Wow, what a race! Once the TV coverage kicked in, we were treated to seeing the last 3 gravel sectors of Strade Bianche. The spectacle of the final climb and descent into the Piazza del Campo provided its usual excitement as well. A war of attrition left the race with a super-elite group at the front of the race. Almost all the major teams were represented and most the major riders were able to call on the assistance of a teammate. A puncture took care of Lotte Kopecky and Mavi Garcia found her limit, taking them out of the group.
SD Worx had the most numbers in the front group and played a tactical blinder. They effectively baited Elisa Longo Borghini into attacking, only to then have Van den Broek-Blaak sit on her wheel until the final climb. Their superior numbers kept the bunch behind honest until the final. Van der Breggen faced off against Van Vleuten for the final podium spot and everyone else was left in their wake.
Annemiek Van Vleuten isn’t at her very best
You don’t have to go back far to expect every Van Vleuten attack to stick. Last year, she smashed it largely unseen between the groups and was untouchable. This year, she attacked on the last gravel section and got a gap on everyone except Marianne Vos. Ultimately Vos didn’t work with Van Vleuten and they were brought back. With a match burnt and no teammates in the front group, she was left at the mercy of SD Worx. Once Blaak and Longo Borghini attacked, Van Vleuten did the odd pull but had to wait for the final climb. Once there, the fresher legs of Anna van der Breggen were able to come round and take the final step on the podium.
SD Worx are gelling well as a team
Rouleur has already asked ‘who can beat SD Worx?’, apparently forgetting they got soundly beaten during Tuesday’s Le Samyn. But with Anna van der Breggen winning Omloop het Nieuwsblad and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak winning Strade Bianche, their season is off to a great start already. SD Worx had the most amount of riders to work with at the finale of this race. Van den Broek-Blaak joined the move of Longo Borghini and could sit on. Safely knowing that Demi Vollering, Ashleigh Moolman and Anna van der Breggen were in the group behind. There were a couple of attempts by Vollering and Moolman to close the gap or at least keep it as a reasonable distance. Presumably, because the team weren’t fully confident in Blaak’s uphill sprint. 1st and 3rd is a great result for the team.
Team DSM are struggling big time
Team Sunweb became Team DSM over the off-season but for all intents and purposes, it was still the same team. The opening weekend got off to a bad start with the best-placed rider being Juliette Labous in 29th place. That got worse at Le Samyn des Dames where Pfeiffer Georgi was first home in 36th place. Lorena Wiebes, who’d previously been in the top-10 in that race was down in 70th! So heading into Strade Bianche, the team were in need of a result. Floortje Mackaij and Franziska Koch fell early on and Kirchmann withdrew early. Labous was again the best finisher but in 25th spot. Liane Lippert apparently took part but was 61st, she gets no mention in the team’s own race recap. The men’s team is under a cloud at the moment and it looks like the women’s team is being affected too.
Lotte Kopecky showed her great form again
Lotte Kopecky has got off to a great start in 2021. 4th at Omloop and winner at Le Samyn, she’s been visible at the front of all the races so far. She initially went with Van Vleuten’s attack but was soon spotted at the back of the group with her arm in the air. A very untimely puncture took Kopecky out of contention at a key moment in the race. She finished in a group with a couple of teammates in Soraya Paladin and Sofia Bertizzolo, nearly 3 minutes behind Chantal van den Broek-Blaak. She’s a lock as a favourite for all of the remaining Spring Classics races, Gent Wevelgem and Paris Roubaix in particular.
The young guard isn’t quite ready to take over yet
Emma Norsgaard and Lotte Kopecky were both in the top-4 at Omloop het Nieuwsblad but there were 0 riders under 30 years old in the top-4 at Strade Bianche. In fact, 2 of the 3 podium finishers have retirement dates set. Behind them though is a gaggle of riders just waiting to take over. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig in 5th is a star rider but she’s still missing a WorldTour victory from her palmares. Demi Vollering in 6th is the heir apparent to Van der Breggen but also is still in need of a first WorldTour win. FDJ’s Marta Cavalli is in the same boat. Niewiadoma seems destined to never win Strade Bianche, one of her favourite races. The first Youth Jersey eligible rider home today was Evita Muzic in 20th.
We’re currently in a golden age of stars at the top of women’s cycling and the progressive changes have allowed them to have longer careers than in the past. The immediate next generation is struggling slightly to get their own opportunities for success.