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dsm-firmenich's youth-first policy led to more success in 2023

dsm-firmenich Team Talk: Youth-first approach continues to reap rewards with bright future ahead

GCN reviews a season in which the women's team’s conveyor belt of talent stepped up to replace its outgoing stars

Clock15:00, Wednesday 15th November 2023

dsm-firmenich entered 2023 off the back of the most successful season in its history. Buoyed by the virtually unbeatable Lorena Wiebes, the Dutch outfit amassed 26 wins in 2022, 16 of which were at WorldTour level. Most of the other teams in the Women’s WorldTour watched on with envy as they glided up the UCI rankings, eventually finishing as the third-best team behind SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo.

Fast forward 12 months and the team has dropped four places to seventh in the rankings after a season which, on paper at least, shows a decline in wins. Seasons are often defined by victories, but a cursory glance at the win column doesn’t provide a fair representation of dsm-firmenich’s season.

Having lost the guaranteed wins of Wiebes, who left for pastures new at SD Worx, the team once again turned to its conveyor belt of young talent to fill the race-winning void. Completing this transition was always going to be difficult, but in Charlotte Kool, the team found its next big sprint star, while Pfeiffer Georgi’s Classics performances inspired hope which may soon verge on expectation.

This youthful approach will continue in 2024, but the team will hope that it can spread wins out more evenly to avoid relying too heavily on Kool, who currently shoulders a heavy burden.

GCN’s review

Matching or bettering their 2022 success in 2023 would be difficult in normal circumstances, except dsm-firmenich would have to do it without Lorena Wiebes. The Dutch star’s 22-win haul - accounting for the vast majority of dsm-firmenich’s 26 wins in 2022 - was deservedly rewarded with a transfer to SD Worx. It was a major coup for the Dutch team but left a gaping hole in dsm-firmenich’s seemingly blunted attack.

The team also bid farewell to two more of its experienced riders. Both Liane Lippert and Floortje Mackaij linked up together at Movistar, leaving dsm-firmenich looking decipherably short on experience as well as race winners.

Rather than looking outward for star signings, the team usually looks inward for new talent. They’ve become one of the best teams at plucking top young riders before developing them into team leaders, and that route paid dividends once again from the outset in 2023.

Early outings didn’t return any success, but things stepped up a gear at the UAE Tour where Charlotte Kool made her season debut. The Dutch star was previously a key cog in Wiebes' lead-out but stepped up to be the main sprinter. It was a large burden to carry with big shoes to fill, but Kool dispelled any concerns in the UAE, beating Wiebes in two of the three sprints.

Those wins didn’t dry up. By the end of May Kool had picked up five more wins, starting on stage 2 of La Vuelta Femenina where she out-kicked Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) to claim the team’s only Grand Tour stage win of the season.

A one-day victory at ZLM Omloop der Kempen followed, before she scored a hat-trick of wins at the RideLondon Classique, triumphing on stages 1 and 3 to take the overall victory. It could have been a clean sweep of stage wins but her stage 2 efforts were derailed by a crash just before the flamme rouge. While she wasn’t quite matching Wiebes’ 2022 strike rate, Kool’s wins were keeping dsm-firmenich’s win rate ticking over at a healthy rate.

Like the previous season, dsm-firmenich were flying thanks to their star sprinter, but there were signs that the team’s youth-orientated approach was paying dividends. Elise Uijen - only 19 at the time - displayed her climbing abilities on stage 4 of Setmana Ciclista-Volta Comunitat Valenciana Fèmines to emerge victorious from a large breakaway.

Over in the Classics, Pfeiffer Georgi was the star of the show, winning the Classic Brugge-De Panne. One-off results can spark hope, but the 23-year-old Brit’s impressive consistency may soon lead to race-winning expectations as she backed that up with top-10 finishes at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche, Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift and the Amstel Gold Race. A further win at Dwars door de Westhoek will have sparked plenty of excitement in the team, not least because she crossed the line alongside teammates Léa Curinier and Kool in an impressive clean sweep of the podium. Not finished there, Georgi ended the season on a high with another one-day win at Binche-Chimay-Binche pour Dames.

Those victories punctuated Kool’s success as the Dutch star continued her race-winning ways throughout the rest of the season. A strong showing at the Baloise Belgium Tour returned four wins before she ended the season as she started, beating Wiebes twice at the Simac Ladies Tour. One of those came in the prologue, which is becoming one of the most potent weapons in Kool’s arsenal, before she proved too powerful for her former teammate in the stage 3 sprint.

While 17 wins across the season was a drop on their 2022 tally, dsm-firmenich had successfully filled the void left by Wiebes, but another noticeable hole developed at stage races. Beyond Kool’s sprint victories, Uijen was the only rider to triumph at a stage race for the team, although the win column once again doesn't tell the full story with Juliette Labous proving to be one of the most consistent performers at the Grand Tours.

The Frenchwoman was runner-up at the Giro d'Italia Donne, albeit nearly four minutes behind winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), before she came close to taking a podium spot at the Tour de France Femmes, finishing fifth.

In Kool, Georgi and Labous, the team had a solid core which was capable of competing on most fronts. They were ably backed by the team’s strong contingent of young talent who had another year to hone their skills. 

Following the loss of Wiebes, 2023 could have been a tricky year to navigate for the team, but all things considered, it has to be considered another success for the team, although they need to back that up in 2024.

GCN’s rating: 8/10

Maybe a bit generous considering the dip in victories from the previous season, but that was always going to be unavoidable after losing a rider of Lorena Wiebes’ pedigree. In judging the team’s season, it’s best to turn a blind eye to the victories column - which is still better than most - and focus on the team’s continued ability to find new talent from within its roster, rather than making high-profile signings. It’s a policy dsm-firmenich has become very good at and they should continue to reap the rewards over the coming seasons.

Ins & Outs

Unlike last season, dsm-firmenich has kept hold of its star riders for 2024, so there’s a strong degree of continuity.

Most of their transfer dealings are once again centred around youth, with the Dutch team raiding the increasingly large well of British talent by signing duo Josie Nelson and Abi Smith, both 21. Smith joins from EF Education-TIBCO-SVB where she’s already built WorldTour experience, while Nelson has also been a regular name on WorldTour startlists over the last three seasons with Team Coop-Hitec Products.

Of the team’s three signings, only Rachele Barbieri bucks the youth trend, although at 26 she’s hardly an old-timer. Joining from Liv Racing TeqFind, the Italian will bring experience, although she’s unlikely to provide too many victories having only taken two pro wins to date.

Léa Curinier headlines the departees as she makes the move to a French team, FDJ-SUEZ, but overall, dsm-firmenich’s squad remains largely intact from 2023.

Where dsm-firmenich’s wins will come in 2024

Hardly the million-dollar question, it’s clear that dsm-firmenich’s fortunes in 2024 will once again gravitate around Charlotte Kool. Lorena Wiebes is still the best sprinter in the world but Kool landed enough blows in 2023 to show that her former teammate is fallible. Kool has the potential to close the gap further in 2024 and should pocket a decent collection of victories along the way.

In the form of Juliette Labous, the team also has a dependable Grand Tour performer. The Frenchwoman has been one of the most consistent stage racers in recent seasons, although this consistency hasn’t yet converted to regular wins. Still only 25, it’s surely only a matter of time before Labous takes an overall win at a stage race. As a minimum, an improvement on 2023’s winless season should be achievable.

That still leaves a high dependency on Kool. Cycling can be a perilous sport and it only takes one crash to leave a rider sidelined for a month or more. It’s risky placing your hopes so singly around one rider, but that’s the situation dsm-firmenich have been in for the last two seasons. While it hasn’t let them down yet, there were shoots of potential in 2023 to suggest that more of their young riders could step up to shoulder some of the race-winning burden.

Pfeiffer Georgi became a source of one-day victories in 2023 and could improve on her three wins, while Megan Jastrab and Elise Uijen have both shown that they can win races.

dsm-firmenich’s next breakout rider

In a team whose oldest rider is only 26, it’s no surprise that dsm-firmenich is awash with potential. The team’s biggest stars, Charlotte Kool and Juliette Labous, are only 24 and 25 respectively. Even the great Classics hope, Pfeiffer Georgi, is 23.

To find the team’s next breakout rider, we have to plunge to the tender age of 21 and to someone who has the potential to be the next product of the team’s seemingly endless conveyor belt of sprint talent: Megan Jastrab.

The young American is a former junior world champion with plenty of potential and was a key part of Kool’s leadout train in 2023. A fourth place at the Classic Brugge-De Panne, second at Gent-Wevelgem and two top-10 finishes at the Giro Donne show that, when given the opportunity, the young star has the potential to challenge for wins.

What do you think about dsm-firmenich’s 2023 season? Did the team underperform after 2022’s highs or can it be considered a success? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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