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Lorena Wiebes hopes to be even faster next year

Lorena Wiebes won almost half of her races this year but feels she can be even better with SD Worx in 2023.

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Lorena Wiebes was the most successful rider of the season with 23 wins in 50 race days. She has signed a new three-year contract with SD Worx with a few clear goals in mind for next year. This Friday though she rides a cyclocross race in Niel, Belgium before meeting her new team for a bikepacking trip in the USA. 

Wiebes is just 23 years young but has ticked off many goals in her career already. That career started in cyclocross when she was in her early teens. She didn’t even like road cycling, instead preferring the social nature of cross. Wiebes is a family person and rates social interaction on and off the bike highly.

“I liked doing cross races with the boys at the club in Uithoorn,” she tells me. “I liked the racing and then drinking chocolate milk or soup afterwards together. I didn’t even train for these because I also had other sports like acrobatic gymnastics to do.

“I did try some club races on the road but I crashed and didn’t like them. When I tried again when I was 14, I did like the road more and that’s how it all started.” 

After many race wins in the junior category, including a European and national title, Wiebes signed with Parkhotel Valkenburg. That too was a team with a lot of social interaction, best described by the untranslatable Dutch word ‘gezelligheid’ (a sort of cosiness or sociability).

“My time at Parkhotel Valkenburg was great with that family atmosphere,” she explains. “Team Sunweb and later DSM was a lot more serious and professional. I learned a lot in both teams. At SD Worx I hope to find the best of both.

“I had already mentioned a couple of years ago that joining Boels-Dolmans [as the team was then known] was a goal but they had Jolien D’hoore and didn’t want two pure sprinters so I joined DSM. Now the opportunity came because we had this clause in my contract to develop somewhere else if needed and it feels good straight away.

“There are not as many staff members as we had at DSM and everyone feels very close. I already rode with [sports directors] Danny [Stam] and Anna [van der Breggen] and it feels like a family team. They always rent a team house in Spain and next week we go to the USA to visit Specialized and SRAM but also go on a bikepacking trip together. It’s very ‘gezellig,’” she adds with a laugh.

It’s clear that having that close-knit atmosphere is important for Wiebes. She found that in the almost-unbeatable DSM sprint train as well with Charlotte Kool as last lead-out and Pfeiffer Georgi in the spot before that. 

“We need to build that up again next year,” she says. “But that is what Charlotte and I did this year as well. It was good Pfeiffer was already there and I would have loved to bring her to SD Worx. It’s important you can trust your lead-out blindly and that is what I had with Pfeiffer and Charlotte.

“At SD Worx I will work with Barbara Guarischi who has so much experience. I think we will find out next week [in the USA] already if we have that connection too.” 

Wiebes (far left) with her teammates during the 2022 Simac Ladies Tour.

Wiebes regards herself as a pure sprinter and therefore sees no problems being on the same team as Lotte Kopecky. That was a topic that came up in many discussions after her transfer to SD Worx was announced at the Tour de France Femmes.

“There are more races every year and more different races as well,” Wiebes says. “Lotte is much stronger uphill than I am right now so I don’t think we will be in each other’s way. I also feel SD Worx is a team where everyone gets a chance. Lotte is clearly a different rider than I am right now.” 

Despite winning most of her races in sprints, Wiebes did develop more towards a Classics-style rider in the past season. Her win in stage 5 of the Tour de France Femmes already showed her improved endurance but it was in the Simac Ladies Tour that she showed she’s really made a step up in the more challenging, hillier races. She won the overall after an exciting battle in the hills in the south of the Netherlands.

“I must say that we really peaked towards the Simac Ladies Tour,” Wiebes says. “I live in Sittard at the DSM campus now so I can train in the hills here in Limburg. After Simac I had COVID and couldn’t train for a week so doing so well in Wallonia [in Vresse sur Semois and Binche-Chimay-Binche] was a surprise. Semois [which she won] was one of my best races of the year, also because I didn’t expect to still be that good.”

Wiebes’s absolute race highlight of the year, however, was the first stage of the Tour de France Femmes. Coming off the back of four stage wins in the Baloise Ladies Tour the expectations were high for that stage on the Champs-Elysées. 

“I had worked long towards the Tour de France Femmes and also expressed my ambitions for that yellow jersey quite early,” she recalls. “There was pressure but mostly from myself. As a team we tried to approach it as any other race day and not do anything different but it was different of course. It was wonderful to have my family there with me.

“That fifth stage in the Tour was also a highlight because I felt so fresh after that stage and rode some of my best watts. I think my peak was just above the 1,300 [watts] mark but also the 10-second value was great. And finally, the European Championships were great.” 

It’s important for Wiebes to have her family nearby. Although she lives on her own now, she didn’t move to Girona like many pro riders. Instead she headed to the south of the Netherlands, a two-hour drive from her parents’ house in Mijdrecht, close to Amsterdam. 

“My brother Enrico has a history with addiction and has struggled with cocaine for many years, even when I was still a junior,” she says. “Having him there in Paris now that he is doing so well was important. He is clean and has a job now. I think that our home situation changed me as a rider. It gave me extra motivation to do well but cycling also served as a distraction from home.”

While she was on her way to the top, her brother was going the opposite direction but that is now all behind her. In the cyclocross race at Niel this Friday he will be in the pits for her.

Cyclocross is where it all started for Wiebes but road cycling is her main focus now, although she doesn’t say that that is forever.

“I never thought my development on the road would be so fast,” she reflects. “You hope to do better every year and I noticed this winter I had made that step up but it always remains to be seen what the competition does. I didn’t expect this development but we did take it into account with my contract. We had a clause that I could go somewhere else to develop further.”

Wiebes’s main goal for 2023 is the Road World Championships in Glasgow. At the Olympic Games in Paris a year later, she will also find a course tailor-made for the fast riders.

“There are many goals on the road in the years to come next to Worlds and the Olympics,” she says. “Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are long-term goals. Next year I want to ride Flanders and learn from my teammates. I would love to ride a final in Roubaix too but that is also down to luck.”

After that the future is open. It might involve more track cycling and cyclocross. She also won a bronze at the gravel Nationals a month ago.

“I like doing these disciplines in the winter time,” she explains. “For now, it’s just to keep fit. I am just not a running person,” she laughs. “Niel is a runner’s course so that could be fun. No, I really like racing my bike through the woods. It’s just fun and the atmosphere around the cross is lovely too.” Yep, cross is “gezellig”.

Wiebes at the Kiremko Nacht van Woerden CX race.

Wiebes has really developed fast, both on and off the bike. The latter she attributes to the independence she learned at DSM. Her demeanour is relaxed and open despite the pressure she must always feel. I also wonder what it must feel like to win so easily. I ask her and she smiles.

“I started winning as a junior but it doesn’t feel like I win so much to be honest,” she says. “There is always a moment you will lose again although I don’t want that. Next season that moment will inevitably come even though I work hard to climb easier. I also hope to at least consolidate my sprint power but would like to improve even more.” 

Even more than the dominant sprint power she displayed this year. Her competitors have been warned. Lorena Wiebes most definitely won’t stop winning. The question is where her boundaries lie and how long winning so much stays a challenge.

“I have some races on my wishlist like Gent-Wevelgem although we must of course determine the tactic on that day,” she says. “After Paris there is more room for something else. What Lucinda Brand shows in cyclocross inspires me.

“I also like exploring scratch races or a team pursuit on the track but 2024 is still too soon. We will see what happens after that. Nothing is set in stone.”

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