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Analysis: SD Worx is top-ranked team of 2022, but space at the top is tighter than ever

The 2022 season has been the most competitive since Women's WorldTeam licenses were introduced in 2020.

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As the dust settles on the 2022 season, there is time to sit back an reflect on what was another exciting year of racing in the Women’s WorldTour.

It was a season that saw more teams than ever fighting for big race, but it was a familiar name that topped the standings by the end of the year. However, it only tells one part of the story.

Since the team hit the number one ranking for the first time in 2016, SD Worx (or Boels-Dolmans as it was known then) has only been beaten once. That was in 2020 and when it was unable to secure WorldTeam license for the category’s inaugural year as it didn’t have the requisite sponsorship backing it needed.

SD Worx has long been the team to beat with its enviable roster of big-name riders giving it multiple options for victory at almost every race. However, other teams have quickly been closing the gap to the Dutch squad in recent years and this season saw it well matched.

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Trek-Segafredo, the team that topped the standings in 2020, finished the year within touching distance of SD Worx in 2022 at just over 300 points behind. Meanwhile, Team DSM was a touch under 1,000 points off the Dutch team with FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope and Movistar not far after.

In fact, this year saw the closest top five in the team rankings since the Women’s WorldTeam system was launched in 2020, which bodes well for next season.

More than ever, SD Worx’s strength is in its collective rather than any one major rider. While it continues to hold onto that top position in the UCI’s team standings, it fares less well when you look at the individual rankings and the overall team tally.

Lotte Kopecky and Demi Vollering were the team’s best performers, sitting fourth and fifth in the individual rankings with Annemiek van Vleuten, Lorena Wiebes, and Elisa Longo Borghini above them. Meanwhile, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Marlen Reusser were also hugely consistent performers for the team with Pasio closing out the season with her first-ever WorldTour win at the Tour de Romandie, where she also claimed the overall.

Kopecky had a brilliant opening half of the season with her superb victory at Strade Bianche and win at the Tour of Flanders, both ahead of Van Vleuten. Though she struggled to score a big win on the road in the second half of the season, Kopecky was almost always in the top 10 on the days that suited her.

Vollering had a frustrating early part of the spring but came good in May with some dominant performances in May. She couldn’t quite crack Van Vleuten at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift but was the only rider that could get anywhere near her at times. She looked set to have a good end to the year but a concussion and then a Covid-19 diagnosis derailed her slightly.

Though it was the most consistent team of the year, it didn’t deliver them to the top step as much as previous season. The team finished fourth in the victory standings in 2022, the lowest it has finished since 2014 when it was still a developing squad.

By this metric, Trek-Segafredo was far and away the strongest team with a whopping 34 victories, while Team DSM was just behind with 28 and Movistar rounded out the victory podium with 26. Of course, it’s not all about quantity and quality does matter, but each of those three teams amassed some pretty high-quality victories alongside the quantity.

SD Worx just didn’t have the same impact on the front of a race as it previously had. Some of that can be put down to the retirement of Anna van der Breggen, who notched up 10 wins for the team in 2021, but that’s not the entire reason.

More teams have the ability to play multiple strong cards and are willing to take the team on at its own game. With more money coming into the sport and an ever-expanding depth to the peloton, that’s something that is going to happen a lot more.

SD Worx is not resting on its laurels and the signing of Lorena Wiebes, who cut short her contract with Team DSM to join the squad, is one that should pay some serious dividends. The team has riders that can follow big breaks and win, and while Wiebes showed at the Simac Ladies Tour that she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and go on the attack, her almost bulletproof consistency in winning sprints will be valuable.

Though the team will miss Moolman-Pasio, who is switching teams over the winter, the progression of Niamh Fisher-Black should fill some of that gap.

Other teams have been busy in the transfer market this season strengthening up other aspects of their rosters and SD Worx will certainly not have it all their own way. They remain one of the strongest overall teams in women’s cycling, but it’s a title they no longer hold alone, and staying at the top is getting harder than ever.