Words by Jeremy Whittle | Photo by SWpix.com
As Tom Pidcock ruthlessly asserted himself in Strade Bianche, muted celebrations at Team SD Worx followed the women’s race
It was one of those finishes where such a complete team performance merited hand holding, arms aloft, pats on the back, punches in the air or even a game of rock, scissors paper (as practiced by Rafał Majka and Tadej Pogačar during the 2022 Tour of Slovenia).
Instead, SD Worx’s dominance in the 2023 women’s Strade Bianche ended with an awkward sprint between teammates Lotte Kopecky and Demi Vollering, decided by a bike throw, in favour of the latter.
In the end, wild horses — and there was one on the course hampering Vollering’s progress in the latter stages — couldn’t have prevented a victory for the most dominant team in the women’s calendar so far. But as Tiesj Benoot and Attila Valter found out later in the day in the men’s race, superiority in numbers is not always a guarantee of either success or of harmony.
After the finish in the Piazza del Campo, Vollering and Kopecky seemed confused. It turned out they hadn’t discussed how they would handle the inevitable two-rider finish that came about after the pair overhauled long-term breakaway rider Kristen Faulkner on the Via Santa Caterina. That sense of awkwardness lingered until the team moved to squash any hint of ‘beef’ between the pair, long after dusk had settled on the Tuscan hills.
“Beforehand, you don’t dare predict such a scenario,” the team’s sports manager Danny Stam said, in a press release that landed six hours after the finish. “That’s why there were no agreements. They sprinted for the win as mature riders.”
Immediately after the race, though, Vollering seemed surprised that Kopecky had sprinted against her and a little unsure what to say. “Lotte’s a killer but I was a bit surprised by her action,” Vollering said.
“My emotions were a bit confused at first because in the moment that I looked around to celebrate with her, she overtook me,” she said. “Then I was like, ‘is she just doing a lead-out for me?’ I felt like she was really going for it and I was like, ‘OK, we’re not teammates anymore.'”
“It was a bit awkward,” Kopecky said. “We didn’t know who had won. I had the feeling ‘Oops, should I have let Demi win now?’ But I don’t think we should exaggerate that. I didn’t hear that she was angry, those are first emotions after the finish. Perhaps it could have been the other way around. But that doesn’t matter, these are things you quickly forget.”
By the end of the afternoon, though, harmony reigned.
“We have the right to go for our own chances,” Kopecky said. “Of course it’s nice to win ourselves, but in the end the most important thing is that someone from Team SD Worx wins. I am very happy for Demi. This is the perfect season start for our team.”
Meanwhile, Tom Pidcock (pictured) cemented his status as one of the most daring and resilient riders in the men’s peloton with a solo win in Siena that, although less emphatic, had echoes of Tadej Pogačar’s lone success in 2022. The Leeds rider is never dull and, touted before the race as the rider to watch, he didn’t disappoint.
Behind him though, there was confusion among the chasers. Jumbo-Visma’s strategy, usually so clear and decisive, lapsed into confusion and hesitancy with Tiesj Benoot and Attila Valter unable to decide on the best tactic and occasionally even negating each others efforts.
“I think I had the legs to win today,” Benoot, who finished third, said after the race. “It’s a double feeling. Now there is still some disappointment, (but) tomorrow that disappointment may give way to pride.”
“We could have done better, ” he admitted, but denied laying any blame on Valter. “I made mistakes myself. We have to look at the race again together. It was just a mistake on both of our part that no one was with Pidcock.”
At least nobody blamed their radios…