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Lotte Kopecky freed up by Lorena Wiebes move to SD Worx

Classics rider says that Belgian women's cycling is on a strong trajectory.

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Lotte Kopecky is adamant that Lorena Wiebes’ move to SD Worx for 2023 will be a help and not a hindrance for her.

The Belgian racer was the top dog for the team in the sprints last season, but that is set to change as Wiebes is a level above the whole peloton when it comes to fast finishes.

For Kopecky, that means more freedom to race how she wants to, and she will have to worry far less about bunch kicks.

“I will not be the rider anymore who will have to wait until the sprint when I’m together in the race with Lorena. I don’t mind, because this will just give me more of a free role and more chances to attack,” Kopecky said in a meeting with the press ahead of SD Worx’s team presentation Tuesday.

“Actually, that’s the style of racing I like the most, so I have no problem with that. I think it’s now more about creating my own chances instead of being the final rider for the team to finish it off in sprints.”

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With an almost guaranteed win when Wiebes lines up on a sprint-friendly course, Kopecky believes it will ease the pressure on the team and allow them to be more creative in the way that they race.

“What I liked last year about being in this team is that there are more riders who can win races and finish off races in every kind of way,” she said. “For me, being a more aggressive rider, if it doesn’t work out we still have Lorena to finish. As long as we win as a team, then then the team will be happy and that will give me less stress ahead of races, and I can be more relaxed.

“I am aware that Lorena is the fasted sprinter in the peloton at the moment, it would be not fair to say she’s not. But I also know that I can do very well in sprints. I think our programs will not clash too much. In the end, if it happens, then you have to be honest and know what your place is, and who is the fastest rider and just go for it.”

Kopecky and Wiebes won’t be butting up against each other at too many races next year with their different skill sets allowing them to focus on relatively different programs. While Wiebes has a superior sprint, Kopecky is better equipped to cope with hillier days and has a proven track record in the classics.

The place where they’re most likely to collide is the grand tours over the summer, the Giro d’Italia Donne, and the Tour de France Femmes. Kopecky is still working through her exact schedule for the summer with the new “super worlds” to factor into the schedule.

Kopecky has the track program, which comes just days after the end of the Tour de France Femmes, to factor into her calendar.

Belgian women’s cycling on the rise

For now, Kopecky’s focus is on having another top classics campaign in 2023. After several disappointing springs, she hit a rich vein of form last year to claim victory at Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders. Her De Ronde success was of particular note as she did it in front of packed-out crowds in Oudenaarde following a reworking of the day’s program.

During the coronavirus lockdowns, race organizer Flanders Classics had taken the opportunity to give the women a later start so that it would, for the first time, not have to compete with the men’s race. The 2022 race was the first time that crowds would be on the roadside since the change and Kopecky, who was wearing the Belgian national jersey at the time, got a huge ovation from the attending fans.

While she’s not completely comfortable with becoming more of a household name in her home country, she hopes that the performance will help to inspire more Belgian girls to pick up racing.

“I have the feeling that a lot of people know me. It was very big in Belgium and I feel that the fans have all seen it,” she said. “It’s really important because women’s cycling is really growing, and I think Belgium contributes a lot to this. If it was only the Netherlands, Italy and other countries winning big races, for sure it would not be so popular in Belgium. Winning those races as a Belgian has a very big impact on the popularity in Belgium.

“It’s a good thing that race was after the men’s race and it was so live on television and in primetime. It’s important for Belgian cycling, that we also have a very good Belgian rider and that girls can look up to you.”

Kopecky has long carried the burden of expectant Belgian women’s cycling fans and she remains, by far, the country’s top female rider. It’s a stark contrast to the men’s side of the sport, where three Belgians finished in the top 10 of the UCI’s world rankings at the end of 2022.

It will take some time for Belgian women’s cycling to build to a level where multiple riders are performing at the highest level, but Kopecky is confident that things are moving in the right direction.

“I think it’s growing. I think we can also see that they were younger riders coming. For example, Shari Bossuyt and Julie De Wilde had a very good season last year. I just hope for them that they can just keep progressing as they are doing now,” Kopecky said.

“It’s hard to say that next year that we will have a very strong national team, it’s a process of years. It’s not something that will be there next year, but I hope that in the coming five to 10 years we will also be able to grow. I think by riding good results, young athletes, or younger young girls, will also be motivated to try to get a good level but it will not be from today to next year, because the level is very high and you don’t just get there.”