“SD Worx are everywhere and they chase everything. If they want to control it, they can control it,” Canyon//SRAM’s Kasia Niewiadoma explained with a refreshing frankness at the end of stage two of the Tour de France Femmes. It wasn’t said off the back of another SD Worx win – Liane Lippert eventually took victory in a reduced bunch sprint in Mauriac – but it came pretty close.
When SD Worx’s Marlen Reusser attacked over the top of the final climb of the day, the Côte de Trébiac, it looked as if that could have been the winning move of the stage. She was brought back only by a monumental chase from Elisa Longo-Borghini of Lidl-Trek who looked today like even if she couldn’t take victory, she’d prefer any alternative to another clean sweep from the Dutch team. The problem with SD Worx, though, is that even when Reusser was brought back into the jaws of the reduced peloton, they still had yellow jersey wearer and fast finisher Lotte Kopecky in the bunch to try to sprint for the win herself (not to mention Demi Vollering to lead her out in the approach to the line.)
Coming into the final corner today, Kopecky looked to be in the perfect position to take her second stage win of the race. She was beaten by Lippert eventually but did reveal afterwards that she’d had a flat tyre in the final run-in to the finish and couldn’t sprint properly. Regardless, SD Worx still came very close twice today to taking their second stage win of the race.Tomorrow sees a relatively flat route from Collonges-la-Rouge to Montignac-Lascaux which should, on paper, be a day for the sprinters. Of course, SD Worx have an option for that too with European Champion Lorena Wiebes in their ranks, and even if Wiebes is having a bad day, Kopecky, Demi Volllering or Reusser could go for victory themselves. When the race heads to the mountains, Vollering will come in to her own even more and is the favourite to win on the fabled Tourmalet stage. In the time trial the next day, silver medalist at the Olympics, Reusser, is the favourite to take the stage victory. It’s virtually impossible to create a route or stage profile that SD Worx can’t dominate in.
But this doesn’t mean all hope has to be lost for the rest of the peloton. During stage two, there was a marked shift in the approach to beating SD Worx, with more teams seemingly open to trying different tactics. It began with an aggressive opening to the stage which saw a two-woman breakaway established, then, when the duo were brought back, more and more attacks came from the peloton. GC hopefuls Longo-Borghini and Niewiadoma were especially responsive to SD Worx moves. Another solo victory for a rider from the Dutch team? Not on my watch, the others seemed to be thinking.
Speaking after stage two, Niewadoma outlined Canyon//SRAM’s tactics for the race, explaining that they are trying to treat each stage like a one-day Classic by racing openly. This was abundantly clear in the multiple attacks that the Polish rider launched in the final throes of today’s race.
“We will take each stage as if it was a Classic, we don’t want to lose any time, we want to be attentive and react to all the dangerous moves but also be smart,” Niewadoma said. Alice Towers, a key domestique for Niewiadoma in the mountains, shared a similar sentiment to her teammate.
“We’re trying this week to be ahead of the game. We’re not waiting for things to happen,” Towers explained. “Usually when SD Worx makes their moves, it is just pure strength. Obviously they are tactically very good but the reason they keep winning is because they are so strong. We are trying to anticipate and be ahead before that happens and race aggressively this week as we have been doing all year. If we keep doing it, I think we will be rewarded by the end of the week.”
While Canyon//SRAM are taking an offensive approach to tackling the SD Worx dominance, other teams are opting to watch and wait to see what the Dutch team does before making their own race decisions.
Stage winner Lippert explained in her post-race press conference: “We knew this was one of the hardest stages, we did a recon of this day and our tactic was to see what SD Worx do on the climbs and see what the pace would be. We were thinking of trying to grab some bonus seconds but then there was a breakaway and then we were all together coming into the final climb.”
The fact that rival teams to SD Worx are thinking creatively about ways to beat them feels like a definite change from yesterday’s stage where it was almost like there was a universal acceptance that an SD Worx rider would win once Kopecky escaped from the peloton on the final climb. Armchair critics have been saying for a long time now that other teams need to try new things to beat the number one ranked squad in the women’s peloton, and today’s race felt like a clear example of that happening. Some teams decided to hit out themselves earlier on, while others waited, watched and responded, but either way, everyone tried something. Eventually, it led to a more varied and dynamic finish, as well as making things even more exciting looking ahead to the remainder of the week.