It’s no secret that Dutch squad Boels-Dolmans has dominated women’s racing for two seasons.
While this control may be frustrating for the other women in the UCI Women’s WorldTour, team manager Danny Stam believes his squad has a positive impact on women’s cycling overall.
“I don’t think it’s negative in cycling overall because we win with a lot of girls,” Stam told VeloNews. “It’s not another moment where just Marianne Vos wins all the races or another good rider. In our team, almost all the girls win a race, so that is actually good.”
From 2016-2017 Boels-Dolmans won nearly half of the top-division events, 16 total races (not including stages) on the UCI Women’s WorldTour. Its win total on the series was more than that of Sunweb, Mitchelton-Scott, and Canyon-SRAM combined. Megan Guarnier claimed the overall title in 2016. Anna van der Breggen followed that up in 2017.
“In 2016 we were more dominant than last year,” Stam said. “You could see that it wakes everybody up, and I think the level increased last year and it was much more difficult to win races.”
When Stam organizes his team’s lineups throughout the season, he has the luxury of calling on many of the biggest names in the women’s peloton. For any given race on the calendar, he can tap the last three road world champions and the two most recent WorldTour winners to headline his squad.
With all that talent on his roster, it is up to Stam to juggle the aspirations of multiple superstars. Considering the team’s success these past few years, he seems to have the formula for success.
“I think the most important thing is that the communication is pretty open in the team,” Stam said. “The girls know from each other what the goals are and where they want to go.”
The process of planning the Boels-Dolmans season is complicated. It starts in December at training camp. From there, it’s all about staying open and balancing ambition with realism.
Stam says his riders have a great deal of respect for each other, which makes the planning process easier. That’s not to say there aren’t occasional moments of tension or frustration as teammates vie for the same goals. Not every rider always ends up happy with the way things work out at each event.
Whatever goes on behind the scenes, however, the squad has continually delivered the results come race time.
That makes setting goals for the coming season a challenge. Stam acknowledges that it’s not easy to continually improve on such success.
“Last year, 2017, we were pretty afraid that we could never do a season like 2016. That’s what’s happening again because 2017 was also an extremely good year,” he said.
Stam hopes for more of the same this year, although it would be quite ambitious to expect a higher win count. He pointed to the Ardennes trio of the Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège as major goals considering their proximity to the team’s sponsors. Anna van der Breggen swept all three last year, but Stam knows that defending those titles won’t be a walk in the park.
“Of course it’s not always possible to keep the same number of wins, but I think the most important races, we have to be there in the front,” he said. “I won’t say ‘win,’ but those are some of the races we have to show our strength.”
Still, if any team can handle the challenge, it’s Boels-Dolmans. It all comes back to the depth of talent. Even taking van der Breggen out of the equation, Stam could tab any number of other potential contenders to lead his team at any of the year’s biggest races.
Lizzie Deignan is certainly one of those options. She had a quieter 2017 than she might have hoped due to nagging health issues, but Stam sees the former world champion bouncing back in a big way now that she’s recovered.
“She’s going to be good this year. Really good,” Stam said. “She had a really stable winter so I expect much from her.”
He also expects reigning world champ Chantal Blaak to step up and find more consistency and confidence now that she’s claimed the sport’s biggest one-day prize. Stam knows he can really on several other stars behind that, as well.
What’s more, that should remain true for multiple seasons to come. The Boels-Dolmans roster counts quite a few young talents mixed in with the decorated veterans. That abundance of youth is no accident.
“The team continues another two years, till 2020,” Stam said. “Looking a little bit further than that, you also know that other top stars are probably going to quit or going to leave, and we want to keep acting on the same level of what we’re doing. So it makes sense to sign stars that can be ready in the future.”
Stam hopes his squad’s commitment to staying on top motivates other teams to keep raising their game. In Stam’s eyes, women’s cycling has made big strides in recent years but still has plenty of room for growth. He sees increased competition in races as a major objective for the sport.
He also backs a minimum wage for female riders, though only for those racing at a very high level. He praises efforts to unionize the women’s peloton as well, calling a well-organized rider’s association “the next step” for women’s cycling.
Stam sees increased television coverage as the key to many of the improvements that both fans and riders would like to see.
“Television broadcasts should be a big help I think. Not only the last two minutes,” he said. “If you see the women’s racing, I think 80 percent are really interesting races to watch on television. I think that should make it easier. It’s better for your sponsors, your sponsors should be happier, you can get bigger budgets, you can start with a minimum salary, and then the ball goes rolling.”
It’s almost a certainty that Stam’s outfit will be in the thick of those “really interesting” events in the season to come. Delivering an encore after two huge seasons won’t be easy, but with that star-studded roster and Stam’s track record, it’s hard to bet against them.