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Women’s cycling is gaining in popularity in Belgium with a growing number of people making visits just to see the women’s peloton go by. A large chunk of that rise can be put down to Belgian champion Kopecky, who is quickly becoming a household name in her home country.
“Kopecky fever” abounds, and the 26-year-old regularly hears her name chanted from the side of the road as she races. At first, it felt like a burden for her, but she has learned how to relish it and use it for good.
“In the beginning, I really also had to deal with it. Because every time I heard my name I was like, ‘I know so many fans on the side of the road and they are going to expect me to win this race’ and it gave me a bit of pressure,” Kopecky said this week following SD Worx’s recon of the Tour of Flanders route.
“At this moment, I really try and see it in another way. Also, my teammates said, like, yeah, ‘it gives me energy because I’m a teammate of Lotte.’ When they said it to me, I thought ‘okay, I have to do something about it, so it doesn’t give pressure anymore.’ I’m really trying it. And, at this moment, I tried to enjoy it.”
It’s hard not to notice the fan support for the Belgian champion, from adults to small children, her name can be heard everywhere. Many of those chanting “Lotte” are young girls, some of whom could yet be the future of the spot in Belgium.
“I saw it a few times on the side of the road, where there were schools, and the students were outside and also really little ones and they were chanting Lotte. So yeah, that was really funny,” she said.
“I hope they’re inspired for sure. Because in Belgium, we can really use some more women on the bike. It’s really nice to inspire them.”
Though Belgian fans will be keen to see Kopecky take top honors, it’s not all on her to come up with the victory — unlike previous seasons at other teams. SD Worx, as always, brings a strong roster that includes former winner Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, Demi Vollering, Marlen Reusser, Elena Cecchini, and Christine Majerus.
If for whatever reason Kopecky suffers an unfortunate off-day on the cobbles, the Dutch squad has plenty of other very viable options. Also easing the pressure on Kopecky is her victory at Strade Bianche ahead of Annemiek van Vleuten, who she will face again for the first time since.
“At the moment, it’s actually quite okay with the pressure. It’s something I really had to learn over the past years how to deal with it,” she said. “I feel really relaxed in a way because I won Strade. It’s a really big classic race. So yeah, gives me some rest, but also confidence that on a good day I’m able to win this race.
“There’s also a super-strong SD Worx next to me. If I have a shit day on Sunday, then I still have five teammates that can win the race. So that’s also really nice to know.”
Climbing the Koppenberg
Being from Flanders herself, Kopecky knows many of the climbs that make up the parcours. However, she’s rarely ridden the Koppenberg, which is being added to the women’s race for the first time, saying that she doesn’t “like it that much.”
At least it is only 600 meters, so it will be over pretty quickly, but its steep gradients of up to 22 percent make it possibly the hardest climb in the race. While she may not like it, Kopecky is happy to see the climb in the race rather than the visit to the Muur van Geraardsbergen, which was last seen in 2019.
“I don’t think everything needs to be the same, but I think the Koppenberg in this race is a really good thing,” Kopecky said. “Before we went to the Muur and then we had to come back in and it was just too long in between which meant the power was without the race because we went to the climb and then came back. It’s a really nice climb, but there was just too much time in between.
“We never did it before in the peloton in the race. That’s yeah, that’s a bit unsure. But yeah, I think positioning on there is really important. We’ll see what it is like to ride the Koppenberg in a race.”