Koppenberg costs SD Worx-Protime and Lotte Kopecky at Tour of Flanders

Favourite team out of position in the key moment as they miss out on podium in Oudenaarde

Clock22:38, Sunday 31st March 2024
The slick stones of the Koppenberg cost SD Worx their numerical advantage in Flanders

© Getty Images

The slick stones of the Koppenberg cost SD Worx their numerical advantage in Flanders

In the Spring Classics so far, SD Worx-Protime have been far from the dominating force they were in 2023, and Sunday’s Tour of Flanders typified the shift in the peloton, with the Dutch superteam getting it quite strikingly wrong in on the Belgian cobbles.

Despite going into the race with – ostensibly – no fewer than four leaders, and as defending champions, SD Worx failed to place a rider in the top four, missing the key move more than once in the 163km race.

In a race where positioning is key, and for a team who are rarely far from the front, it was surprising to see SD Worx out of position going onto the feared Koppenberg, leading to Lotte Kopecky and Demi Vollering being held up on the climb, and things fell apart from there.

Read more: Tour of Flanders – Elisa Longo Borghini triumphs in the rain

Lorena Wiebes, apparently one of the team’s leaders, was in the move that went over the climb, but was clearly not the correct leader, which meant Vollering and Kopecky worked to chase the move down behind.

“Because we needed also the numbers in the front,” Wiebes answered when asked by GCN why her team were chasing a group with her in. “You saw at the end I was dropped on the Kwaremont and I didn’t know if they’d come back but if I got dropped anyway then it’s not a good situation.”

It seems a lot to think that one climb had such a big effect on the race, but both Kopecky and Vollering identified the Koppenberg as the moment where the race changed, highlighting just how crucial and race-deciding that one climb can be.

“I was not far enough in front for the Koppenberg, that was partly due to circumstances because I was pushed a bit, but it was also partly my own fault,” Kopecky said. “I had to set a foot [down] because they went off the bike in front of me and on the Koppenberg there is no room to pass them. With that, a very strong leading group was gone and we were running behind. I then tried to ride as hard as I could to get Demi Vollering back in position.

“Eventually I tried to set the pace as high as possible in the chasing group so we could rejoin. That succeeded but cost a lot of strength. So it gives a double feeling. It's a shame we couldn't get more out of it, but I'm going to turn the knob around quickly and focus on the next goal: Paris-Roubaix."

Read more: Lotte Kopecky – I’d rather win Paris-Roubaix than a third Tour of Flanders

Too many cooks in the kitchen?

It was never particularly clear which of Vollering or Kopecky SD Worx were riding for, with each rider putting in turns on the front in the chase, but evidently either way it was too much, as they then couldn’t follow the move from Shirin van Anrooij, and later Elisa Longo Borghini and Kasia Niewiadoma.

"It's a huge shame,” Vollering said. “In the end, I wasted a lot of energy in the chase. We completely drained ourselves. When you're two or three in front, you can play the game. Now it was important not to give up and to keep believing in it. When you see how Lotte still came back and kept fighting and also went full in the last kilometre.

"There was more in it. I had hoped to just be there on the Paterberg, but this was a maximum effort for me. There was just nothing more in it because I had already used up so much energy. Too bad, I hope to win this one day."

Read more: No regrets for Kasia Niewiadoma after gutsy second at Tour of Flanders

The decision to not put faith in Wiebes was eventually vindicated with the Dutch sprint-specialist dropped on the Kwaremont, but it calls into question SD Worx’s multi-leader approach if only certain ‘leaders’ are useful to have in the front.

For Wiebes, the disappointment was mainly personal, though she was not completely dismayed.

“I think we were fighting all day for it and we kept on fighting, and that’s the most important,” she said. “I’m more disappointed in myself that I was not in the group over the Oude Kwaremont, and that’s just shit.”

Whilst credit must go to the likes of Lidl-Trek for how they played it, it is also true that SD Worx really misstepped in Flanders and it cost them a result. That will be a mistake they will be hoping not to make come Paris-Roubaix on Saturday.

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