Lidl-Trek Team Talk: The future is bright, but was 2023 disappointing?

GCN looks back at a season in which the American women's team gained important investment but fell short of a few targets for understandable reasons

Clock13:00, Saturday 11th November 2023
Trek-Segafredo became Lidl-Trek halfway through the season, as the German supermarket became the title sponsor

© Sprint Cycling Agency

Trek-Segafredo became Lidl-Trek halfway through the season, as the German supermarket became the title sponsor

Beginning the season as Trek-Segafredo, America's original Women's WorldTour team were already undisputedly the second-best side in the world, after SD Worx. Their ambitions for 2023, therefore, were to bridge the gap between themselves and the Dutch superteam, which stood at 351.36 UCI points at the end of the 2022 campaign.

However, twelve months on and the gap between the two sides is so vast that comparisons between them are barely worth making. Whereas SD Worx have stamped their authority on the Women's WorldTour at seemingly every opportunity in 2023, the Trek team have appeared hamstrung through much of the year, only taking the second spot in the Women's WorldTour rankings from Canyon-SRAM in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Such a short diagnosis, however, does not tell the full tale, and the team carries more promise into 2024 than it did into this season. Whilst results may not have been free-flowing this year, the team received the welcome addition of Lidl as a title sponsor ahead of the Giro d'Italia Donne, at which point they became Lidl-Trek for the foreseeable future.

As has been seen with the investments in both the men's and women's teams, Lidl's support is substantial and promises a brighter future for both sides. In the end, 2023 will be mostly remembered for Lidl-Trek as the year their long-term future was secured, but on the bike, there have certainly been highlights among the disappointments.

Elisa Longo Borghini enjoyed some fine form in the summer which delivered the team another Giro d'Italia Donne stage win, whilst the breakthrough of Gaia Realini at the very top level through La Vuelta Femenina will have the team full of hope for what she may achieve in the future.

It may not have been a season for the ages for Lidl-Trek, but there were certainly moments to look back on with fondness, and there are clear explanations for their missed opportunities.

GCN's 2023 Review

The season started well for Lidl-Trek, who, known as Trek-Segafredo until July, got off the mark in Australia with Brodie Chapman's victory in the National Championship road race. Just a month later, at the UAE Tour, they won their second Women's WorldTour stage race of the season.

Trek were in fine fettle as Longo Borghini and Realini lit up the first-ever women's stage race in the Emirati nation. The Italian duo painted a masterpiece on the roads of Jebel Hafeet on stage 3, going clear of their rivals halfway up the 11km climb and riding to the finish together to cross the line arm in arm.

At the time, Longo Borghini was the undisputed team leader and in turn, Realini produced a selfless ride to lead for much of the climb and drag her teammate over a minute clear of the rest of the pack. The stage win was Longo Borghini's and so too would be the overall victory, with Realini making the win all the sweeter by taking second place on GC.

Another Italian, Elisa Balsamo, joined in the early-season success at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana just four days later. The former world champion won the first two stages of the Spanish stage race, pipping Lotta Hentala (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step) in the sprint on both occasions.

The 25-year-old is one of the team's flagship riders, having joined as the reigning world champion in 2022 and picked up four Grand Tour stage wins in her first season. Her plight in 2023 goes to sum up much of the team's luck, with a consistent Spring campaign followed by a fractured jaw sustained during the RideLondon Classique.

This traumatic crash left Balsamo unable to eat properly for weeks on end and whilst she made her return at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in July, she had lost significant muscle mass and would have to slowly build her way back towards full fitness throughout the final months of the season. The hard work paid off with a stage victory at the Simac Ladies Tour in September, but 2023 will be a season that Balsamo will be happy to see the back of.

She was not alone in her misfortune, with Longo Borghini's season also interrupted and hampering Lidl-Trek's ambitions at the Tour de France Femmes.

The summer had started brightly for her and the team, with Longo Borghini doubling up at the Italian National Championships and despite illness on the eve of the Giro d'Italia Donne, the tricolore jersey showed off her newfound sprinting ability to triumph on stage 4. It was on the following stage, however, that things took a turn for the worse, with Longo Borghini suffering a spectacular crash and being forced out of the race as a result.

In her peak years at the age of 31, Longo Borghini has been the team's biggest asset for a number of years, but she departed the Tour de France Femmes early, suffering from a deep skin infection and only three more race days awaited before she would call time on an underwhelming season.

Read more: Elisa Longo Borghini calls time on ‘complicated’ 2023 season

Without Longo Borghini, Lidl-Trek struggled for victories in the second half of the campaign. Their multi-disciplinary Lucinda Brand won the Baloise Ladies Tour, along with a stage win and the points classification, prior to a dependable ride at the Tour de France Femmes - but only Balsamo's Simac Ladies Tour success awaited the team before the year was out.

With Balsamo and Longo Borghini plagued by misfortune, Lidl-Trek struggled to gain a foothold on the top steps of podiums, and at this point, we must acknowledge the absence of Ellen van Dijk on maternity leave. The Dutchwoman picked up ten wins in 2022 and will no doubt bolster the team's tally next season, but she did not pull on Lidl-Trek colours this year - bar a heartwarming photoshoot showing off her baby bump, that is.

Lizzie Deignan's maternity leave saw her take time off in 2022 and her return has been somewhat low-key so far, with her third place at the RideLondon Classique a highlight. Deignan and Van Dijk are both key riders for Lidl-Trek and without the pair notching up significant results, the team's performance was always going to suffer.

With the team's leaders not firing on all cylinders then, for one reason or another, 2023 has been a season in which Lidl-Trek have fallen from 34 to 14 victories. It is their least successful season since 2020, but for each disappointment there have been explanations, and this is not to say their young talent has not blossomed.

Shirin van Anrooij is a rider who has long been tipped for stardom and at times you must remind yourself that she is still only 21 years of age, such is her importance to the Lidl-Trek side as both a prospect and a dependable teammate.

To no great surprise, she won the inaugural Tour de l'Avenir Femmes this season, but she also picked up her first win in Trek colours at Trofeo Alfredo Binda on just her second race day of the season. This preceded a promising Spring campaign during which she took top-10 placings in a handful of top races.

Given her trajectory, 2024 may well be the season she begins winning consistently, and the same can be said for Lidl-Trek's most exciting prospect coming out of 2023, Realini. The slight Italian climber finished in the top 10 of all but one stage race she competed in during the season, with revelatory third-place finishes in both the Giro d'Italia Donne and La Vuelta Femenina.

Read more: Gaia Realini: From Giro d’Italia Donne breakout rider to podium finisher

It was in the latter where Realini announced herself as one of the world's best, playing a crafty hand to outwit the eventual race winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) on stage 6. In decimating the competition alongside teammate Amanda Spratt at Trofeo Oro in Euro, the 22-year-old also displayed her prowess in one-day races.

GCN's rating: 6.5/10

Perhaps somewhat harsh for the second team in the Women's WorldTour rankings, but Lidl-Trek's 2023 campaign has been one chequered by misfortune with fleeting moments of acclaim. Regular podium placings throughout the year have rescued their points tally, but they will hope for a smoother run in 2024 and with their leaders back to full fitness.

Ins & Outs

The women's Lidl-Trek team are almost going down a completely opposite path to the men's team, who have spent the summer investing their new title sponsorship money on proven assets that command sizeable pay packets. The likes of Carlos Verona, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Jonathan Milan will be pulling on the blue, red and yellow jersey next season, all having established themselves and more at WorldTour level.

But for Lidl-Trek's women's outfit, their squad is already laden with proven winners and all they will be hoping for in 2024 is to keep them all fit, healthy and available. With Van Dijk, Deignan, Longo Borghini, Balsamo, Van Anrooij and Realini all at full fitness, theirs is an intimidating squad indeed.

With this in mind, the spare pennies have been spent not on big names, but on young prospects who will hope to follow in the footsteps of Realini in hitting the ground running on their new team. Five of the side's six signings are aged 18, with only FDJ-SUEZ's Clara Copponi adding senior experience to the ranks.

The Frenchwoman is a handy sprinter in her own right but will certainly slot nicely into Balsamo's lead-out in 2024.

As for the five youngsters, the Holmgren twins - Ava and Isabella - will be joined by Fleur Moors, Felicity Wilson-Haffenden and Izzy Sharp. Both Wilson-Haffenden and Sharp are exceptional time trialists and will do well to learn from the tutelage of Van Dijk upon her return to action.

Read more: Lidl-Trek signs junior time trial world champion Felicity Wilson-Haffenden

The side's only outgoings are triathlete Taylor Knibb, who joined for a brief period this season, and the retiring Tayler Wiles, who struggled to find her best form in her final season on the road after suffering with iliac artery endofibrosis.

Where Lidl-Trek's wins will come in 2024

If you hadn't got the picture already, Lidl-Trek have a plethora of leaders, all of whom will be expected to chip into their win tally in 2024. Fourteen victories for a team of this calibre is not enough, and with a clean run at things next season, a lot more will be expected of this superstar squad.

Time will tell when Van Dijk makes her return following maternity leave, but Deignan will certainly be hoping to benefit from a true winter of training this time around. The British star has already set her sights on a stage win at the Tour de France Femmes next season and recently spoke to GCN of her desire to return to a leadership capacity in 2024.

Read more: 'I miss the pressure' - Lizzie Deignan targets Tour de France Femmes and Olympic Games

Elsewhere, big hopes will of course rest at the feet of Longo Borghini and Balsamo, both of whom are versatile enough to take regular wins throughout the season. Balsamo is a supreme sprinter who put the often indomitable Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx) to the sword at the Simac Ladies Tour, whilst Longo Borghini will surely target a big GC victory before her peak years are out.

As the understudy to Longo Borghini this season, Realini may well even jump ahead of her compatriot in the team's hierarchy should her rise continue at its current trajectory. Twice a podium finisher in the Grand Tours this season, a win would not be out of her sights should SD Worx send a weakened field to a race like La Vuelta Femenina.

To complement this array of talent, rouleurs such as Spratt, Brand and Chapman can prove themselves as invaluable members of the team with the occasional victory alongside their selfless devotion to the leaders.

Lidl-Trek's next breakout rider

It is for good reason that Lidl-Trek have invested in five young talents for 2024 and beyond. Only Elynor Bäckstedt, Van Anrooij and Realini in their current lineup are under the age of 25, with the latter two having already established themselves at the top level, and Bäckstedt proving a reliable teammate over the past few years.

Of the incoming riders, it is Australia's Wilson-Haffenden who appears the biggest talent on paper. Winner of the junior World Championships Time Trial in August, the 18-year-old also holds the Oceania time trial title, alongside that for her home nation.

Also the Australian junior national road race champion, the future looks bright for Wilson-Haffenden and the opportunities offered to Van Anrooij and Realini at their respective young ages will certainly fill her with enthusiasm ahead of her first season with Lidl-Trek.

Do you agree that 2023 was somewhat disappointing for Lidl-Trek? And how do you think their leaders will fare next season? Let us know in the comments below!

Related Content

Link to UAE Team ADQ Team Talk: Reaping the rewards of new development pathway
The inaugural UAE Tour Women saw the home team finish third on GC through Silvia Persico, and take the overall team classification

UAE Team ADQ Team Talk: Reaping the rewards of new development pathway

GCN reviews a dependable season for the Emirati squad, as Chiara Consonni and Silvia Persico continue to impress

Link to SD Worx Team Talk: How can the dominant force in women's cycling get any better?
SD Worx dominated the WorldTour calendar in 2023

SD Worx Team Talk: How can the dominant force in women's cycling get any better?

Looking back on an imperious 2023 season and predicting what's next for Demi Vollering and Lotte Kopecky

Link to Ineos Grenadiers Team Talk: High expectations, but do they meet them?
Ineos Grenadiers have had a middling season by their standards

Ineos Grenadiers Team Talk: High expectations, but do they meet them?

Analysing a year that saw the once-dominant Grenadiers almost win a Grand Tour again but ultimately fall short

Link to Jumbo-Visma Team Talk: What does life after Roglič look like?
Jumbo-Visma won all three Grand Tours in 2023

Jumbo-Visma Team Talk: What does life after Roglič look like?

GCN reviews the Dutch team's stunning 2023 campaign and looks ahead to 2024, with the spotlight firmly on Jonas Vingegaard, Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss following Primož Roglič's departure

Subscribe to the GCN Newsletter

Get the latest, most entertaining and best informed news, reviews, challenges, insights, analysis, competitions and offers - straight to your inbox