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Road Racing

Lotte Kopecky: Equal Flanders prize money shows an ‘appreciation’ for women’s cycling

The Belgian road race and time trial champion says that media coverage and live TV is still the most important part of developing women's cycling.

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Lotte Kopecky believes that more cycling organizers should follow the lead of Flanders Classics.

The Belgian race organizer, which puts on events such as the Tour of Flanders and this weekend’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, revealed earlier this week that it was matching the women’s “De Ronde” prize money with its men’s event this year. It plans to do the same for all of its races in 2023 as part of its “closing the gap” program.

Kopecky praised the organization, and said it had already been doing plenty to help support women’s cycling with its extensive broadcasting of its women’s races.

“I think that Flanders Classics is a really good organization and for women’s cycling it’s great we have seen them raise the prize money to the same as men. It’s a very good sign of appreciation for women’s cycling,” Kopecky said in a press conference ahead of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

“If you see the live coverage that they did already last year and the year before, it was in my opinion already a lot. I think a lot of organizations can take them as an example.”

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While Kopecky is delighted to see Flanders Classics step up with its prize money offering, she believes that there are more important aspects in growing women’s cycling further. The additional winner’s fund is still a very nice prospect, however.

“I honestly don’t think that this prize money raise is the most important thing we need in women’s cycling,” Kopecky said. “I think still the media and live coverage of races is the most important to be able to keep on growing like we’re doing now. But more money is, of course, a very good sign.”

The development of women’s cycling is a double-edged sword for the often shy 26-year-old.

As the Belgian road race champion, there’ll be a lot of attention on Kopecky at the Tour of Flanders next month. Her performances in recent years, and the growing fanbase around women’s cycling, means she’s a much more recognizable face in her home country.

She was recently accosted while out on a training ride by some fans in a car who wanted her autograph and a picture. Kopecky obliged the fans, but she would prefer to go around unnoticed.

“I was really happy to have the [COVID-19] face masks,” she laughed. “Without the face mask, they start to recognize me. I’m still not really sure if I really like that, because I just want to go out for a coffee or something without people saying hi every time we’re out and asking for a photo.”

Kick-starting the classics

Before Kopecky hits the start line of the Tour of Flanders, she’s got plenty of racing on the cards. She’ll start her season this weekend with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad before heading to the Italian white roads of Strade Bianche next week.

Omloop will be her first appearance in SD Worx colors after switching to the team over the winter. Riding for the all-dominating Dutch squad means that, for once, she won’t be the sole leader. It will mean making some sacrifices, but she’s also excited about the prospect.

“It changes a lot of things, but I think in a positive way. Last year a lot of times I was alone in finals and I think this will be a very big difference this year that we will be there with a lot of riders. I know it will not always be for me, personally. Sometimes I cannot ride myself because there’s a teammate in front, but I think we as a team is also very nice.

“It makes me more relaxed because now we go into a race, and of course, I want to win the race, but it’s not that I am the only one who needs to be in the final.”

Whether it is herself or a teammate that wins, Kopecky just wants to have a bit more luck this season, or at least a lack of bad luck. The Belgian rode a strong classics campaign in 2021, but she suffered some ill-timed mechanicals at key points during major races.

“Last year was really shit with the bad luck,” Kopecky said. “I mean a puncture you cannot really do anything about, but at Flanders, I had some issues with shifting. I think this year, I will take a chain catcher for sure.”

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.