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Road Racing

Closing up the Classics: Conclusions from the women’s spring races

Stage race season is coming but, before we look ahead, what did we learn from the classics?

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The Classics are over and the women’s peloton is already looking ahead to the first ‘grand tour’ of the season, La Vuelta Femenina, but as we head into stage race season let’s look at some of the key takeaways from the classics. 

SD Worx are the ones to beat

For anyone who watched even one race this spring, it’s pretty obvious: SD Worx is the team to beat. Its dominance spans multiple types of race or terrain, from the punchier races such as Flanders with Lotte Kopecky to the Ardennes where Demi Vollering dominated, to bunch sprints with Lorena Wiebes, and time trials with Marlen Reusser, no other team matches up to its depth right now. 

The result was a series of races wherein other teams seemed to simply deflate in the face of SD Worx’s might. With multiple cards to play, the team was able to send one rider up the road leaving others behind to disrupt any chase or, in the case of Wiebes, neutralize any effort to bring the race back together just by her presence in the group. 

Demi Vollering wins Liege-Bastogne-Liege. (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

With Demi Vollering completing the first triple Ardennes win since 2017 – only the second woman to do so – she heads into the stage races in Spain as the absolute favorite, particularly after her performances at both Itzulia (where she won all three stages) and Burgos. Vollering has only finished off the podium at one race this season, a track record that looks set to continue. 

“Weird things can happen”

Alison Jackson celebrates her Paris-Roubaix win
Alison Jackson celebrates her Paris-Roubaix win (Gruber Images)

Going into Paris-Roubaix Femmes many thought the race already belonged to SD Worx and Lotte Kopecky after the Belgian’s dominant win at Flanders the previous week and the team’s dominance throughout the spring. Meanwhile, Trek-Segafredo, the closest team in numbers and combined strength to SD Worx, was hoping to continue its reign over the race after winning the first two editions. 

As it happened, none of the favorites ever made it into a position to win after a large breakaway hung on by a threat thanks largely to the efforts of eventual winner Alison Jackson, Marta Lach of Ceratizit-WNT, and others. Jackson’s victory was borne out of exactly the kind of underdog heroics that a race like Roubaix can reward. Her win was as popular as it was unexpected and proved the value in her ‘never give up’ motto which she had taped to her stem. 

Paris Roubaix Femmes was one of the most exciting races of the spring and proved that, while SD Worx has superior strength in numbers, they are not unbeatable and are capable of getting things wrong. As Shirin van Anrooij said: “weird things can happen.”  

The ‘kids’ are alright

Shirin van Anrooij at the Tour of Flanders
Shirin van Anrooij at the Tour of Flanders (Photo: Gruber Images)

On the subject of Van Anrooij, the 21-year-old Dutchwoman proved to be one of the revelations of the spring. While she has been racing at the top of cyclocross for a few seasons now, and took the white jersey at the Tour de France Femmes, Van Anrooij truly came into her own on the road during the Classics, winning Trofeo Alfredo Binda, riding in support of Elisa Longo Borghini at Flanders, and then racing to third at Amstel Gold Race. 

Likewise, Van Anrooij’s teammate, Gaia Realini, has stepped up to a new level in 2023. The 21-year-old Italian is one of the peloton’s pure climbers and impressed at the Giro Donne in 2022 whilst riding for Continental squad Isolmant-Premac-Vittoria.

Having stepped up to the WorldTour with Trek-Segafredo she immediately made an impression at her first race, UAE Tour Women, shepherding Elisa Longo Borghini up the Jebel Hafeet climb and cementing a second overall for herself. At the Ardennes, Realini showed that her climbing performance at Flèche Wallonne.

It’s not just Trek hoarding all the young talent, however. Elsewhere, while she hasn’t had results of her own, Canyon-SRAM’s 23-year-old German Ricarda Bauernfeind, having stepped up from the development squad, had an active presence at the front of races alongside her more experienced teammates Kasia Niewiadoma, Elise Chabbey, Soraya Paladin, and Shari Bossuyt. 

The Amstel Gold Race podium (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Team DSM is a team made up almost entirely of riders aged 23 and under who showed that losing Liane Lippert, Floortje Mackaij, and Lorena Wiebes at the end of 2022 hasn’t stopped them from getting results. Road captain Pfeiffer Georgi is just 22 but has shown a racing maturity beyond her years, racing to the win at Brabantse Pijl thanks in part to excellent teamwork from 21-year-old former junior world champion, Megan Jastrab. 

Although the majority of the spotlight within SD Worx has been on the likes of Vollering and Kopecky, their young domestiques Mischa Bredewold and Niamh Fisher Black have proven invaluable to their teammates at both the cobbled classics and the Ardennes. 

Annemiek van Vleuten has work to do

For years Annemiek van Vleuten has been the dominant rider in the women’s peloton, winning everything from Flanders to the Tour de France Femmes. However so far this season, her last as a professional, she has appeared to be some way off her usual form. Many have questioned whether this is down to the world champion herself, or the overall level of the peloton rising to meet her. 

Van Vleuten herself said after placing seventh Flèche Wallonne: “I can conclude that I am not bad, but that I was better in other years. I’m just not top notch and others are better. In combination, that leads to seventh place today.” 

She added: “That seventh place, of course, that’s not what I’m doing it for. I started with the idea that I could win here. But I think after today I can conclude that I’m not as great as I used to be. I don’t know what that is about. It was very nice that Liane [Lippert] finished second. That does offer ingredients to make a course for Sunday because maybe I should have it a little more. But we still have a few days to think about how we are going to handle it in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.”

While Van Vleuten may not have dominated the classics in her usual fashion, a stage race with long, grueling climbs such as the Vuelta is her preferred terrain upon which she cannot be underestimated.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.