Wheel Talk Newsletter: We all love the G.O.A.T.

Why do we call Marianne Vos "The G.O.A.T."? Plus, Strade Bianche is the next WorldTour race!

Marianne Vos: so fast the camera can barely catch her!

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 27.02.2024 Photography by
Gruber Images, Kristof Ramon, and Cor Vos
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Hello and thank you for taking the time to open this week’s edition of the Wheel Talk Newsletter! This week I will break down some of the action from Le Samyn, what’s to come at Strade Bianche, and outline why Marianne Vos is the “GOAT.”

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Vittoria Guazzini took the first road victory of her career at Le Samyn des Dames on Tuesday. The Italian FDJ-Suez rider has won two races before, both time trials, so this win was a special one.

The mid-week cobbled race is usually a star-studded one, but this year SD Worx-Protime and Lidl-Trek both decided to skip it. Still, DSM Firmenich-PostNL brought Charlotte Kool and her sprint train to the start line, expecting a fast finish.

The race ended up being one for the attackers. Guazzini and Christina Schweinberger of Fenix-Deceuninck joined a breakaway of three that managed to hold off the chasing peloton in the end. Uno-X’s Anniina Ahtosalo took second ahead of Schweinberger but no one could outmatch Guazzini.

Racing continues…

At Strade Bianche!

I will do a deeper look at the race in a separate preview, so keep an eye out for that coming a bit later in the week when we have a better idea of the start list.

One thing we can highlight now is the basics.

Strade Bianche will take place on Saturday the 2nd of March. The women roll out of Siena at 9:40 in the morning for 137 km of racing, 39.8 km of which is dirt roads. The expected finish time for the women is roughly 13:30CET.

Live coverage for the race can be found on Eurosport/Discovery+ in Europe and available territories, Max (or HBO for those who refuse to call it Max) in the USA, SBS in Australia, and FloBikes in Canada.

At the moment the live coverage is set for 11:00 CET to 14:00 CET.

Wheel Talk Podcast

We probably could have talked about Omloop Het Nieuwsblad for three hours this week, but after a quick discussion of Lidl-Trek’s tactics, the crew shifted their attention to other games.

This week Matt de Neef and Matilda Raynolds made a special guest appearance alongside Gracie, Loren, and me for an NFL-style draft. We all made up some wacky team names and proceeded to stack our 10-rider teams with as many UCI-points collectors as possible.

Don’t miss this one, it was a blast.

Let’s Discuss

The G.O.A.T.

Over the years women’s cycling has gone through rapid growth. Salaries are on the rise, races are faster than ever, but one constant remains: Marianne Vos.

On Saturday Vos out-sprinted the world champion Lotte Kopecky to win her first Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, an impressive feat for multiple reasons. For one, she’s never won the “Opening” Classic before; for two, she spent last year and the off-season dealing with iliac artery endofibrosis, a painful condition that can rob a rider of power; and for three, the women’s peloton is evolving but after all this time Vos is still on top.

Vos was winning top-level cyclocross races in the early 2000s but her first major road victory was the junior road race World Championship title in 2004. For a few years, her top results remained in the mud; it wasn’t until 2006 that she truly became a force on the road scene, winning races all over the place and wrapping it all up with her first elite World Championship. Every year after that she kept upping her game. Listing her wins would take the entire alotment of time set to write this newsletter, so here’s a screen grab from FirstCycling of her “Best Results” (a screen grab of all her victories is not possible, as it’s many screens worth):

In total, Vos has racked up 251 UCI road victories from 2006 to Saturday. That includes time trials, sprints, and even some mountainous stages that resulted in three overall wins at the Giro d’Italia (then Giro Rosa), for years the preeminent stage race for women.

Because she usually juggles cyclocross and road, Vos has never raced Omloop Het Nieuwsblad before. However, surgery on her left leg iliac artery in August kept her out of the cyclocross scene this winter. The change in the calendar for the 2023 cyclocross World Champion meant she lined up at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad for the first time, which also answers why she’s never won the race before. There are precious few races on the road Vos hasn’t won, the biggest being Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift, and the only reason her trophy case lacks a massive cobble is because the race has only been in existence for three years.

Vos would probably be the G.O.A.T. even if she hadn’t been winning in the last three years, with all the accomplishments she has already, but if there was any question around who is the Greatest Of All Time, her form over the last three or four years puts doubters to bed.

In the last two years alone she added both the Vuelta’s red jersey and the Tour’s yellow jersey to her walls, making her the only rider currently racing in the peloton to wear all three “Grand Tour” leaders jerseys (Annemiek van Vleuten has obviously won all three, but she is no longer in the peloton). And yes, women’s cycling hardly has Grand Tours, hence the scare quotes, and yes the Tour has only been running for two years and the Vuelta is also relatively new, but in 20 years when these races are staples on the calendar, your kids are going to be impressed when you tell them that Vos has all three jerseys hanging in her she-shed. (Other riders are close. Demi Vollering is a pink jersey away from following Vos).

For as long as women have been racing and as many pioneers have come and gone in Tour Feminin and other events, what’s happening now feels (hopefully) a little different – the emergence of women who will be remembered as the legends who helped take women’s cycling to the big time.

Marianne Vos wins the fourth stage of the 2023 La Vuelta Femenina while wearing the red leader’s jersey.
Femke Gerritse chats with Marianne Vos on the start line of the seventh Tour de France Femmes stage, 2022.

When Vos pulled on the yellow Tour leader’s jersey after winning the second stage in the first edition of the race, it felt as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning. It had to happen, and despite all the victories, and that by now people should be tired of Vos winning, who could ever tire of her?

Every time Vos crosses that finish line first it’s like she’s never won before. Her elation is something you can feel through the screen. You get sucked into the joy of the moment, seeing what every single win means to her. That’s because no matter the setbacks, Vos bounces back.

Marianne Vos wins the points jersey at the 2022 Tour de France Femmes.

In 2015, at the height of her career (or so we thought), Vos was targeting the mountain bike race at the Rio Olympics, when she crashed in Australia and broke a rib. The rest of the year she struggled with injuries tied to overtraining and as a result, she didn’t race much in 2015. She attended the 2016 Olympics for the road team, but her normally packed palmarès were pretty much empty that year.

After that, she slowly made her way back to the top with a European road title in 2017 and a few WorldTour wins from 2018 to 2020, but she was well and truly “back” in 2022 when she wore the yellow jersey at the Tour. Even though she was experiencing pain in her left leg in 2023 she still churned out two stage wins at the Vuelta, but after that, it was close call after close call. She didn’t get another stage of the Tour in July, and for the first time in years, she didn’t win a stage of the Giro.

Marianne Vos outsprints Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado to win Urban Cross Kortrijk (Bel), 2022.

Now, with her win at the weekend, Vos is back again, and one look at the woman she bested is enough to tell you she’s back for good. Kopecky was unreal at the UAE Tour, winning the queen stage, the overall, and powering teammate Lorena Wiebes to two stage wins. But at Omloop, even the race’s defending champion couldn’t beat the G.O.A.T.

Vos is a multi-discipline athlete who has won all but one of the biggest races on the calendar, in both road and cross, who is still competitive 20 years after she came on the scene, who inspired not only a generation of women currently racing with her, but generations to come. And on top of that, she’s one of the nicest women in the bunch.

I remember after I participated in the 2019 La Course by the Tour de France alongside Vos (I made a joke to her mid-race and she laughed, NBD) I had my podcaster’s hat on the next day at the men’s stage start. She happened to be there as well, so I pulled out my phone to ask her some questions about her win from the previous day. I started with “Hi, Marianne, my name is Abby we were racing together yesterday,” to which she responded, “Yes, of course, I know you, Abby.” I haven’t seen my soul since, it simply left my body.

She’s like that with everyone. Always willing to give a young fan her time and her bidon. A list of results does not a G.O.A.T. make. The person behind the victory salutes pushes it over the top. And Vos is class on and off the bike.

But don’t take only my word for it.

Seeing Vos back on top on Saturday, the world feels like it’s back on track. Next up: Paris-Roubaix Femmes cobble trophy (maybe with some wins in between).

The joys of social media

Takes one to know one.

A picture worth a couple of words

Before Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Tour Down Under, and the Deakin University Road Race joined the WorldTour the first major race of the season for the women was Strade Bianche. It’s not a cobbled classic and the debate of its monument status will always be a fun back and forth, but the fact is on the women’s side it’s an important pillar of the calendar.

That’s only part of the reason I love it so much. The other is the scenery.

This stunning Kristof Ramon photo was taken while the peloton waited in suspense to find out whether or not the 2020 edition of the race would go ahead. It was a super weird time, the weekend that COVID-19 shut down the world, but the dirt roads looked the same as they will today.

Also, is this Italy or the Shire? Because you could have fooled me.

Taylor Swift trivia

Taylor Swift is back on Tour after a short break to celebrate her boyfriend’s big sporting event win. She started the year in Japan, but post-Super Bowl, Swift spent a few weeks in Australia. This past weekend Swift performed in Sydney and the crowd celebrated her presence with a remarkable call-back to when she performed there back in 2015.

While performing Blank Space in Sydney that year, Swift had the fans chanting “Sydney” during the song. Some say it worked, some say it didn’t but regardless of what you think, fans at her most recent show surprised the singer by reviving the chant.

It was heartwarming and is just another example of the lasting bond Swift has with her fans.

If you’re like me and enjoy watching live music performances while riding on Zwift, good news, the entire 1989 World Tour film is available on YouTube.

Until next time!

Thank you so much for reading this edition of the Wheel Talk Newsletter. I’ll be back next week hopefully with a lot to talk about after Strade Bianche. Until then, if you have any notes you’d like me to touch on, find me on social media @abimickey or on the Escape Collective Discord.

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