Fenix-Deceuninck Team Talk: Few wins but promising signs for WorldTour debutants

The likes of Puck Pieterse, Julie De Wilde and Yara Kastelijn impress as Fenix-Deceuninck earn their spurs at WorldTour level

Clock17:45, Monday 20th November 2023
Fenix-Deceuninck raced their first season in the Women's WorldTour in 2023

© Sprint Cycling Agency

Fenix-Deceuninck raced their first season in the Women's WorldTour in 2023

Fenix-Deceuninck are part of the Roodhooft brothers’ stable, which includes the men’s Alpecin-Deceuninck team, and their trajectory bears striking similarity.

With roots in cyclo-cross, they’ve set about expanding on the road since the creation of the squad in 2020, stepping up to WorldTour level in 2023 and winning a stage of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift this summer.

The future looks equally bright, with parallels to be drawn between the team’s rising star, Puck Pieterse and the men’s team’s leading light, Mathieu van der Poel.

Read more: Alpecin-Deceuninck Team Talk: Best season yet for the team who just keep on improving

The women’s team’s rise hasn’t been pinned on the back of Pieterse in quite the same way as Van der Poel dragged the men’s team to the top, but they’re both multi-discipline Dutch talents who shine across mountain bike, cyclo-cross, and road. Combining raw talent, supreme bike handling, and the odd one-handed wheelie, Pieterse is one of the future superstars and, signed up through 2027, very much represents the future of Fenix-Deceuninck.

It may take them a little while to become one of the bigger women’s teams, but there’s every sense that this is a team on an upward trajectory.

GCN’s 2023 review

Fenix-Deceuninck won four road races in 2023, which, considering many of their riders rode limited race programmes in between the cyclo-cross season and alongside mountain biking, is pretty good going. What’s even more impressive is the team’s UCI ranking of ninth, which is evidence of a greater depth of results and proves how the team were already punching above their weight in their first season in the top flight.

The highlight of the year was, of course, the Tour de France Femmes, where Yara Kastelijn soloed to victory on the hilly stage into Rodez, becoming the first proper breakaway winner of a stage in the modern incarnation of the Tour. It was a huge moment, but arguably made more significant by the near miss 24 hours previously, when Julie Van De Velde had gone within a whisker of doing the same with an audacious solo move of her own.

Read more: Heartbreak for Julie Van De Velde at Tour de France Femmes

This was an outfit completely unfazed by the occasion and the competition, with audacity and team spirit combining to produce more than the sum of the parts. It’s how they took on the whole season.
20-year-old Julie De Wilde won the Flanders Diamond Tour, and Marthe Truyen won another Belgian one-dayer at the Antwerp Port Epic, while the team’s remaining win for the season came in the form of Carina Schrempf’s Austrian road race title.

However, it was a rider who was absent from the win sheet who was the leading light. Christina Schweinberger, the 27-year-old Austrian, rode a full road programme and rubbed shoulders with the world’s best from the start of the year to the end.

She was top-10 in Classics such as Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Classic Brugge-De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem, as well as stage races like the Lotto Thuringen Tour and Simac Ladies Tour. She was part of the fighting force at the Tour and in the latter part of the season she had a particularly strong World Championships, with bronze in the time trial and fifth in the road race, before rounding out her season with runner-up spots at Binche-Chimay-Binche and Chrono des Nations.

She may not have won any races, but she ended up 12th in the UCI rankings, which, looking at the calibre of names above and below, was a significant achievement. Her centrality to the road cause was further underlined by the fact that she racked up nearly triple the points of anyone else.

GCN’s rating: 8/10

For WorldTour newcomers, and a bunch of cyclo-crossers, this was impressive stuff, and suggests there’s more to come.

Ins & Outs

There isn’t too much turnover in the squad ahead of 2024. While a couple of lower-profile names are on their way out, the biggest signing is that of Pauliena Rooijakkers from Canyon-SRAM. The Dutchwoman, who has also ridden for Boels-Dolmans, Parkhotel-Valkenburg and Liv Racing, brings climbing performance and the sort of experience that should prove invaluable to a youthful roster. It’s also worth noting that Rooijakkers was one of the road pros to dabble in UCI gravel in 2023, winning two events, so could be a good fit for the Roodhooft project’s overarching multi-disciplinary ethos.

There are no other new faces at this moment in time but just as significant a piece of business could be getting Pieterse to sign a new contract extension that will tie her down through 2027.

Where Fenix-Deceuninck’s wins will come from in 2024

While Schweinberger didn’t manage to win a race in 2023, the consistency of her results was a major boon, and the team will hope for a repeat in 2024. However, expectations will naturally rise, and if the Austrian can add a win or two to her repertoire, that would be progress and cause for celebration.

Rooijakkers will bring a lot to the team, and should bring in consistent results herself, but likewise is not a big winner, with only two victories to her name so far in her career.

Elsewhere, there’ll be high hopes that De Wilde, Kastelijn, and Truyen can raise their arms again, and perhaps on multiple occasions. The team will have gained confidence from this year and those riders in particular still have room for improvement. Kastelijn, who has a strong background in cyclo-cross, looks to be going from strength to strength on the road, while De Wilde, at just 20 years of age, looks a really exciting prospect.

That group should, at the very least, be great to watch in the Classics next Spring.

There’s one name we’re yet to mention, but more on her in a second.

Fenix-Deceuninck’s next breakout rider

Puck Pieterse has already made her breakthrough in mountain bike and cyclo-cross, but the road remains the unexplored corner of her arsenal. It’s risky to suggest that 2024 will be that moment, given that her year will be geared around the MTB at the Olympic Games, but she’s that good that we could well see something spectacular.

You only have to think back to this spring, and her fifth place at Strade Bianche – one of only two UCI road race appearances of the whole year – to imagine what’s possible. Pieterse’s spring schedule has yet to be outlined but you can imagine her riding a greater smattering of Classics in the spring before getting stuck into the mountain bike calendar through the summer.

What do you think about Fenix-Deceuninck’s 2023 season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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