Demi Vollering — remember that name, because you’re going to hear it a lot in the years to come.
After a spring of coming as close as you can get to winning without making it to the top step of the podium, Vollering sprinted to the biggest victory of her young career at Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
The 24-year-old couldn’t have seen better help. None other than Anna van der Breggen took huge turns at the front to ensure their five-rider move stuck. Van der Breggen’s effort was, in part, repayment for Vollering throwing away her own hopes for victory at Flèche Wallonne a few days earlier.
When someone of such caliber is prepared to go all-in for you then you know you must be a special rider.
Vollering is just that.
The budding Dutch star is in only her third professional season, and her first with SD Worx. Having impressed at the comparatively small Parkhotel Valkenburg squad in her opening seasons, Vollering really stepped things up a notch in 2021.
With her Liège-Bastogne-Liege victory, she cemented herself as one of the stars of the sport and the next big leader of the formidable SD Worx team. Van der Breggen and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak are both due to retire at the end of the season, and Vollering’s ride into Liège served as an almost physical handing over of the baton to the next generation.
As a Dutch rider, there are always going to be comparisons with her compatriots, especially her teammate van der Breggen. However, the world champion believes that Vollering will be able to carve her own path.
“Demi has real talent, but shouldn’t think: ‘I have to do the same as Anna.’ I used to have that with Marianne [Vos]. Then I was asked: ‘Are you the new Marianne’. Demi has very different qualities than I have,” van der Breggen told Dutch publication AD.
“She really is a different rider, you can see that today. She has a better sprint, that’s her big advantage. She can arrive in a group with climbers. She has a lot of self-confidence, sometimes a bit too much. It’s the opposite of me when I was that age. Sometimes I thought too much. She just does it.”
A headwind headache
In the last two editions of the women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Côte de La Redoute served up the race-winning move. Annemiek van Vleuten and Lizzie Deignan both used it expertly to solo to victory in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
Van Vleuten had intentions of trying something similar this year, but a brisk headwind along the 2.1-kilometer climb smothered any chance of marking a gap. A concerted effort from SD Worx rider Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio yielded little advantage over the thinning group behind.
Moolman-Pasio’s move was a continuation of an aggressive approach by the SD Worx team after Niamh Fisher-Black went on a solo attack with just under 50 kilometres to go.
Though there wasn’t a dramatic attack on La Redoute, the steep rise forced the first major selection of the race. Moolman-Pasio did eventually form a small breakaway group over the top of the climb, but it was ultimately doomed to fail.
With the headwind, the race dynamics were much more compact than in recent editions, and a large group arrived at the bottom of the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, the final climb of the day.
The numbers game
SD Worx made its intentions of riding for Vollering quite clear on the Roche-aux-Faucons when van den Broek-Blaak led the peloton into the climb before van der Breggen took over.
The power of the world champion destroyed what was left of the peloton by the top of the climb. Her pace made it nearly impossible for a breakaway to form and, most importantly, she got rid of the biggest threat to Vollering’s chance at victory, Marianne Vos.
With just over 13 kilometers to the finish, SD Worx had two tasks. Keep the leading group together and make sure that Vos was kept out of contention. Vos was able to briefly regain contact with the group after the top of the Roche-aux-Faucons, but she was quickly shelled again.
An attack by van Vleuten on a short, unclassified climb with just over 10 kilometers to go almost put paid to Vollering’s chances but she was able to grind her way back with the assistance of Kasia Niewiadoma.
This was a key moment in the race for Vollering as the riders would soon hit another headwind, making it difficult to chase. Van der Breggen made the initial cut, but by getting back, Vollering allowed SD Worx to play the numbers game.
Van der Breggen once again set a brutal pace while Vollering slipped towards the back of the group to keep an eye on any potential attackers. Not that there were any attempts to get clear as the pace of van der Breggen coupled with the headwind made any attack unlikely to succeed.
In the end, it would come down to the final 200 meters. A sprint at the end of a tough race such as Liège-Bastogne-Liège is often unpredictable, but there never seemed to be any doubt Vollering was going to come away with the big trophy.
“Anna did such a good job and so did the whole team today. That I could finish it, it’s awesome,” Vollering said in her post-race flash interview.
“Two years ago, I was third in my first year as a professional, so that I’m already the winner that’s a dream come true.”
Demi Vollering: A superstar in the making
Vollering’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège victory came off the back of a huge team effort from the SD Worx squad, but your teammates can only do so much for you, and you still have to back it up.
Vollering has been one of the stars of the spring with 13th at Omloop Het Niewsblad and 10th at Flèche Wallonne, which were both won by van der Breggen, her “worst” performances so far this year.
Sixth place at Strade Bianche, fifth at the Tour of Flanders, second at Amstel Gold and the win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège are proof enough that she is a classics rider for the future. Her punchy climb and fast finish make her a serious threat on a wide variety of terrains.
Not only has the Dutch rider shown her great talent throughout the spring classics but she has also demonstrated her maturity.
Perhaps one of the most impressive parts of the last two months was not in her results but her decision to go all in for van der Breggen at Flèche Wallonne last Wednesday. Van der Breggen had told her not to sacrifice herself, but the 24-year-old went against the orders of her more experienced teammate.
Given her chance, Vollering could have been in contention for the win herself and that she was able to put that aside shows a level of maturity that will serve her well during her career.
It would be unfair to pigeonhole Vollering as solely a classics rider and, looking back at her performances over the last two years, it is clear she has the capability to be hugely successful in stage racing also.
Demi Vollering is a real superstar in the making with the world of cycling at her feet.