Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step has sent some early warning shots this season as the Belgian outfit seeks promotion to the Women’s WorldTour for 2024.
The team, which is run by Natascha Knaven-den Ouden, sought a top-tier license for this year but was beaten by fellow Belgian squad Fenix-Deceuninck by virtue of its points haul. It will have another opportunity at the end of this year, and it has grasped the chance with both hands.
AG Insurance made its season debut last week at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana secured the top-two places in the overall classification, a stage win, and finished second in all three of the other stages in the four-day race.
“What an incredible start to the season. This team is just so special. That really is all I can say. It was a tactical master class. We are such a power team. We are so united and so strong together. It was incredible seeing Justine take her first pro win. This is only the start of a great season,” Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio said.
- Lotta Henttala scores second place in racing return after two-year hiatus
- AG Insurance-NXTG boss: Women’s cycling needs to build its foundations and not just the roof
- AG Insurance-NXTG: The team that wants to change women’s cycling
Moolman-Pasio went into the final stage with the leader’s jersey on her back after holding off Amanda Spratt (Trek-Segafredo) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) in the climbing-heavy stage 3. She looked set to take the overall win, having finished last year with the GC title at the Tour de Romandie, but it would be her teammate Justine Ghekiere that would claim that.
The 26-year-old Ghekiere got in the early break on the final stage hoping to take the mountains classification. She did that but she managed to stay away with Elise Uijen as the only remaining survivors of the day’s move.
Uijen pipped Ghekiere to the line to take the stage, but the bonus seconds on the line were enough to see the latter surge 10 places up the GC and take the title by a single second.
“I just don’t know what to say. I have no words and don’t really realize what happened. I wanted to go for that polka dot jersey and was only second behind the leader in that classification. It was all or nothing today and I succeeded in my goal,” Ghekiere said.
“It’s a shame I didn’t win that sprint for the stage win but by then I knew I had won the mountain classification. I was already really happy about that until I realized I had won the general classification too. This team is fantastic and I feel so good. Everyone believes in each other and works for each other. It was not great I took the win away from Ashleigh, but we keep it in the team. We did it.”
AG Insurance- Soudal Quick-Step has gone under plenty of changes over the winter in an effort to mount its challenge for a place in the Women’s WorldTour. Further financial support from the men’s WorldTour squad Soudal Quick-Step has meant a name change and a new look, as well as the backing the team needed to sign a raft of new riders.
All three of the riders that scored the biggest results last week were all new signings for the squad. Ghekiere, Moolman-Pasio, and Lotta Henttala — who notched up two second places in the sprints in her first pro races in 18 months — all joined the team over the winter.
The changes have certainly paid dividends and the results in Valencia will ensure the team takes a big points haul into the spring classics, which start later this week when the UCI updates its rankings Tuesday.
“The team followed the plan every day to perfection,” sport director Jolien D’hoore said. “We would allow a breakaway to go today but not with riders from the top 20 of the overall classification. Ideally, it would be Justine in a breakaway because of the mountain classification and so it happened. I am just so proud of these riders and the staff here. I am really looking forward to more.”
There is still a long way to go before the 15 Women’s WorldTour licenses are decided for 2024, but AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step could hardly have gotten off to a better start.