Five women’s storylines to follow during the spring classics

From Annemiek van Vleuten's form to the tussle for success between SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo.

Photo: Gruber Images

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After dabbling between one-day action and stage racing, the women’s peloton went into full classics mode this week with the Classic Brugge-De Panne.

Over the next month, there are some 13 one-day races with just the three-day Tour of Thailand the only multi-day offering until the end of April. Meanwhile, almost all of the action will be contained within Belgium with eight of those races taking place in the northern European country, with France and the Netherlands hosting two, and Italy just the one.

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The next four weeks will see the bunch tackle Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and more. Just about every type of rider will have an opportunity to go for the win at some point in the next month.

With so much action to come, VeloNews takes a look at some of the key storylines we expect to play out in the coming weeks.

Annemiek van Vleuten returns

Annemiek van Vleuten last raced at Strade Bianche
Annemiek van Vleuten last raced at Strade Bianche (Photo: Sara Cavallini/Getty Images)

Annemiek van Vleuten’s final season as a professional didn’t quite get off to the start that some of her fans might have hoped for with no podiums to speak of in her first three races of the year, compared to two wins at this same point last season. It was certainly not a bad start and fourth places at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and Strade Bianche are nothing to sniff at, but it’s not what we’ve come to expect of the Dutchwoman.

With no races that suit her for much of March, Van Vleuten headed back to training camps in recent weeks as she builds up to the Tour of Flanders at the beginning of April. She’s jumping straight in this time, choosing not to ride Dwars door Vlaanderen, and it will be interesting to see if she has taken a step forward in her form while she’s been away from racing. Despite her slower start to the year, Van Vleuten remains a serious threat in any race that she enters.

SD Worx v Trek-Segafredo

Trek-Segafredo put on a top-notch tactical performance at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda
Trek-Segafredo put on a top-notch tactical performance at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

While there have been a few riders here and there from other teams taking wins this season, SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo have really dominated the year so far. After several podium finishes in Australia, Trek-Segafredo stepped things up at the UAE Tour with Elisa Longo Borghini and Gaia Realini wrapping up the top two places in the overall classification.

Upon return to Europe, it was the turn of SD Worx to show off their strength and depth by winning five consecutive races with three different riders, Lotte Kopecky, Lorena Wiebes, and Demi Vollering. On three occasions, the Dutch outfit scored a 1-2. It was only Trek-Segafredo that could break their stranglehold on the bunch at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda with a sublime team effort. The squad used its combined strength to distance Wiebes before Shirin van Anrooij attacked to glory.

Team DSM thriving without Lorena Wiebes

Pfeiffer Georgi won the Classic Brugge-De Panne
Pfeiffer Georgi won the Classic Brugge-De Panne (Photo: Eric Lalmand/Belga/AFP via Getty Images)

After Lorena Wiebes made the shock move to SD Worx over the winter, despite still being under contract with Team DSM, many wondered how the team might cope. Wiebes was far and away the most successful rider in 2022 on total win count and DSM had shaped its team around her. Alongside Wiebes, the team lost its second most successful rider in Lianne Lippert as well as some big experience in Floortje Mackaij and Leah Kirchmann. In their place, they signed a raft of promising young talent.

Rather than appearing to be struggling without Wiebes, the team has been almost freed by her departure. Charlotte Kool has taken up the role of sprint leader, but the team is not as focused around her as they were Wiebes and the team has taken on a very aggressive approach to racing so far this season. While the team might not be winning with the same regularity as they did last season, it has come out swinging this season and scored a big win with Pfeiffer Georgi at the Classic Brugge-De Panne on Thursday.

Injury-hit teams

SD Worx started Classic Brugge-De Panne with just four riders
SD Worx started Classic Brugge-De Panne with just four riders (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

We’re only three months into the season, but already teams have been struggling under the weight of injuries, illness, and a busy race program. With most teams operating on a roster of around 14 or 15 riders while trying to optimize the calendars of their star riders, it doesn’t take long to feel the hit of a few injuries or illnesses.

Wednesday’s Classic-Brugge De Panne saw six teams field squads with reduced line-ups with three of those showing up to the start line with four out of a possible six riders. The Trofeo Alfredo Binda had seven teams showing up with fewer than the maximum number of riders. Teams are not required to race all WorldTour events, but organizers are required to have a minimum number of top-tier teams to keep their status. With squads not expanding at the same rate as the women’s calendar, it’s a balancing act for all involved to hit up as many races as possible while not exhausting the riders.

Marianne Vos injury comeback

Marianne Vos' great ride at Trofeo Alfredo Binda was foiled by a mechanical
Marianne Vos’ great ride at Trofeo Alfredo Binda was foiled by a mechanical (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

Marianne Vos made her 2023 road debut last week at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda. Her return to road action was hotly anticipated after she was forced to cut her cyclocross season short due to a constricted iliac artery. It required surgery and a period off the bike, but thankfully it had been caught early. Some other riders that have had the same issue have faced a far longer recovery period as it took much longer to detect.

Vos looked to be in great shape at Binda and was in the front group for most of the race until an untimely mechanical issue saw her distanced, though she still finished 20th. She’s skipping Gent-Wevelgem this weekend and won’t be back in action until Dwars door Vlaanderen next week. While she’s making good progress in her recovery, the team doesn’t want to push her too hard and we will get to see her a bit less than we’re used to in the spring but her performances will still be fun to watch.

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