Riding is Life


Marianne Vos and a teammate ride up a hill

Wheel Talk Newsletter: There’s only so much to learn from results

Ellen van Dijk returns to the peloton, Ronde van Drenthe is going to be great, and results aren't always the answer.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 05.03.2024 Photography by
Gruber Images
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Well, well, well. Look who’s back. It’s me! Hello, thank you for reading this week’s Wheel Talk Newsletter! How great was Strade Bianche last weekend? We had a blast chatting about it on the Wheel Talk Podcast, in case you missed it, you can find the episode everywhere podcasts are streamed. We also previewed Ronde van Drenthe, coming up on Sunday. With a new course, the race is bound to be an exciting one.

But before I get into the real bulk of the newsletter, you can actually get this whole thing sent to your email!

Exciting news! Ellen van Dijk will officially return to the peloton at Vuelta Extramadura Féminas, a 2.2 in Spain. The three-stage event features two road stages and one individual time trial, so not only will we see the Dutchwoman back in the peloton, we will also be blessed with her return to time trialling.

Van Dijk is one of a handful of women to step away from racing to have a baby in the last three years. It’s a phenomenon that has picked up steam recently, and we here at Wheel Talk love to see it. There was a time not too long ago when women equated having a family to the end of their careers. Van Dijk’s teammate Lizzie Deignan wasn’t the first woman in the peloton to have a baby mid-career, but by signing a contract for 2019 with the then-newly formed Trek-Segafredo team, while pregnant, Deignan and Trek-Segafredo helped propel women’s cycling into a more welcoming place for mothers.

Interestingly, Uno-X has three riders with newborns. Elinor Barker, who is signed for the team through 2027, had a baby in March of 2022 and returned to racing at British Nationals in June of the same year. Joss Lowden gave birth in 2023 and is signed through the end of this year, and Julie Leth just recently, in the last month, gave birth. Leth is hoping to race on the track at the Paris Olympics later this year.

As more and more women take the time away from the peloton to grow their families, the practice is becoming increasingly normalized. Cycling is a sport that still has a long way to go, in many aspects, but at least allowing women to become mothers and return to the peloton is not one of them (for the upper echelons, for those on smaller teams, it’s a whole different story, but for this moment we can celebrate the return of Van Dijk (Mom Version).

Chantel van den Broek-Blaak is also on the provisional start list for Ronde van Drenthe so we could see two new mothers back racing their bikes soon!

Racing continues…

At Ronde van Drenthe!

The Basics

When? Sunday, March 10th

How to watch? ??Discovery+, ??Max, ??FloBikes

Time? 16:00 CET to 18:00 CET/10:00 to 12:00 ET

The Course

The peloton is back in cold climates for the next WorldTour one day of the year: Ronde van Drenthe. Normally, it’s a race that favours the sprinters, or a small breakaway every once in a while, but this year’s finish is vastly different. Since the race’s inception in 2007 it has finished in the town of Hoogeveen, but this year the race organizers weren’t able to secure the required permits, as a result, the 2024 edition will finish on the VAMberg.

The course map for the 2024 Ronde van Drenthe, showing a start in Beilen before a mostly southern route, a passage over the Vamberg and then a counterclockwise loop that finishes at the Vamberg again.
The profile of the 2024 Ronde van Drenthe. It's largely flat except for the Vamberg ascents.

This new take on the course will omit the usual long stretches of Dutch roads that tend to always include some crosswinds. Luckily they’ve added some additional vertical gain to offset the lack of wind. The race starts in Beilen before making its way to the hill that was once garbage (literally). The women will then complete six circuits that include the VAMberg before a finish that could be compared to that of the European Championships won by Mischa Bredewold last season.

The Players

Because the VAMberg isn’t super long the race isn’t exactly as challenging as some of the other Classics, but the narrow roads and constant regulation definitely lend themselves toward a more selective race. Given that she was second behind her Dutch teammate at Europeans, Lorena Wiebes is still the favourite to take her fourth victory at the Ronde van Drenthe, but the race won’t be as straightforward as her last three victories.

Her SD Worx-Protime teammate Bredewold will hopefully be in attendance, and hopefully, she has also recovered from the tumble she took at Strade Bianche over the weekend. Between the two of them the Dutch team, as always, lines up as the heavy favourites.

Full disclosure, writing this on Tuesday when the race is on Sunday, there is not only no startlist available, but some teams won’t even know their complete rosters yet. There are a few riders who we can hope will be at the race. Elisa Balsamo is one. After winning two stages of Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, it would make sense for Lidl-Trek to take her to Drenthe. Charlotte Kool, who was sick at the start of the season, will also hopefully line up.

Le Samyn winner Vittoria Guazzini of FJD-Suez will likely start, so we can see her throw down at a WorldTour race after gaining some extra confidence from her recent win.

The provisional start list also includes Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck), Daria Pikulik (Human Powered Health), Marta Lach (Ceratizit-WNT), and Chiara Consonni and Sofia Bertizzolo of UAE Team ADQ.

The two strongest teams apart from SD Worx-Protime appear to be UAE Team ADQ and Lidl-Trek, but there are definitely some strong options for a lot of teams.

Since this race is pretty hard to get to, and not on the radar for a lot of top riders, it could also go to a new name or someone who has been chipping away. We could definitely see a breakthrough performance or two this weekend.

Wheel Talk Podcast

The big three (Loren Rowney, Gracie Elvin and I) (someone please come up with a different nickname, drop it in the comments) are back this week to talk about Strade Bianche. We had a lot to say and even disagreed about some things (shocker). We also previewed Drenthe a bit in the episode.

You can find the Wheel Talk Podcast on the Escape Collective feed or on its own feed everywhere podcasts are streamed.

Let’s discuss

Normalizing aggressive racing, and racing well, even when it doesn’t end in victory.

A lot of the time we as cycling fans default to a results sheet to determine who “had a good race” and who didn’t, but one of the best things about bike racing in 2024 is that most of the races are covered live on television, or streaming. When we’re lucky we get to see things that aren’t reflected on a results sheet. It’s easy to look at a result and say “Ah, I expected more from that person,” but you never know when looking at a list of who had bad luck, who made the race worth watching, and who was just left standing.

This came to mind again Saturday at Strade Bianche, where there was a lot of discussion about Elisa Longo Borghini’s tactics in choosing to work with eventual winner Lotte Kopecky. Ultimately, judging Elisa on the success or failure of those tactics misses their role in animating the race and making it the unforgettable spectacle it was. The same could be said for Kasia Niewiadoma’s role in Saturday’s race.

Niewiadoma’s ride on the Col du Tourmalet stage of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift last year is a similar story. Imagine looking at the 2 next to her name on that stage without knowing the effort she put in to get there. In that case, without even seeing the coverage, it would be an impressive result, but if you’ve also seen what she did on that day it’s something spectacular, far more than just a 2 on a results page.

Look at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic road race. Two of the most impressive performances on the day were from Annemiek van Vleuten and Mara Abbott. Van Vleuten didn’t even finish, due to a crash, and Abbott was fourth, but what most people remember is that Anna van der Breggen won. But Van Vleuten’s crash happened as she was forcing the pace on what would become the winning move, while Abbott’s fourth-place finish came after a valiant late attack was caught almost within sight of the finish line. In neither case did the results sheet really illustrate what happened on the road?

Last year Julie van de Velde put in an incredible performance on the third stage of the Tour de France Femmes just to get caught in the final 200 meters by a sprinter-led peloton. She ended up 36th on the stage, which says nothing about the effort she put into the race that day.

These are just a few off-the-top-of-my-head examples, but every single race has a story to tell that goes far beyond the results sheet. And isn’t that one of the things we love about bike racing?

Kasia Niewiadoma is probably the most loved rider in women’s cycling not for the list of victories to her name, but because she is constantly the first to make a move. And while a large part of bike racing is the tactics, another is the “leave it all on the road” mentality. This sport is hard, at times brutal, and one of the more beautiful things about it is that it’s not always the strongest or smartest that wins. Sometimes someone will ride the perfect race only to have a mechanical in the last 5 km. Sometimes someone will give it everything only to be caught meters from the line.

Everyone loves to critique choices made in a bike race – hell, it’s literally my job – but sometimes we all need to step back and recognize that it’s ok for a performance to leave you in tears even, or especially, when that rider didn’t cross the line first.

The joys of social media

With the live coverage being what it was (short) on Saturday, we didn’t get to see as much from the domestiques of the peloton. We’ve been spoiled the last three or so years with coverage of more of the races. So I am glad SD Worx-Protime shared this moment when Barbara Guarischi gave Mischa Bredewold her front wheel.

A picture worth a couple of words

There were so many fantastic photos of Strade Bianche this weekend. Matt de Neef put together a fantastic gallery, ICYMI.

Here’s one of my favourite shots from the Grubers at the finish of Strade.

After the drama of last year’s Strade finish, it’s great to see Lotte Kopecky so happy to greet Demi Vollering on Saturday.

Taylor Swift trivia

It’s Bleachers album release week! Hooray!

New Jersey band Bleachers is led by one Jack Antonoff, a longtime friend and producer of Taylor Swift. I’ve mentioned him quite a few times in this Newsletter and shared their other single Modern Girl from the upcoming self-titled album.

Their new album is out this Friday.

Until next time!

Thank you so much for reading this week’s Wheel Talk Newsletter. I will be back next week, in the meantime hit me up on social media @abimickey, or on the Escape Collective Discord if you have anything you want me to write about or any questions for me or anyone on the Wheel Talk Podcast.

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