How SD-Worx’s aggression led a sprinter to victory at Strade Bianche

Teamwork prevails and numbers take the day at the first Women's WorldTour race of 2022.

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Once the peloton had cleared the final gravel sector of Strade Bianche, with Annemiek van Vleuten and Lotte Kopecky 11 seconds clear of the remaining race contenders, it looked like the first WorldTour race of 2022 would be a repeat of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad a week earlier. Unlike the finale of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the group behind wasn’t about to look at each other and let the former world champion ride away. The aggressive racing style from SD Worx and Canyon-SRAM led to the most exciting lead into the final uber steep city climb the race has ever seen.

Looking back at the previous seven editions of Strade Bianche, most have been won either solo or from a group of two to three. Megan Guarnier rode solo to take the inaugural edition in 2015, the following year it was a group of three who fought for victory with Lizzie Deignan just besting Kasia Niewiadoma and Emma Johansson to win. In 2017, a group of eight hit the bottom of the final climb with only Lucinda Brand out front. Elisa Longo Borghini, who took the victory that year, used the same final corner Kopecky took advantage of to edge out Kasia Niewiadoma before the line. After Van Vleuten took an impressive solo win in 2019 the next two editions were left to selections of two with Van Vleuten beating Mavi García to the line in 2020 and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak outsmarting Longo Borghini to win in 2021.

So when Van Vleuten made her signature stinging attack on the final gravel sector and was able to distance everyone except Kopecky it looked like the race was over. Just like with Vollering in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Van Vleuten signaled for a little help in the wind and Kopecky obliged. Behind, a group of six chasers motivated each other to chase down the two, even though SD Worx had the numbers with Vollering and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio waiting to jump. Niewiadoma and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig put the heads together to catch Van Vleuten and Kopecky with 7.8 km to go.

At this point, SD Worx took advantage of their numbers in the leading group by sending Moolman Pasio on the attack. Isolated, Van Vleuten had no option but to close down the move. Before the race had begun Val Vleuten already knew SD Worx would be her biggest competition. Vollering didn’t hesitate to make the next move and again Van Vleuten was the one to chase.

Eventually, in the final 5 km, the front group was caught by a chasing group containing Grace Brown and Elise Chabbey. Not only did SD Worx have three riders in the lead group, but FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope also had two with Uttrup Ludwig and Brown and Canyon-SRAM had two with Niewiadoma and Chabbey.

Moolman Pasio continued throwing attacks that were countered by Chabbey. Every single attack that went chipped away at Van Vleuten’s legs and her ability to ride away on the final climb. No one was about to give Van Vleuten any help in reeling back the moves that tried their luck.

By the final climb into Siena, Van Vleuten was still the one to make the move that decided the race, but after so many attacks from SD Worx and Canyon-SRAM, her matches were depleted. Kopecky and Moolman Pasio were both able to hold on to her wheel up at the base of the climb.

The ride of the day went to the race winner, who proved to be SD Worx’s game-changing addition in 2022. Once the steepest sections of the final climb were behind them, Kopecky just had to take the final corner into the Piazza del Campo first. Her quick turn of speed and bike handling skills gave her the edge and the Belgian national champion took the biggest win of her career.

Everyone woke up on Saturday wondering how Van Vleuten could possibly lose Strade Bianche. With two previous wins and a cracking start to the season, the race could have been over before the gun went off. But SD Worx, helped along by Canyon-SRAM, used aggression to take advantage of their sprinter’s versatility, reminding everyone that cycling is in fact a team sport and sometimes numbers make all the difference.

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