Did we really expect anything else? The opening stage of the 2023 Tour de France Femmes went, pretty much, exactly to script. It was an SD Worx stage win by Lotte Kopecky and with it, she took the first yellow jersey of the race. And the green. And the polka dots. Second place on the stage was Lorena Wiebes, you guessed it, also of SD Worx.
The Belgian champion made her winning move on the Cote de Durtol, the only categorised climb in the entire opening stage, which came with 10 kilometres to go until the finish. It was the kind of day where nothing really happened and then everything suddenly happened at once. After a slow and cagey first half to the stage, the intermediate sprint point at 97 kilometres ignited the drama – the points taken by Lizzie Deignan who admitted afterwards that she’d almost won them accidentally. Then, it was all about the fight for positioning into the final 1.7 kilometre ascent.
Kasia Niewiadoma of Canyon//SRAM said that Kopecky’s attack towards the summit of the Cote de Durtol “surprised her”, while Ashleigh Moolman Pasio crossed the line frustrated, explaining that she knew to expect that the Belgian would do something but was caught out by Kopecky as she made her move expertly from behind. Whether they knew it was coming or not was irrelevant in the end, however, as no one responded quickly enough to hop on the SD Worx rider’s wheel. Kopecky crossed the QOM sprint point alone and all that was left was a descent to the finish and the sweet winning feeling that would await her when she crossed the line.
We’ve seen Kopecky do this before – think her solo win at the Tour of Flanders – and the 27-year-old is not a rider you want to give even an inch of space to. Once she gets a sniff of victory, she’s going for it. “I went full gas to the top and when I knew I had a gap there I knew I shouldn’t hesitate and go for the finish,” Kopecky announced confidently after the stage. “Once they told me in my ear that the gap was growing, I knew if I kept my power there was no way they would catch me there.”
SD Worx had so many options today that Kopecky added she was grateful to actually have been given the opportunity to go for victory at all. When some riders would be happy to win full stop, Kopecky is happy to have been the chosen SD Worx rider that was allowed to win. There was never any doubt that one of the team would do it, the conversation was simply about which one would.
“We have the luxury in this team that we have a lot of good riders and I could do this attack today but if I didn't, then there was Lorena Wiebes there for the sprint and we could also just have gone for that option,” Kopecky said. “It’s the same for Demi [Vollering] or Marlen [Reusser], both of them could have done the same thing I did. Today could have gone completely differently if they’d have said we would sprint for Lorena."
Photo: ASO/Thomas Maheux
It’s true that SD Worx have an incredibly strong line-up, but this doesn’t mean that other teams have to simply let the squad in pink ride away with victories. There are other options than allowing Kopecky to cross the line over 40 seconds ahead of the rest of the peloton.
Moolman Pasio commented after the stage how frustrated she was at the lack of cohesion in the chase behind Kopecky: “It was so annoying,” she explained. “Kasia and I got pretty close to Kopecky when she attacked but when we got to the descent it was so frustrating. It wasn’t actually my job to chase as there were riders from other teams but at the same time I didn’t want to just sit up. I don’t understand the mentality to attack and counter attack, if we worked together we would have brought her back.”
It’s true that teams like FDJ-Suez had three riders in the final group and they defended their tactics after the race. The team’s sports director, Cédric Barre, told Rouleur afterwards that they “didn’t get help from any other teams. Marta [Cavalli] worked and Évita Muzic did when she got in front, Cecilie [Uttrup Ludwig] didn’t work, that’s it,” Barre said.
Cavalli herself commented: “Vollering and Reusser tried to interrupt our job and it was not easy to keep a good pace and good organisation. They wanted to allow Kopecky to keep a bigger gap and secure the first place, and also they wanted to make the pace slow and allow Wiebes to come back. It’s cycling, sometimes it doesn’t look fair but it’s cycling, it’s part of the game, you can’t do anything.”
While FDJ-Suez can blame others for SD Worx’s dominance today, the simple fact remains that if the group behind had formed a cohesive chase, they would have been stronger than a lone rider out front. Here’s hoping as the race goes on, more teams will try something different to beat the world-beating Dutch squad. We’ve all bought tickets to watch the Tour de France Femmes, not the SD Worx show.
Cover image by Getty Images