Alison Jackson greets EF Education-TIBCO-SVB staff in shock after winning Paris-Roubaix Femmes.

Wheel Talk Newsletter: Women’s cycling is all heart

Abby's moments of the year in women's cycling, plus Tadej Pogačar as a Taylor Swift fan.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 19.12.2023 Photography by
Gruber Images, Cor Vos, and
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As always, thank you so much for opening this edition of the Wheel Talk Newsletter, I really can’t say it enough, but I’ll say it a few more times today. The 2023 season is long over and the year is drawing to a close, so let’s dive in.

This will be my final newsletter of 2023, and there is no other way I could start it than saying thank you. Thank you for your support over the past year, especially regarding the podcast.

A year ago I thought I would never podcast about women’s cycling again and I’m so grateful that you, the readers/listeners made it possible for Loren, Gracie, and I to continue doing something we love so much.

I want to thank everyone for the kind messages and responses to some of my stories this year. Escape Collective has allowed me to really push my ability to cover the sport in a new way, without any fear of backlash when I go too hard at a topic, even if it’s Taylor Swift. The members have encouraged me to dig deeper and find my voice in this space, something I’m not sure would have happened if I had been writing somewhere else.

So thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your support. It means the world to me, and to everyone here at Escape.

Ricarda Bauernfeind holds her hands to her face in disbelief after winning a stage of the Tour de France Femmes.
Me, every time I get a message from one of you. (or Ricarda Bauernfeind winning stage 5 of the Tour de France Femmes, 2023)

Good news of the week: The Cyclists Alliance has been slowly dropping the recipients of their TCAMP Pre-Career x Strava Grant. In case you missed it TCA teamed up with Strava and some other brands to create a grant that will help promising young women get to the elite level of cycling across multiple disciplines. I chatted with TCA’s Deena Blacking back in October, if you need a refresher.

TCA received many applications in the first year of the program and ultimately chose ten riders to participate:

Florence Nakagwa (Uganda) 19, Road

Sophie Marr (Australia) 18, Road

Emma Matthews (UK) 26, Road

Jazulla Mwamakazi (Rwanda) 19, MTB

Florence Normand (Canada) 21, Road

Renee van Hout (Netherlands) 22, Road

Emily Watts (Australia) 23, Road

Maddie Leroux (South Africa) 26, Road

Caroline Amazonas (Brazil) 19, BMX

Anabelle Thomas (Canada) 18, Road

Awen Roberts (UK) 18, Road

I’ve linked all their social media so you can follow their journeys yourself.

?️ Wheel Talk Podcast ?️

Gracie Elvin and Loren Rowney are back for a final group episode of the year! In the episode, we talk about the Giro d’Italia Women route announcement, Aussie road nationals, the UCI’s weird decision to possibly allow a relatively unknown team into WorldTour races, and more. Plus, we dive into some fun listener questions.

But that’s not all! The three of us actually recorded TWO episodes for you all! The second one will be dropping on December 26th and is reserved for members of EC only. In it we match up against each other to debate the following: Olympics vs. Worlds, Spring Classics vs. Tour de France Femmes, 2012 Marianne Vos vs. 2023 Lotte Kopecky, and more.

These two episodes wrap up Wheel Talk’s first year (ish) of podcasting, and we will be back in January to chat about Aussie Nats, Tour Down Under, and the rest of 2024 to come. We also have a bunch of listener questions to answer, if you didn’t get your question in there’s still time, so watch out for more bonus content from the podcast!

? Let’s discuss ?

Reasons to love women’s cycling.

There are about a billion … but I wanted to end the year by looking back at some of the most heartfelt moments of 2023.

7. Kasia and Demi at the top of the Col du Tourmalet (Tour de France Femmes stage 7)

Sport is wild in that you can be competing against someone who you call a friend outside of competition. In cycling, you line up against the same people all year long and if you are lucky you get to know them on a deeper level regardless of if you are teammates or rivals.

Kasia Niewiadoma and Demi Vollering have been rivals for a few years, and have never been on a team together, so when Vollering bested Niewiadoma to the top of the Col du Tourmalet, no one expected the Dutchwoman to turn right around to find the Polish rider and congratulate her on her ride. But the two could be seen, or barely seen in the fog, praising each other, both boasting ear-to-ear smiles.

Demi Vollering shakes Kasia Niewiadoma's hand after the seventh Tour de France Femmes stage, 2023.
Demi Vollering shakes Kasia Niewiadoma’s hand after the seventh Tour de France Femmes stage, 2023.

6. Mischa Bredewold winning the European Championships

There are few things as heartwarming as watching a rising star win her first championship jersey. Mischa Bredewold started the season as the new kid on the block at SD Worx. Throughout the year she proved herself to be a worthy member of the stacked team, gaining entry into the Tour de France Femmes team and going on to win her first WorldTour one-day event at Classic Lorient Agglomération, but her biggest victory of the year was when she surprised everyone – even her own teammates – to win the European Championships.

Into the closing kilometres, Bredewold took advantage of a quiet moment to make her move, and while everyone was looking at the other heavy hitters on the Dutch team she slipped away and grew her advantage enough to wear a new fancy jersey for the next year. Her shock at the finish was enough to make the tear ducts kick into gear.

Bredewold laying on the ground before being embraced by a Dutch staff member.

5. Emma Norsgaard’s Tour de France stage win

This was a special one, both for Norsgaard and for her Movistar team. They’d already taken one victory – stage 2 with Liane Lippert – but the team had no idea they were on the verge of putting everything into an Annemiek van Vleuten victory that would never come. Norsgaard herself had some bad luck leading up to the race, and the year before at the Tour, both times walking away with broken bones, so when the breakaway managed to beat the odds and outlast DSM-Firmenich chasing for Charlotte Kool, it was a pretty beautiful moment for cycling.

This finish line photo is one I have shared before but will share again because it really sums up what not only this win meant to Norsgaard’s team but also what she means to them as a person.

Emma Norsgaard celebrates with her roommate Floortje Mackaij after winning the sixth stage of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.

4. Canyon-SRAM reacting to Ricarda Bauernfeind’s Tour victory

The 2023 season turned out to be a resurrection of sorts for Canyon-SRAM. Since its inception the team has boasted an impressive roster, but in the last four years, they’ve struggled to put everything together and have usually been left with scraps. Not to say they haven’t had some successes – Niewiadoma did end up third overall at the Tour in 2022 – but WorldTour wins remained elusive.

It wasn’t their first WorldTour win since 2019 as that honour belonged to Chloe Dygert (stage 2 of the RideLondon Classique), but Bauernfeind’s stunning Tour stage was a massive victory for a team that had been living in a drought. Add to it that the victory was taken in spectacular fashion by a youngster with a long career ahead of her, and this win had everything people dream of when they’re out putting in the miles and living in their heads.

Soraya Paladin and Kasia Niewiadoma hug Bauernfeind after her stage five win at the Tour, 2023.

3. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig’s comeback

Up until the World Championships Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig had a pretty ordinary season. Coming off a fantastic tail end to 2022 that included a stage win at the Tour and the overall plus a stage at the Tour of Scandinavia, Uttrup was flying high. Factor in that she had won the Danish national championships, and it was a great year. But she struggled in the 2023 Tour, her best result being eighth on the first day. She ended the race seventh overall but over nine minutes down on Vollering.

Her form abruptly shifted when she landed on the podium of the Worlds road race a few weeks later, and soon after that won two stages of the Tour of Scandinavia. The second was on the final stage where she gave it everything she had to try to get the leader’s jersey off the shoulders of Van Vleuten. She came up two seconds short on retaining her overall lead, but the win was a spectacular one. A surprise move in the final, in the rain, you couldn’t ask for a better story.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig holds one hand in the air as she wins the final stage of the 2023 Tour of Scandinavia.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig wins the final stage of the 2023 Tour of Scandinavia.

2. Annemiek van Vleuten’s farewell

There is no denying the massive impact Van Vleuten has had on women’s cycling. Her determination, relentlessness, and love for the craft elevated the level of women’s cycling as everyone in the peloton scrambled to keep up. For years she would show up to races and dance away from everyone, making it look a little less like a bike race and more like the only pro who showed up to the local lunch ride.

“From Flanders to Strade Bianche to World titles to Grand Tours, mountain stages, time trial, Olympic titles, European titles, National titles. The palmares of Annemiek van Vleuten are endlessly long,” said José Been while commenting on Van Vleuten’s final race. The list of her achievements is long and varied, and the mark she will leave on the sport is one that we will refer back to for years to come.

But it was the moment Van Vleuten crossed her final finish line and turned to the left to see her mum and was immediately swarmed by fans that it really sunk in; we won’t get to watch that distinct style of Van Vleuten in 2024.

José wrote an awesome piece in tribute to the Dutch legend, if you haven’t read it I highly recommend you take a minute to do so.

I also chatted with teammates old and new about Van Vleuten’s impact on the sport.

And finally, the traditional Matt de Neef gallery is dedicated to Van Vleuten’s career.

1. Alison Jackson’s post-Paris-Roubaix Femmes podium with teammates and staff

Finally, Alison Jackson’s Paris-Roubaix win was one for the ages. The tactics and strength were one thing, but it was the finish-line reactions from all of her team staff and teammates that were E V E R Y T H I N G.

The moment that Lizzy Banks, Jackson’s teammate who was at the race for the Cycling Podcast, finally got through the sea of people to hug her friend was just one of the priceless moments. But the best moment, for me, was when Jackson was on the podium, rock in hand, and her teammates who had helped set up her move rode into the stadium.

As her national anthem was playing, Jackson could just see fellow Canadian and EF Education-TIBCO-SVB teammates in the distance. She’s not one to play it cool and wait for post-podium to show her excitement.

There was also Jackson’s post-win dance, but honestly, if I keep going I’ll be listing almost every moment of this day. If you weren’t crying or laughing or smiling so big it hurt watching this victory, perhaps an electrocardiogram is in order.

There are so many more moments from this season that had me in tears, but if I listed them all we’d be here for days. Do me a favour: throw a moment that made you cry in the comments!

? The joys of social media ?

SD Worx dropped their 2024 kit on Monday and I’m not going to lie, at first glance, I’m a fan. I like to wait until I have a good idea about the peloton before making any calls on kits (remember pink-gate? when it took everyone about two months to tell the difference between UAE Team ADQ, SD Worx, Canyon-SRAM, and EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) but compared to years previous this one is a major step up.

The reveal was a video of Lorena Wiebes riding a glowy trainer on a rock outcropping, it looked like it may have been Mallorca. For her sake, I hope it was, because my gosh, it did not look like a warm video shoot.

ALSO! This brought me joy:

Tour de France Hommes winner Tadej Pogacar singing Cruel Summer, the Taylor Swift banger. Big thanks to Jayco-AlUla’s Urska Zigart for giving this gem to the internet.

?️ A picture worth a couple words ?️

Speaking of heart … this photo of Demi Vollering, damp from the fog and sweat of the Col du Tourmalet sums up the months and months of work that went into her stunning victory atop the iconic climb. Vollering was pinned as the rider who would win La Vuelta Femenina, but she lost it not because of her ability and strength, but because of a bad call. So when it came to the Tour Vollering was fighting with a little something extra. She had a point to prove her the world and herself, and by golly, she proved it in spades.

This was the moment it all sunk in. She was leading the Tour de France Femmes. She would line up tomorrow in yellow. She had just won the queen stage. She was on top of the world.

Demi Vollering holds her face in her hands during the post-win interview after the seventh stage of the Tour de France Femmes.

? Taylor Swift trivia ?

While her career took off in Nashville, Taylor Swift was born in West Reading, Pennsylvania on December 13, 1989 (get it, like the album). In her early years, Swift and her family lived on a Christmas tree farm outside of West Reading, and it’s safe to say the time was formative for Swift. It was there, she got her first guitar and cultivated a love for the holiday season. She released a full Christmas album in 2007, with covers of Last Christmas, Silent Night, and White Christmas taking up half the tracklist. Two of the songs on the album were written by Swift: Christmases When You Were Mine (co-written with Liz Rose, who would go on to work with Taylor on her massive hit All Too Well among others) and Christmas Must Be Something More.

Swift surprised her fans in 2019 when she took to social media to inform them she had written a Christmas song and it seemed silly to wait a year to release it so she was dropping it five days after it was completed. There are two versions of the song, the original and the “Old Timey Version;” both are, in my opinion, very good.

The music video also became a huge hit among fans as it includes family videos of Swift’s childhood on Pine Ridge Farm.

? Until next year! ?

Alright, that’s it for me for the year! Hopefully, everyone is having a good Holiday season full of hot chocolate, or iced chocolate. (if you’re in Australia).

We have some awesome content coming over the next couple weeks so make sure to keep an eye on the Escape Collective site, but otherwise enjoy the final weeks of the year, and I’ll be back in January.

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