Four years ago, the winner of stage three of the Tour de France Femmes, Marlen Reusser, competed in her first ever road race. When she finished, she called her coach in tears after being unable to move up during the race, nervous and failing to understand how her rivals navigated through a precarious peloton. At the start of 2019, Reusser was still balancing her work as a doctor with training to be a cyclist, the 30-year-old only dedicated herself full time to racing that season.
As she finessed the gravel sectors on the way to Bar-sur-Aube, zoomed down the descents and nailed the apex of every corner on her way to a solo victory today, it was hard to believe that this is a rider who only began racing a few years ago.
It wasn’t just Reusser’s skill that was impressive today. The timing of her attack was impeccable. She picked a moment when the rest of the riders in the leading group began to look at each other, taking them by surprise from a few bike lengths back and following through the gap the neutral service motorbike had created as it passed the bunch. And when she went, she went full gas. It was a committed, out of the saddle attack that was filled with raw power. Reusser’s entire move was an exhibition of race craft that normally comes with years of experience and learning from countless failed attacks from races past.
When she had her gap, Reusser continued to ride smart, too. She said in the after the race “I was thinking a lot about pacing my effort ” – a skill she has perfected in time trials, the discipline in which she excels most, winning a silver medal in the Olympic ITT last season. Once again, her ability to monitor her effort and ensure she didn’t push too hard too soon is something that riders normally take lots of time to develop.
But Reusser herself admitted to Rouleur at the start of the season that, with Team SD Worx, she is in the best place to learn. “I had quite a lot of offers but I understood I really need a team where I can learn something,” she explained. “In the team I was on, I was not going to have the education I’m longing for. I asked myself: which team is able to give it to me as a 30-year-old rider who is quite new to the sport?”
“You can see how well Team SD Worx work together, you see there must be something in this team. Also, Anna [van der Breggen] is becoming a DS, she has seen me racing normally from the peloton and now she sits in the car so knows exactly my weak points,” she says. “For me that’s a huge advantage as I have to learn so many things.”
In just the first season the Swiss rider has ridden in the Dutch team, she has developed in ways that even she could not have foreseen. “Even this morning I did not believe I could win a Tour de France stage,” she exclaimed after the race, nervous but excited in front of a group of clamouring journalists. Reusser was modest and in shock about taking the victory: “I just followed the process,” she said.
And that is what Team SD Worx has taught the Swiss talent. The process. It’s what the Dutch outfit has always been best at: making a plan and executing it. Smart riding, smart thinking. They’re organised, clear on their ambition and have a sense of when the time is right to make their move. We’ve seen Team SD Worx riders win solo countless times with big gaps to the chasing pack, think Anna van der Breggen at the Imola World Championships or Chantal van den Broek Blaak in the Tour of Flanders in 2019. It is their bread and butter, and, as she showed today, Reusser is a very fast learner.
Her move today was vintage, classic Team SD Worx. Reusser is an example of the team’s ability to develop those who have the attributes of a rider who can win, but need teaching how to best make the most of their power.
Among her teammates, Reusser’s win was a special one, too. She’s a workhorse; she constantly sacrifices her own chances for her teammates, using her big engine to pull long turns on the front to bring back breakaways or lead out sprinters. “Cycling is a team sport and it’s always strange because just one gets on the podium. It's great when riders who have worked so hard and sacrificed themselves so many times reap the rewards,” said Reusser’s teammate, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, after the stage.
Above all, Reusser’s win should be a lesson to us all: it’s never too late to learn, be it in cycling, or in any walk of life. The Swiss rider found her talent for bike racing in her late twenties, and she was committed to making it to the top, despite the well-versed rhetoric that cyclists need to start racing at a young age if they want to turn professional one day.
Reusser entered Team SD Worx with an open mind and an awareness that she had room for improvement. She wasn’t in denial about her weaknesses, instead she confronted them head on, and, for doing that, she’s got one of her biggest rewards for that on stage the Tour de France Femmes. The Swiss rider sets an example to the world that if you want something enough and if you’re prepared to work for it despite setbacks, it might just be possible.