SD Worx are winners. There is no arguing it. This season, like most of the seasons that have come before, the Dutch team has dominated the Women’s WorldTour, winning 11 of the 20 WWT races that have taken place so far (and that’s not even counting individual stage wins in multi-day races). But while this collective strength can so often work to their advantage, it has also been one of the few causes of trouble in the SD Worx ranks. Sometimes, they have so many riders that can win, things get complicated – think of that famous sprint between Demi Vollering and Lotte Kopecky when they came to the line together during Strade Bianche earlier this season. There were some awkward conversations to be had on the team bus after a furious finish that hinted at a lack of cohesion between the two leaders.
At the 2023 edition of the Tour de France Femmes, the team in pink and purple will come with a breathtakingly strong squad. At the helm when it comes to GC is Demi Vollering, who finished second overall in the race last year. For sprints, European champion Lorena Wiebes ticks all the boxes for the Dutch squad – she won two stages and dominated the flat stages in the 2022 Tour. Then they have Lotte Kopecky, twice winner of the Tour of Flanders and an all-rounder puncheur extraordinaire. For breakaways, it’s Swiss champion Marlen Reusser, winner of Gent-Wevelgem by three minutes at the start of this season. That’s some number of options, but will this definitely play in the team’s favour? Or could too many cooks spoil the broth?
Kopecky, speaking a few weeks before the Tour de France Femmes departs from Clermont-Ferrand, told Rouleur that she is prepared to put everything behind Vollering’s assault at the yellow jersey, seemingly silencing any doubts that people may have had over the relationship between the two riders.
“I go there with confidence, but also with a different role than last year, because now we have Lorena as a sprinter and then Demi for the general classification,” Kopecky explains. “I think that I will be more relaxed and try to see where I can find my opportunities. I'm not the rider that needs to get the sprint wins or the results.”
The Belgian champion appears at peace with the fact that her main responsibility will be helping others to win over the seven-day race. “I think it's clear that with the form Demi has been in the whole season and the fact that last year, she was second, she needs our full support and trust that we believe in her that she can win this Tour to France. So if I can be part of that, I really would like to help her achieve this goal.”
In fact, SD Worx’s wide range of options when it comes to who will be the leader is something that Kopecky says is advantageous to her mentally, taking the pressure off her shoulders slightly.
“I don't want to be the star rider. At SD Worx, it's giving and taking and I like it this way. For me, it helps if I have a bad day, there will always be somebody who will take over the leader role. If you are the only leader of the team and have a bad day, then the whole team suffers from it,” she says. “I think because I'm allowed to have a bad day, I have fewer bad days. The pressure is high, because everybody expects us to win, but it helps to build a strong team.”
Still, her innate competitive nature means that Kopecky will always train with some important goals in mind, and she admits that she is dreaming of rainbows at the World Championships in Glasgow which takes place one week after the Tour concludes. The 27-year-old came close last year in Wollongong, finishing second after Annemiek van Vleuten’s surprise attack in the closing kilometres.
“I think last year was the best opportunity I got [to win the Worlds]. Glasgow is another chance, but so much can happen, everything has to fall into place and you have to make every right decision. I have a good chance this year but there are a lot of riders suited to this course, so it will be very hard,” Kopecky explains.
Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix
She talks about how she has been to ride the course in Glasgow already this year with the Belgian team, and believes it is well-suited to her. The narrow, winding roads of the city circuit loop are similar to the style of a classic Belgian kermesse race, so Kopecky has been getting stuck into racing in her home country as preparation. She’s ridden multiple national level races in the junior men’s category over the last couple of weeks.
“Those races were more preparation, not really for the Tour, but for Worlds. The course in Glasgow is turning and turning and accelerating all the time and the junior races are races when there is no line and a lot of accelerating out of the corners,” Kopecky says. “I think that will really help me prepare a lot more specifically for the Worlds. The junior boys were positive. They really liked it I think and they were very respectful, I don’t think they minded that I had a few races with them.”
While she says that she will mostly ride the Tour de France in service of her teammates, Kopecky also acknowledges how well-suited she is to some of the stages and won’t fully count out taking her own opportunities as they arise.
“I've looked at the road book already. I think it will be pretty hard, every stage will be pretty hard,” she explains. “We will just have to see how it's going to be because we cannot race everyday like it's a Classic, because we also will have the GC to defend. It will be a very open Tour, but in some scenarios we are still in the Tour and need to look at the GC.”
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix