Faces of the Future: Lotte Kopecky, the youngest rider in the women’s Olympic road race
As part of a series entitled ‘Faces of the Future’, we’re taking a look at the personalities, ambitions, and palmares of some of the young and talented cyclists you might not know much about, but you’ll be hearing lots about.
In this edition of our Faces of the Future series, we’d like to introduce you to 20-year-old Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal Ladies). Kopecky earned herself a lot of TV time during the women’s Olympic road race last month when she spend an impressive 65 lonesome kilometres with her head in the wind in the first and longest breakaway of the race.
The Belgian U23 champion eventually got reeled in but she was still able to finish the race, crossing the line in 45th place. Two days later, her legs, still heavy from the effort, propelled her to a 21st place finish in the Olympic time trial.
And as we type this, she’s leading the young rider classification at the Lotto Belgium Tour. The 2016 season will go down as a breakout year for the young Belgian, so it’s about time we introduce her to you all.
Kopecky was the youngest rider in the Rio Olympic Road Race, and arguably the gutsiest as well.
At 20 years old, Kopecky was the youngest participant in the women’s field for both the road race and the time trial. A track racer who can put down a good time trial and sprint on the road as well, Kopecky knew the hilly Rio course would be a tough one for her. And while no one would have faulted the youngster for staying safely tucked in and riding merely for the experience, Kopecky had better plans.
“I couldn’t go home with the feeling that I had been at the Games but hadn’t done anything,” said Kopecky explained. “Along the coast there was a lot of headwind and the peloton was all together so I thought I would just try something. I thought I would maybe take a rider or two with me and we’d ride off the front for a while, but suddenly I found myself off the front alone.”
Kopecky’s attack was a good one and she quickly increased her gap to four minutes. She’d be out there for 65 lonesome kilometres before the peloton reeled her back in, at which point the lead groups got away but Kopecky still finished, rolling across the finish line in 45th place.
“For a minute, I did think ‘oh, what have I done?’ but in retrospect I am very happy that I made that move. I was on TV for an hour and a half. That kind of publicity would not have been possible otherwise,” she said. “Everyone talked about [my breakaway], everyone now knows who I am and I can look back on these Games with satisfaction.”
More importantly, the publicity also silenced critics.
“Everyone was pleased with the performance, especially because the day before the race on Belgian television, reporters had said that us women were nothing but a waste of money,” Kopecky said. “It was rewarding to prove them wrong, to show them that we can contribute to the race.”
The Olympics was a dream come true…kinda.
“I had two dreams: to go to the Olympics and to become world champion. One of which I have now realised,” said Kopecky, shyly admitting that she would have preferred to compete on the track however.
“I really enjoy racing both –on the road and on the track –and I am lucky that I can combine the two. But if I have to choose, I would choose the track. And for Tokyo, that’s where my focus is,” she said.
The track is also where she foresees realising her rainbow dreams, stating “in the coming years I hope to become world champion in the points race or the scratch on the track, and then I’ll look for new dreams.”
2016 is going in the books as a breakout year for the young Belgian.
With an eye on Rio, Kopecky had a strong spring on the road, earning seven top 10 finishes including the win at Trofee Maarten Wynants, a second place finish at Gooik-Geraardsbergen-Gooik behind Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS), the women’s U23 Belgian national time trial title and two silver medals at the elite national road and time trial championships.
On the track, the multi-discipline rider set a series of personal bests, various Belgian records and two European U23 titles in the points race and the omnium. She also took home the national title in the pursuit.
“A year older, a year stronger,” Kopecky said, crediting experience as well as her switch to the Lotto Soudal team for her best season yet. Previously, Kopecky had been part of the Topsport Vlaanderen team since 2012.
“I had a very good winter this year and I felt super strong. I rode the Tour of Flanders for the first time and while finishing 33rd wasn’t a great result, I did realise that those are good courses for me and if continue to progress, I can do something there,” she said. “And then yeah two times European gold on the track…that was super.”
“The most important thing is enjoyment.”
Kopecky started cycling at the age of nine when her brother entered a cyclo-cross race and she wanted to partake as well. Cyclo-cross led to other disciplines and enrollment in a TopSport School, a school where students can combine their secondary education with intensive education and training in a specific sport.
These sports are limited to Olympic sports only, however, and thus Kopecky dropped cyclo-cross and focused on track and road racing.
Eleven years on, Kopecky says the most important motivator is enjoyment and satisfaction.
“The most important thing is that it brings you joy. Otherwise you won’t last,” she said. “It still brings me joy especially because I get a lot in return in terms of results and satisfaction, especially now that I can see my own upward trajectory.”
The season is far from over
After the Rio Olympics, Kopecky enjoyed a short vacation in Croatia before returning to the lowlands for the Boels Holland Ladies Tour and the Lotto Belgium Tour, where with two top 10 finishes in the first two stages, she is currently leading the young rider classification ahead of Elisa Longo Borghini (WiggleHigh5) and Thalita de Jong (Rabo-Liv).
She hopes to qualify for the UCI world road championships in Qatar this October to ride in support of Jolien d’Hoore before returning her focus to the track. After two U23 medals, she hopes for more personal bests and perhaps a podium or two at the Elite European Track Championships in Paris late October.
Who would you like to meet next?