NAZARETH, Belgium (VN) — A quick glance at the 2019 UCI Women’s WorldTour results reveals a new storyline from the season’s first five races. German squad WNT-Rotor owns two victories, while CCC Team, Team Virtu Cycling, and Mitchelton-Scott have one win each.
Noticeably absent from the winners list is the most dominant women’s team in recent memory: Boels-Dolmans.
Last season, Boels won two of the first five Women’s WorldTour races. In 2016 Boels swept all five.
Team director Danny Stam told VeloNews that there is a simple explanation for the change. New teams have stepped up, and rival riders have improved. In fact, the entire women’s peloton is more competitive than ever, Stam said.
“There are more good riders and they are spread out, which makes the level higher,” Stam said. “It’s good that it’s not only Boels-Dolmans that is dominating. Cycling needs a platform that everyone finds interesting, and [in] the last five races we have had interesting racing.”
Indeed, all five Women’s WorldTour races have produced dramatic action and quite different results. Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) won Strade-Bianche by powering away from her foes on the final gravel section and then holding off a disorganized chase. Marta Bastianelli won a tactical Ronde van Drenthe — Bastianelli worked with Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) to reel in a surging Ellen Van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) in the closing kilometers, and then took the sprint.
At Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Marianne Vos (CCC Team) won a thrilling bunch sprint. Then, Dutch sprinter Kristin Wild won bunch sprints at Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem. At the latter race, the final kilometers saw multiple attacks into a headwind as the group sped to the finish line in Wevelgem.
At the finish line in Wevelgem, other pro riders commented on the new dynamic within the women’s peloton. Boels is not winning. In fact, the Dutch squad no longer controls the dynamics of the peloton.
“Two years ago you could say that Boels had complete control over the peloton,” said Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM). “There are so many strong teams now. I can think of five or eight teams that can win.”
In years past, Niewiadoma said, Boels often placed its riders on the front of the peloton, ramped up the pace, and split up the group at crucial moments in the race. This year, multiple teams are able to perform these racing tactics, including new women’s squad Trek-Segafredo.
“It feels like everyone is stronger so it’s much harder to drop them now,” Niewiadoma said.
Niewiadoma pointed to Boels-Dolmans’s own roster changes as a potential reason for the shift in the peloton. In 2018, the team’s British star Lizzie Deignan inked a deal with Trek-Segafredo during a maternity leave from the sport. Deignan claimed three of Boels’s five early-season victories in 2016.
Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen has also been absent from some of the early-season races. Van der Breggen skipped De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem to race South Africa’s Absa Cape Epic mountain bike race, which she won.
Van der Breggen will also skip Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, a race she won in 2018.
The team is not worried about its dearth of WorldTour wins, Stam said. He pointed to Boels’s victories at two lower-tier races in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (UCI 1.1) and Le Samyn des Dames (UCI 1.2) as a sign that the squad is just as talented as in years past. Plus, new rider Annika Langvad finished second at Strade Bianche and Chantal Blaak was second at the Ronde Van Drenthe. Sometimes the difference between victory and second place is simply luck.
“The people from outside make it more of an issue because, it’s like, you don’t win so much races,” Stam said. “But I’m pretty happy. And it’s a sign of developing women’s cycling”
Indeed, when VeloNews visited the team’s hotel in the days before the Tour of Flanders, riders seemed cheerful and laid-back. Sure, the team has not won a WorldTour race yet. But the cobblestone races have never been Boels-Dolmans’s forté. The team still expects to dominate at the upcoming Amstel Gold Race, La Fleché Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Boels swept the Ardennes races in 2017 and 2018.
“I think we are still very strong even if we don’t show it yet with the wins. I’m proud of how we have raced,” said Amy Pieters. “The season is so long, and I think it’s too soon to say it’s not good for us.”
Blaak, who will lead Boels at Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, echoed Pieters’s sentiments. Boels still has the firepower to steer the dynamics of races at crucial moments, she said. That fact alone should vault its riders into the winning moves.
And, the parity within the women’s bunch is a good thing, even if it has come at the expense of Boels-Dolmans.
“We are not so dominant in the moment but we still are super-strong and we still race in the same way,” Blaak said. “I think women’s cycling is developing and [is] becoming more professional. It’s no longer five riders you need to look for, it’s 20. It’s a good sign.”