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Life after Lorena Wiebes: Team DSM adopts aggressive racing style without sprinter

Charlotte Kool has already proved to be a formidable opponent to Lorena Wiebes, but DSM is not just focusing on sprint finishes in 2023.

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Nobody knew what life after Lorena Wiebes would be like for Team DSM, but the Dutch squad has shown this season it can still battle with the best without her.

Wiebes has been DSM’s star rider for two and a half seasons after she joined midway through 2020, and it came as something of a surprise when it was announced she was cutting short her contract with the squad to join SD Worx. With a clause in her deal that allowed her to leave for a bigger offer, DSM could do nothing to stop her.

At the same time, two of the team’s most experienced riders in Leah Kirchmann and Floortje Mackaij left the squad, while climber Liane Lippert also departed. In their place, the team signed up a raft of young talent and started this season.

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Many expected the team to take a step back from the front of the peloton as it bedded in some of its new, inexperienced talent, but the team was keen to buck those expectations. It’s proved to be one of the more aggressive squads in the pack and sits sixth in the victory rankings this year and seventh in the UCI’s team rankings.

“It is a transition year in terms of that if you give all these girls one more year that they will be even way stronger the next year. But it’s not a transition year if you compared to last year,” DSM sport director Kelvin Dekker told VeloNews. “If you look to the victories we’ve had, we’re at the same level at the moment. The comments we didn’t really talk about them. Everybody read them, of course, but we were like, we will show the world what we have.

“Maybe they are right, maybe there will be races that we are not as good as last year, but I also saw a lot of opportunities to do even better than last year, and I think we’re proving that at the moment.”

With the 24-year-old Becky Storrie the team’s oldest signing over the winter, the its average age dropped to a very young 21. Despite the age, there are some very experienced riders on the 16-rider roster.

Pfeiffer Georgi, 22, and Franzi Koch, 22, are riding their fifth seasons as professionals while Juliette Labous, 24, is now in her seventh year, so it is far from a green team. Dekker is also pretty bullish about what Wiebes’ former leadout woman Charlotte Kool can do.

“We said in the winter on first camp that this is a really talented group, maybe the most talented group we ever had, but talents have still to develop. We knew that with Lorena leaving that takes like 20-25 victories with her. But we have someone in Charlotte [Kool], who we think is faster than Lorena,” Dekker said.

“With Pfeiffer, we expected her to really lead in this classic season, and that happened. I wouldn’t say we outperformed ourselves, but we are on a really high level already. It could easily go the other way around, we read all those previews, that the team is young, and all the good riders left, basically. And we immediately said like, ‘no, we don’t believe in that, we will be there.’”

Flipping the script

Charlotte Kool beat Marianne Vos on stage 1 of the Vuelta Femenina
Charlotte Kool beat Marianne Vos on stage 1 of the Vuelta Femenina (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

With Wiebes in the team over the past three seasons, the team really developed around her and getting her to the line in the right place. You can’t blame them when you consider that 23 of the team’s 26 victories last season came at the hand of Wiebes.

It meant that the team rode more negatively most of the time, trying to keep a lid on the race rather than attempting to take it apart. Without the super sprinter — and Kool getting COVID in the spring — the team has flipped its racing approach on its head.

That was perhaps most evident at the Classic Brugge-De Panne in March and Georgi and Megan Jastrab took on some of the biggest names in the pack to grab the win. Dekker doesn’t want this new approach to stay in the spring.

“We want to be like this all year. Of course, there will be days that we will try to make it as boring as possible. If we sprint for Charlotte or if we have the yellow in the tour, we will try to make it an easy day and boring day,” he said. “We talked about our race principles in the beginning of the year, and we made a nice document about that.

“The first thing is we aim to win, and the second thing is that we want to attack, and we want to create opportunities for ourselves and then take them and not wait for opportunities to come along. I think it’s what we’ve been doing all year, and we will continue to do it all year.”

Kool has been the standout rider for the team so far this year and has already proven that she can take on her former leader Wiebes in a head-to-head contest. She’s notched up three wins so far this season, two at the UAE Tour and another at the Vuelta Femenina before she quit the race.

There are few true sprint opportunities for riders like Kool to flex their talents, but the RideLondon Classique will be a major chance at the end of the month. Wiebes dominated that race for DSM in 2022, but she will face some stiff competition from her former leadout woman.

“It’s something we expected but I think if you look at the range of what is possible, we’re on the we’re on the good side. She’s doing pretty well,” Dekker said. “I worked with her when she was at NXTG so I know her quite well and that was already the moment that we sat together and said you’re going to be the Lorena one day and we have to work towards that. It was quite a special moment.

“She really invested the year last year. She knew she would be the second fastest in the world but working for Lorena. She knew there was a purpose to that year to get better and learn from Lorena, and then just try to beat her this year. That’s working out pretty well, until now, of course. No one has been able to beat her last three years and it’s now 50/50 at the moment, so that’s, that’s really nice.”

U.S. talent Jastrab has also been one of the team’s rising stars in the first part of the season, even as she tries to balance her track and road ambitions. After helping Georgi to victory at De Panne, she took second at Gent-Wevelgem and she’s set to play an important role for Kool at the RideLondon Classique later this month.

“She’s still so young and she came in from juniors to the elite on such a high, after winning everything with the juniors already,” Dekker said. “Last year, she learned a lot of things, and she got a lot better. It was a bit of a transition year, traveling a lot back to the USA, because she was still studying, which is quite impressive on this level.

“This winter, we had to talk and say ‘OK, you can have a bit more ambition and you can really go for it.’ She’s born to race and I think she’s proving that at the moment. That’s, again, something we hoped for, but that’s also coming with the good atmosphere in the team and the attacking spirit we have. It allows a rider like Megan to grow, and then then you see her real talent in races Gent-Wevelgem and De Panne, where gets great results.”

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