Speaking at the SD Worx team launch earlier this year, Chantal van den Broek Blaak revealed she would be changing her plans to retire at the end of the 2022 Classics season and had signed an extension with the team until 2024.
Van den Broek Blaak cited a few reasons for her change of heart, but one important factor was the advent of maternity leave in the women’s WorldTour and the increased acceptability of women taking time out of their careers to start a family before returning to the peloton.
“We have a wish to have children one day,” van den Broek Blaak said at the time. “I have the full support from the team so if we are lucky that everything is falling in the right place I can get pregnant and we can start a family and then try to make a comeback and the team will support me 100%. And if not then not. I don’t want to plan my life like I did before.”
Given the changing attitudes to women returning to racing after giving birth – which nowadays stand in sharp contrast to the reception Lizzie Deignan received, who has just given birth to her second child, when she announced her first pregnancy in 2018 – there was no shock or raised eyebrows when Van den Broek Blaak announced on Wednesday that she was expecting her first child.
The question that Van den Broek Blaak’s pregnancy does raise, however, is whether SD Worx will implement the newly-instated maternity cover clause from the UCI’s regulations for the 2023 Women’s WorldTour.
Under current UCI regulations, WWT teams are only allowed to register riders between the 1st June and the 15th July for changes during a season whereas under the new maternity cover clause teams can bring on new riders at any point during the season to cover a pregnant rider’s contract while they are away.
However, teams can only bring on riders who are not already contracted with another Women’s WorldTeam or Continental team to cover a current rider’s maternity leave.
While SD Worx have not stated whether they will employ anyone to cover for Van den Broek Blaak in support of the likes of Demi Vollering and Lotte Kopecky for the 2023 season, there are plenty of riders who are eligible. Some big names within the women’s peloton are yet to announce a place for the 2023 season, including Audrey Cordon-Ragot. The Frenchwoman has been linked to the rumoured women’s B&B Hotels squad but both the men’s and women’s teams have been plagued with delays to the launch as well as reports that it may have faltered altogether.
Whoever it may be – if anyone – the opportunity is there for one of the biggest teams in women’s cycling to take up, and the policies for and attitudes towards women balancing motherhood and a cycling career are heading in the right direction.