‘In men’s cycling, everybody wants to anticipate’ - Floortje Mackaij on Movistar’s aggressive approach to the Tour of Flanders

The Dutch rider looks ahead to a tough edition of De Ronde and explains how her team’s tactics will differ without Annemiek van Vleuten this season

The Classics season so far has been one of mixed fortunes for the Movistar women’s team. It’s been their first without Annemiek van Vleuten who, for so long, was the stalwart of the squad – a designated leader in virtually every race she started. This alone is taking some adjustment, but things have been made tougher still for the Spanish outfit by the overriding strength of teams like Lidl-Trek and Team SD Worx-Protime who have dominated plenty of the major one-day races. However, races such as Nokere Koerse and Gent-Wevelgem have not been without promise for Movistar, even if, on paper, the results are yet to surface.

The team in blue has been lauded for their fearless and open approach to races – the likes of Emma Norsgaard and Floortje Mackaij have proven themselves unafraid to take risks when it comes to attacks, not content with sitting in the peloton for an inevitable bunch sprint. The clearest example of this came during Gent-Wevelgem, when the duo took turns launching themselves off the front of the peloton in an otherwise extremely docile final 15 kilometres of racing. The attacks ended up being futile as few other teams were prepared to commit alongside Movistar, something that Mackaij says left her with a frustrated feeling after the race.

“We were all a bit surprised no one else wanted to attack. If you go with riders like [Elisa] Balsamo, [Charlotte] Kool and [Lorena] Wiebes to the finish line, you’re sprinting for fifth or sixth place. We really wanted to fight for the win but no other teams wanted to join us, so that makes it hard to get away,” Mackaij explains. “If you look at men's cycling and the best sprinter is there in the group, for sure, everybody wants to anticipate, but in women’s cycling this isn’t really the case.

“Everybody is at a really good level at the moment so there are more girls in the final, but I think this fighting for the win and aggressive racing is not really there. Even in Gent-Wevelgem you could see that nobody was really riding with each other, everyone was hesitating a bit.”

Floortje Mackaij during Paris-Roubaix last year (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)

Mackaij adds that she is able to take some confidence from the results of Dwars door Vlaanderen a few days ago, when SD Worx failed to make the podium and Marianne Vos of Visma-Lease a Bike took victory ahead of Shirin van Anrooij (Lidl-Trek.) While Mackaij explains that, personally, she was having a bad day and struggled with positioning, the results prove that SD Worx are far from unflappable, something that she will keep in mind as the Tour of Flanders fast approaches.

“I think if we have the numbers and things go right, we know we are good. We need to play together for Sunday and play our cards right, we might need to move earlier and make a good strategy,” Mackaij comments. “We did a recon of the parcours and I think it’s harder than other years as it is up and down from Oudenaarde onwards. The last 90 kilometres will be full gas racing.”

Anticipating the moves from some of the pre-race favourites, such as two-time Tour of Flanders winner Lotte Kopecky of Team SD Worx-Protime, is going to be a crucial part of Movistar’s strategy on Sunday.

“Normally if Kopecky goes, then honestly, we are probably just not strong enough to follow, so maybe we need to be in front of this,” Mackaij says. “It is really hard to know what SD Worx is going to do. Demi [Vollering] was racing in Dwars door Vlaanderen and she had some bad luck, but I also don’t feel like she was on her top level. She just came down from altitude. There’s also Lorena [Wiebes] who has really stepped up her level compared to last year, so they have different cards to play. I don’t think they will wait for the ultimate final either, I think they could make the race hard earlier.”

Movistar riders ahead of Dwars door Vlaanderen (Image: Andrew Smith/SWpix)

The Dutch rider doesn’t shy away from the fact that Van Vleuten’s retirement has had an impact on the way that Movistar are approaching the Classics. The older rider won the Tour of Flanders twice in her career and relished the steep bergs of Belgium. When she was part of the Movistar squad, the team’s strategy was a lot clearer: Van Vleuten had to be positioned before the climbs so she could do what she did best when the gradient kicked up. Without her, things are tricker to manage.

“It’s been different, when we were with Annemiek we knew she was the full leader and we’d go for her. Now, we are all a bit more on the same level,” Mackaij explains. “It should give us some more opportunities, we don’t have the results so far that we want but soon I think we will.”

One key element to Movistar finding success in the Classics is building the friendships and bonds within the team. Mackaij notes that she and Norsgaard have been sharing a room throughout the Classics period and have become good friends, something that is reflected in the way they race together.

“I really like to race with the girls and it feels really automatic. Last year Emma didn’t race in the spring because she had a broken collarbone but being roommates with someone who you are comfortable with gives you confidence in the races,” Mackaij explains. “You start to know each other better and it’s so nice to know that in races, we don’t even have to talk. If we make a mistake we just look at each other and know something has gone wrong and try to fix it. That makes racing together easier.”

There’s no denying that the Tour of Flanders is going to be a crucial race for Movistar to prove that they are still able to compete with teams like SD Worx and Lidl-Trek, even without Van Vleuten's powerful presence. Mackaij explains that while she is trying to keep balanced and level-headed, there’s some pressure on her shoulders for De Ronde, and she knows that it’s a big chance for Movistar to make their mark on this season.

“On Saturday, the day before the race, I will start to get really nervous,” she laughs. “Even as I talk about it I start to feel goosebumps. You know it’s going to be exciting.”

Cover image: Getty

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