, when it comes to tv coverage, WorldTour status, and prize money. Of those six events, only three are currently WorldTour: Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders, and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Two of the other iconic climbs – Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg – have always been part of the women’s race. A race that has been won both by solo victors and in a reduced bunch, but the Koppenberg adds yet another obstacle that both makes the race exciting and adds an element of luck that can make or break a rider’s day.

Last year the week leading up to the race was horrendous, even before the whole men’s peloton and caravan covered the Koppenberg in the mud the conditions were not good, but by the time the women got to the climb it was near unrideable. Only two – Reusser and Silvia Persico – made it over the top without clipping out, which is not a good look for women’s cycling. Because the women are absolutely capable of racing up this climb, but in a race that is already so dependent on good luck, is this additional factor really necessary?

Prior to the race in 2022, former winner Chantal van den Broek-Blaak said, “The race has changed a lot with the addition of the Koppenberg.”

“You can definitely lose the race there, but I don’t know if you can also win it there,” Demi Vollering said. “You really need to be already full focus there because if you’re not on the good position there, then you already a big problem.”

With roughly 45 km remaining in the race, there is plenty of time for things to come back together, but energy has been spent if you’re caught up behind riders forced to walk.

“In the end, it just makes the race harder and positioning will be the key,” said Elisa Longo Borghini.

Last year was hopefully the exception, and going forward the peloton will only get better at tackling the iconic climb. It may add more of a gamble, but it also adds another moment in the race for someone to take the reigns. Despite some backlash to its inclusion, the Koppenberg is still a historically significant fixture in cycling. It has made the finale more challenging, but if the other three Flanders Classics are added to the WorldTour calendar there will be a balance of sprinter-type races (Scheldeprijs and Dwars door Vlaanderen) so maybe a harder parcours is exactly what we need for the Tour of Flanders.

Since the inclusion of the Koppenberg, Kopecky is undefeated at Flanders, and going into Sunday’s race she is the rider to beat. Even with more favourites lining up, everyone will be looking at the world champion to pull a hat trick and win on home soil in the rainbow bands.

So, what do you think? Should the Koppenberg be part of the women’s Tour of Flanders? And if you’re on the fence, how could the race include it in a way that would avoid last year’s situation? Drop a comment, let me know.

The joys of social media

When you can’t celebrate across the finish line, you find a party and make it your own.

“I didn’t dare to cheer at the finish. I had a slight feeling that I won, but I wasn’t 100 per cent sure,” Wiebes said after the race. “That moment while waiting for the redeeming news is really nervous. It was nice that I could still celebrate with the fans afterwards in such a fun and special way.”

So she went and found Average Rob the DJ. YOLO.

A picture worth a couple of words

Matt de Neef put together a gallery of some of the great images to come out of Gent-Wevelgem over the weekend, you can find that here.

Elisa Balsamo went into Gent-Wevelgem as the hot favourite. There were questions around Wiebes’ form after her crash and dislocated shoulder at Nokere Koerse, and with two wins under her belt in a week Balsamo was the one to beat. Still, SD Worx-Protime toyed with the rest of the peloton and walked away with the win. But it was close, it was so close. So even if the outcome wasn’t a win, Balsamo was still one of the major talking points post-race. Her sprinting is only getting better, and to lose to Wiebes by a tyre width is still the closest anyone has gotten to besting the Dutchwoman in a sprint since Charlotte Kool in the UAE Tour in 2023.

“Such duels are not only good for the sport, it’s also why you push yourself at training,” Wiebes said of the close finish. “After all, you don’t want anyone to beat you. Also with a view to being selected for the Olympics, I try to lose as few sprints as possible.”

Taylor Swift trivia

Two of my great loves collide! The Professional Women’s Hockey League and Taylor Swift! (Listen to all those girls sing at the top of their lungs!!!!)

If you don’t know, the Professional Women’s Hockey League was formed this season (2023-2024). It consists of six teams, three from Canada and three from the USA.

There have been women’s leagues before, but this one is different. It includes a 3-2-1-0 points system (this system usually incentivises a more aggressive playing style), where the teams play a regular system and gain points in the hopes of playing in a postseason tournament. The winner of that wins the overall “cup.” The league also allows contact between players. Body checking like in men’s games was banned for women after the 1990 World Championships.

The games are available worldwide on YouTube and streamed live in Canada on CBC and TSN.

The league comes on the heels of the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2019, after which players formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. The PWHP pushed for a stable and professional league for women, and they successfully joined forces with the Mark Walter Group following the 2022-2023 season.

Just another example of women’s sports on the rise!

Until next time!

Thank you for subscribing to and reading this week’s Wheel Talk Newsletter. As always, if you have a topic you’d like me to cover or any questions for me, Loren or Gracie, you can find me on the Wheel Talk Discord channel or on social media @abimickey.

What did you think of this story?