Anatomy of a sprinter: Nobody is doing it like Lorena Wiebes

She’s the women’s peloton’s winningest sprinter who cites Fabio Jakobsen as her inspiration.

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What makes a good sprinter? Is it purely about leg speed, or does a well-oiled lead-out give them the edge? It takes an instinct to follow the right wheels and dodge through gaps rubbing shoulders at high speed – all while maintaining the composure and lucidity to pick your moment to launch.

Lorena Wiebes is the only rider in the women’s peloton who has it all at the moment, and she is unbeatable. 

Stage 5 of the Tour de France Femmes had the Dutch rider’s name written all over it: A classic Tour de France transition stage destined to culminate in a sprint finish. Wearing the green jersey – which she is merely borrowing from current race leader Marianne Vos, 58 points ahead of her –  Wiebes easily mopped up the remaining intermediate sprint points that were left to the peloton after the break had been through.

Apart from yet another crash – which saw Wiebes’s erstwhile rival, Emma Norsgaard (Movistar), forced to abandon the race – the rest of the 175 km day was uneventful until the finish. Wiebes’s DSM team shepherded her all day, ensuring that the fast-finisher was positioned towards the front when it came to the crunch. 

In the closing kilometres her trusty pilot, Pffeifer Georgi, was on hand: “It was pretty chaotic, the final,” Wiebes explained in the post-stage press conference. “We aimed for the right U-turn with 1.7 km to go and Pfeiffer brought me safely to the good wheels.”

The U-turn in question almost saw Wiebes’s race over. Footage shows the 23-year-old going straight, having to bounce off her sprint rival, world champion Elisa Balsamo, to stay upright.  

“We came with a lot of speed into that corner and I also was a bit afraid there because I lost my back wheel,” she said. “But luckily I could hold my bike and I was still in a good position out of the corner.”

But that wouldn’t be the last of it. With 500 metres to go Trek-Segafredo’s Elisa Longo Borghini, working for Balsamo, took a wrong turn at the front of the bunch – almost taking Vos with her. 

Despite losing her last woman, Charlotte Kool, on stage 4, Wiebes expertly navigated the final few hundred metres on her own, getting physical with Silvia Persico (Valcar-Travel&Service) to position herself right on Vos’s wheel. Then, as Vos followed a misdirected Longo Borghini, Wiebes used her instinct and knowledge of the course to switch direction and avoid the mess. 

“You had to go right and luckily I knew it so the speed went out a bit with 400 m to go,” she said. “But I was able to react to the girls who were coming behind me and was able to ride the sprint as I wanted.”

Liv Racing Xstra’s Rachele Barbieri led the peloton around the final corner with Wiebes firmly on her wheel. With 300 m to go, Vos, Barbieri, Wiebes, and Balsamo slowed down to look at one another but it was Ceratizit-WNT’s Maria Giulia Confalonieri who came from behind to start the sprint. 

Wiebes, looking back, was alive to the danger and immediately pounced on Confalonieri’s wheel as the Italian came by before finding a gap and launching her sprint. The Dutch rider’s leg speed was visibly quicker than her rivals’ as she used her whole body to force as much power as possible through the bike. As a result, Wiebes put bike lengths into those behind her and had enough time to sit up and celebrate her second Tour de France victory (after Sunday’s win on the Champs-Élysées).

Nobody came close to beating her. 

It’s clear that Wiebes is the only so-called ‘pure sprinter’ in the women’s peloton at the moment. With that, she represents the new generation of female riders who, through the increasing professionalisation of the sport, can hone their talents and focus on the important details that translate that talent into victories. 

While the women’s peloton has seen some incredible sprinters both past and present, none have quite had the resources, races, or the physiology to focus solely on that element of racing. 

“I think in the women’s peloton it’s anyway different because we have less riders, we have almost no really flat stages or races,” Wiebes said. “And I think as a female rider it is really important that you can get over some hills and survive. And I think in the men’s peloton it’s a bit different. So yeah, maybe in the future, it will be different for us also, I hope.” 

When it comes to inspiration, Wiebes says she looks to the men’s peloton where substantially more years of professionalisation and financial investment have allowed sprinters to flourish and whole teams to be built around them. 

“For sprinters I’m looking more to the male peloton and that would be Fabio Jakobsen,” she said. “I think he’s a really strong sprinter and he’s a really fair sprinter. And I like his style of sprinting,” she said before adding: “In the past it was more Peter Sagan but he’s now less good at sprinting.”

At just 23-years-old Wiebes is beckoning a new era for sprinters on the women’s side of the sport. With 53 career wins and counting, Tour stages already in the bank, and rumours of a financially motivated move to a different team, she is a sprint legend in the making. 

Future generations of female sprinters won’t have to look to the men’s peloton for inspiration; they already have Lorena Wiebes. 

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