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On October 20, 2020 the Boels-Dolmans team lined up for AG Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne with a little more on their minds than the usual pre-race nerves. The startline on the cold and windy Belgian coast would be the last one for the team under its current title sponsors, Boels Rental and Dolmans Landscaping.
The team has been part of the UCI ranks since it started, but it wasn’t always the powerhouse squad it is today. In fact, Dolmans Landscaping started as a mostly Dutch team, with no wins to its name. So how did Boels-Dolmans build to become the team that we see winning races now? Well, here’s a little history of the team and its growth.
Started at the bottom and now we’re here
Dolmans Landscaping Team entered the women’s peloton in 2010. A team mostly made up of Dutch riders — only one Czech rider made the roster — had no real results in its first season. The second year of the team featured the same roster minus the Czech rider. Sixteen Dutch women, and a total of four wins, including the Halle-Buizingen, a one-day, 1.2 race in Belgium, and stage four at the Tour de Feminin-O Cenu Ceského Svycarska, aka Krásna Lípa.
In 2012 Boels Rental joined Dolmans Landscaping as the co-title sponsor of the team. A few more nationalities were added to the roster.
The team started to really take shape in 2013 when they brought on a young British rider with promising skills: Elizabeth Armitstead.
Although the team failed to win a UCI race in 2013 the stage was set for the following year when the team would add Ellen van Dijk, the 2013 individual time trial world champion; Christine Majerus, a 26-year-old rider from Luxembourg who moved to Boels-Dolmans from the Belgian Sengers Ladies Cycling Team; the American rider Megan Guarnier, who moved over from Rabobank-Liv; plus a few more riders from the Netherlands and Belgium.
With this new roster, the team won a handful of the bigger races, perhaps the most significant being the Tour of Flanders, won by Ellen van Dijk.
The team’s dominance started in 2015 with the additions of Evelyn Stevens from Specialized-Lululemon, Chantal Blaak, and Amalie Dideriksen the Danish sprinter. In its fifth year in the UCI ranks the team won Strade Bianche, La Samyn, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, the Amgen Tour of California Invitational TT, Boels Rental Hills Classic, the Philly Classic, the Tour of Norway … the list goes on and on.
At the end of 2015, the team had racked up 24 victories. This was also the year that the team partnered with Specialized, which had been the co-title sponsor of Specialized Lululemon for the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons.
In Richmond, Virginia in 2015 a Boels-Dolmans rider also acquired the first Worlds title for the team. Lizzie Armitstead was the first of four consecutive members of Boels-Dolmans to wear the rainbow jersey.
Prior to 2015, there had been another dominant team in the women’s World Cup (the race series that preceded the Women’s World Tour). Rabobank-Liv was the home of Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen, Kasia Niewiadoma, Lucinda Brand, and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. In 2015 Rabobank-Liv won 24 races, including the Giro Rosa. That year Boels-Dolmans lost the overall UCI team ranking to Rabobank-Liv by only 190.58 points.
Between Rabobank-Liv and Boels-Dolmans the battle for “top team” in 2016 was a close one. More races joined the UCI ranks, and at the end of the season, Boels-Dolmans had only eight more victories than Rabobank-Liv (38 vs 30).
What was truly impressive about Boels-Dolmans in 2016 was how they won races. The majority of their wins were with the world champion Lizzie Armitstead and the US champion Megan Guarnier but they also won races with Ellen van Dijk, Chantal Blaak, Christine Majerus, Evelyn Stevens, Amalie Dideriksen, and Katarzyna Pawlowska. At the end of the season, Amalie Dideriksen kept the world champion’s jersey in the team by winning in Doha. At the end of 2016 Boels-Dolmans won its first UCI team overall ranking, besting Rabobank-Liv by 295.17 points.
With the loss of Rabobank and Liv as title sponsors of the other dominant women’s team, Boels-Dolmans gained Anna van der Breggen in 2017. It also welcomed Amy Pieters, the Dutch sprinter. With 28 wins, including the Giro Rosa, all three of the Ardennes, and the Tour of California with Van der Breggen, Boels-Dolmans walked away from the season as the best team. To top the season off, Chantal Blaak won the world championships in Bergen, the third Boels-Dolmans rider to wear the rainbow bands.
2018 was the year Boels-Dolmans lost Lizzie Armitstead (at this point she had become Lizzie Deignan) to pregnancy. With Van der Breggen, Pieters, Blaak, Dideriksen, Guarnier, and Majerus the team hardly missed the British rider. The team still won 26 races and ended the season as the best UCI team, but barely. Mitchelton-Scott, home to Annemiek van Vleuten who had risen in the ranks since her 2016 Olympic performance, was only 1.94 points away from taking the top spot. In Innsbruck, Van der Breggen made sure that the rainbow jersey stayed at Boels-Dolmans.
With the formation of the Women’s WorldTour in sight, 2019 would be the last year that Boels-Dolmans ended the season as the top UCI team. More women’s professional teams were stepping up their support and that was clear in the way that teams raced, and in the points tallies at the end of the season.
Team Sunweb and Mitchelton-Scott were challenging Boels, but Canyon//SRAM and the new Trek-Segafredo outfit were also very strong. Boels-Dolmans only won 18 races in 2019. It also lost the world championship to Annemiek van Vleuten in Yorkshire. It wasn’t because the team was any less strong, but more because of a stronger peloton overall.
2020 has looked much the same as 2019, but for the first time since the Boels-Dolmans vs. Rabobank-Liv years, Trek-Segafredo sits at the top of the UCI rankings. Regardless of the standings, there is no denying the impact that Boels-Dolmans has had on women’s racing.
From its formation, Boels-Dolmans pushed the envelope regarding how a women’s team should be run. It has always been known as a team that pays its riders well and goes out of its way to support those riders. When Boels-Dolmans lines up to race any of its riders could win — the roster is made of winners — but that doesn’t impact the riders’ ability to work as a team.
At the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2020, the world champion was seen on the front of the peloton working for her teammates, even when it’s clear she was in good enough form to win the race herself.
In 2019, the team announced that both Boels and Dolmans would be done funding the team after 10 seasons as title sponsors. It was one of the reasons the team didn’t join the new Women’s WorldTour structure and remained just a UCI team for the 2020 season.
As one of the most dominant teams in the sport, the news of both title sponsors’ withdrawal was a blow to the cycling world. But the team was quick to find new funding with SD Worx, a human resources and payroll company.
SD Worx will continue the work of a team that has paved the way for women’s cycling teams. A team that has inspired countless others in the way it races, the professionalism of its riders as well as the staff and management, and in its slow build to become the team it is today.
For five years Boels-Dolmans has been the team to beat, and it isn’t going anywhere. The team will continue to be one of the best in 2021 under its new name. It will keep Anna van der Breggen, the 2020 world champion, as well as the majority of its current riders, while adding some promising new riders, including young Dutchwoman Demi Vollering.
Looking at the peloton today, and throughout the 2020 season, there have been a handful of dominant riders, but the wins have also been shared amongst the teams in the peloton. Management of women’s teams today have been looking at Boels-Dolmans for years as a model of professional cycling. Moreover, Boels-Dolmans proves that a women’s team does not need a men’s team attached to be successful.
For that, we have Dolmans Landscaping and Boels Rental to thank, for believing in a small Dutch team that would one day be the best in the world, and for backing that team for 10 years.