At the Tour de France, having the yellow jersey in your team normally comes with some downsides. It’s sort of an unwritten rule that riding on the front of the bunch to control breakaways and monitor attacks is the responsibility of the team that includes the race leader – so much so that in the men’s Tour de France, general classification teams occasionally even surrender the jersey to save energy for later in the race. It seems, however, that SD Worx are not a team that adheres to things that normally happen, or listens to what they should or should not do as race leaders. They, simply, are here to win. Little else matters.
They proved that today on stage three of the Tour de France Femmes, where they won the eventual bunch sprint with Lorena Wiebes by virtue of having the biggest cojones to wait it out amongst the other teams, not spending an ounce of energy bringing back lone leader Julie van de Velde in the closing stages of the race. The time gap between Van de Velde out front and the peloton behind was still over half a minute in the final five kilometres of the stage, yet still, SD Worx did not pull a turn. Really, they should have been the ones panicking: they have the best sprinter in the peloton in their ranks who was almost nailed-on to win if she arrives at the finish in the bunch. Panicking is not SD Worx’s style, though.
Instead of the team with the favourite to win the stage and the yellow jersey in their ranks, it was Team DSM, working for their sprinter Charlotte Kool, who took to the front of the peloton to bring back Van de Velde.
“I spoke to them and they said they wouldn’t ride,” Pfeiffer Georgi, a key lead-out woman for Kool, said after the race. “We had confidence in our sprinter so we weren’t going to play games. The gap was still 2:20 in the last 35 kilometres, someone had to ride. It’s not the first time they’ve done this, so I kind of expected it. My job normally is in the last 200 metres and today it was closing the gap in the last kilometre.”
Kool eventually finished in seventh place as SD Worx’s Wiebes stormed to victory – no reward for the work her team had done throughout the stage. She too shared the frustration of her teammate afterwards.
“I’m really really disappointed. It’s a missed opportunity. We’re very used to SD Worx not helping us, they never do. We want to go for the win, my team has the confidence in me for the sprint, maybe they don’t, I don’t know. We just have to take our own opportunity and we’re not going to look when others are not riding. This is the Tour and it’s a sprint stage and we take it. But of course it’s a bit sad.”
Understandably, the mood at the winning SD Worx camp was a far cry from Kool’s dejected answers. For them, they’d secured the stage victory and played the game to absolute perfection. Sports director Anna van der Breggen was defensive over her team’s decision not to assist Team DSM in the chase. “They asked us to help but it was really early in the race, we said it’s only one rider out front, that’s way too early to start pulling,” she stated. “If they asked us to do it in the final stretch then fine, but not too early, or you’re riding half the day on the front. If they want to do it and we don’t want to do it, it’s ok, hey?”
Stage winner Wiebes was equally as matter-of-fact in her post-race press conference, pointing to the fact that SD Worx have GC ambitions to come still in this race with Demi Vollering.
“We still have the general classification leader in our team and it’s still long to the finish of the race. We also need the riders for the next stage and we cannot fully ride so that they can’t do anything for the general classification anymore,” Wiebes commented. “Sometimes you have to eat first the plate of another and then start your own one.”
The reality is, that SD Worx played the better hand today, they risked it all and came out on top. While the chatter around the team buses after the race may have been damning towards the number one Dutch squad, it was Lorena Wiebes standing on top of the podium, and it’s still Lotte Kopecky in the yellow jersey, and according to Van der Breggen, Vollering rode a conservative stage and is still feeling fresh ahead of the general classification race kicking off later this week. Things are looking very good indeed for SD Worx. The opinions of the rest of the peloton are of no concern as they keep on winning.
As Wiebes herself commented: “It’s all part of the game, eh?”