Team SD Worx’s performance at Dwars door Vlaanderen today was another textbook show of strength. Marlen Reusser attacked with just under 40km to go, creating a strong group off the front of the race which included the likes of Marianne Vos and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. Behind, Demi Vollering was sitting comfortably, able to trust in the fact that Reusser was likely the strongest rider in the group ahead, but that she could launch her own attacks if the time came. Mischa Bredewold was in that group too, another SD Worx powerhouse.
Eventually when Reusser’s breakaway was brought back and the race reached an explosive finale with riders attacking repeatedly in the final 20km of the race, Vollering was able to wait patiently until the road kicked up to make her move. She exhibited extreme strength when she did so, with Vos unable to follow her wheel. From then, it was a classic SD Worx-style solo victory to the finish line for the 26-year-old, with the others marking out attacks behind. Vollering did it just how Reusser did it at Gent-Wevelgem last weekend; just like Kopecky did it at Nokere-Koerse before that and at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad earlier in the season.
It’s not only in these solo breakaways that we’re seeing SD Worx perform, either. Lorena Wiebes is the fastest sprinter in the women’s peloton on her day, and can likely win any bunch kick when she gets a sniff of the finish line. In fact, there’s rarely a race where SD Worx don’t have a chance at victory. But could this eventually be their weakness?
Demi Vollering and Lotte Kopecky sprinting at Strade Bianche 2023 (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix
We saw signs of it at Strade Bianche a few weeks ago. Vollering and Kopecky came to the line together and decided not to share the victory, instead opting for a scrappy and awkward-looking sprint for the victory. Vollering took it in the end, but the situation caused an immeasurable amount of controversy on social media. Two teammates sprinting hell for leather against each other? What did this say about the harmony in the team?
However, at Strade Bianche in the end, although it might not have been the best day for the team’s PR, Kopecky and Vollering’s lack of cohesion didn’t really matter overall, because they still secured first and second place for SD Worx in the one of the biggest races of the year. However, this sort of inter-team friction might not always be as easily resolved.
At the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, SD Worx are due to take to the start with a team of six riders, at least four of which would be the nailed-on team leader in any other squad they were part of. Reusser’s win at Gent-Wevelgem proved her strength, while last year’s winner of De Ronde and home favourite Kopecky undoubtedly deserves a shot at being the team’s protected rider too. But Vollering now has two consecutive wins at Strade Bianche and Dwars door Vlaanderen, why shouldn’t the team be all in for her? And what if Wiebes can make it over the bergs to have a shot at the line, surely that’s almost a guaranteed victory for the team?
Christine Majerus and Elena Cecchini are there as helpers for whoever the rider is who does go for the win, but is some of their value lost if the team doesn’t have a clear plan of who they are working for ahead of the race?
It's a situation that could be seen as comparable to the men's Jumbo-Visma squad. They have the likes of Wout van Aert, Tiesj Benoot, Dylan van Baarle and Christophe Laporte in their line-up for Sunday who could all take victory. However, Van Baarle has already spoken to press and explained that Van Aert is their undisputed leader, unless something goes wrong for the Belgian on the day. Does SD Worx need to adopt a similar sort of clarity?
Without Kopecky racing in Dwars door Vlaanderen today, Reusser and Vollering seemed to communicate well; they both took their chances with attacks and the road decided which one would take victory. Reusser had her glory only three days ago at Gent-Wevelgem too, which undoubtedly would have made it easier to see Vollering get a chance today.
Team SD Worx after Strade Bianche 2023 (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)
However, SD Worx has signed riders like Vollering, Kopecky and Wiebes because they are prolific winners, they are not the sort of riders who readily give away their own chances at victory – that was proven at Strade Bianche. If there is confusion over which rider from SD Worx is the protected leader, this might be to their detriment on Sunday. It’s hard to imagine Kopecky or Vollering agreeing to orders that they should try to keep the race together for a Wiebes victory. Equally, it’s hard to imagine Wiebes being happy with Kopecky and Vollering trying their own attacks, rather than helping in a lead out for her, if she does manage to come to the finish line in a reduced bunch.
Of course, there’s still every chance that SD Worx will dominate Flanders and set-up the sort of race scenario that we’ve seen rival teams struggle to deal with over the season so far. For example, at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday when Reusser built a two minute gap, no one else wanted to chase her down and drag Wiebes to the finish line who sat in the group behind. However, communication is going to be key for the Dutch team in order to achieve this, and it’s going to be a tricky balancing act of some big ambitions and egos.
Vollering’s ruthless attack at Dwars door Vlaanderen today was a warning sign to her rivals of her strength ahead of De Ronde, but perhaps her rivals aren’t what she needs to be most worried about during Sunday’s race. It will be the first time she and Kopecky have raced together since their historic Strade showdown, and regardless of what the team put on social media afterwards about the situation being resolved, the sprint in Italy surely would have caused some confusion and unease in the SD Worx ranks.
They still start as the outright favourite team to win the Tour of Flanders, but could SD Worx’s strength also be their downfall?