Last year, the women’s WorldTour squad, Team DSM, won 28 races. Twenty-two of those victories were by Lorena Wiebes, who now rides for Team SD Worx after signing for the Dutch outfit at the end of the 2022 season. For some teams, the loss of a prolific winner like Wiebes might spell panic. It might instil a sort of urgency to sign another rider with an established career to replace Wiebes and ensure that the team performs at the same level next year. But, as Pfeiffer Georgi tells me, Team DSM don’t work like that, and they’ve thought ahead.
“I think this team is really good at bringing young riders in and developing their own leaders. That's something I've experienced firsthand coming in as a junior and now this year, going into my fifth season, I have the opportunity to be a leader,” Georgi says. “Lorena has now left the team, but we've got Charlotte [Kool] who's still one of the fastest sprinters in the world and I think we've got a really strong lead-out to support her.”
If you take the time to think about it, Team DSM’s development of Kool could be a stroke of genius. The 23-year-old has led out the fastest sprinter in the women’s peloton for the past year, watching, learning and understanding her every move. Not only will this have helped Kool improve physically, it should also have given her a broad understanding of the art of sprinting, and what it takes to become the best of the best. Now Wiebes has moved to a different team, Kool will be sprinting against her and will know her new rival’s mentality better than anyone.
“I think we were in a really special position last year when Lorena was on the team, as we had Charlotte as the last lead-out rider when she's already one of the fastest sprinters out there,” Georgi says. “That was quite a unique position to be in and it's really nice that she's now got her own opportunity.”
With Kool now the team’s designated sprinter for most of the races in the 2023 season, Georgi says that the famed Team DSM lead-out train will need to change to develop a new rider to do the job Kool did for Wiebes last year. “I think it's hard to replace the quality of Charlotte because it is very difficult to find such a fast sprinter to be a lead-out rider and not a sprinter themselves. But I definitely have confidence we will still win races already from the start of the year.”
Georgi at the 2022 British National Time Trial Championships (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
The departure of Wiebes isn’t the only change that Team DSM has undergone ahead of the 2023 season. Both Liane Lippert and Floortje Mackaij, who were two of the team’s key players for both the hilly Classics and stage races, have now signed for Movistar. Lippert especially is one of the most exciting talents in the women’s peloton, touted as a potential successor to Annemiek van Vleuten when the world champion retires at the end of this season. Although Georgi may miss them, it’s impossible for her not to take her own opportunity as a leader for the classics now two of her experienced teammates have left the squad.
“I think my role has shifted,” the British rider explains. “Last year I was in more of a support role for the Classics and part of the lead-out. But this year, I'm getting more leadership opportunities and I need to be able to survive the races and then perform in the finals. I think my training has changed a bit to try and have me step up another level and also perform earlier.”
She tells me that her training this winter has had to change in order to compensate for the additional challenges she will face as the team’s protected rider for the biggest one-day races in the calendar. “I finished the season really well last year and I had a good month completely off the bike, so the first week back was pretty hard. But this winter, I've done more intensity earlier, so I came back to the level I was at quite quickly. I've been able to build on it pretty well. I'm already in a good place. By the time the Classics – which are my main focus for the first part of the season – come around, I'm hoping to be in a better place compared to last year.”
Lorena Wiebes wins stage one of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift 2022 (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
Although she speaks with a modesty that indicates her performances in the Classics need improvement, a look through her race results says otherwise. A top-10 in Paris-Roubaix and Omloop van het Hageland, plus a fourth place in Dwars door Vlaanderen are just a few of Georgi’s impressive performances from last year, and many of these were achieved when she was working in service of a teammate. If she is able to make the improvements in her form that she’s hoping to, Georgi will be a force to be reckoned with in the early season in 2023.
“Last year, I was close to a podium and winning one of the smaller Classics I think for me, winning a Classic might be a bit of an optimistic goal this year, but I would like to set myself a target of being on a podium and looking towards winning one in the future,” she explains.
The cold, wet grim conditions and slippery cobbles of France and Belgium don’t scare the former British champion. In fact, she revels in them. “I just like the nature of a one-day race,” she says. “I like the rain and the cobbles, the short punchy climbs, it's the kind of terrain and the conditions that I seem to do well in. I think at the moment, that kind of excites me more. It's maybe also where my physicality lends itself more than stage races at the moment.”
Generally, though, Georgi says there’s more to winning the Classics than physicality, and the same applies to creating the perfect lead-out train. It is about tactical nous and being able to sniff out the right time to attack or when to open up a sprint.
“Racing is definitely getting more exciting, it’s unpredictable,” she says. “I think it's really becoming more aggressive and not just about physicality but like being smart and tactically riding a good race, which is something we do well at Team DSM.”
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix