For one of Belgium’s finest, the 2023 season has started with a bang. Lotte Kopecky successfully defended her title in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, giving the home crowd plenty to celebrate on a Sunday of SD Worx domination…
This is part two of a series about #RVV2023.
– By Rob Arnold (Photos by Stefano Sirotti)
By the time Lotte Kopecky was on the start line of the Ronde van Vlaanderen this year, she’d contested four road races with the SD Worx team in 2023. The 27-year-old had won two of those and finished second in another.
Then, when the rider from nearby Rumst crossed the finish line, she had won three of the five races she had done this year.
Kopecky successfully defended her title with a solo move that gained ground on the closing climbs and the celebrations would continue shortly after her arrival in Oudenaarde when team-mate Demi Vollering outsprinted five others to claim the runner-up spot.
The race had split before the challenge of the Oude Kwaremont, which the women’s climbed only once (around 28km from the finish) and by then Kopecky had shown she was on a good day. The Belgian began the ascent along with Italy’s Silvia Persico and knew it was time to add to her effort.
“With her you don’t want to go to the finish,” Kopecky said of the versatile 24-year-old now racing with UAE Team-ADQ. “I knew I had to release her uphill.”
The gradient and cobbles provided the catalyst that Kopecky needed and she would eventually ride the final 18km alone, with enough of an advantage to enjoy the moment, taking in the cheers of her home fans.
“Arriving solo afterwards is special. You can enjoy it longer. Especially with all that crowd.
“It was incredible how much encouragement I got. That definitely motivates you. The fact that we became one and two again with the team makes this edition even more special.”
Vollering beat the 2015 champion Elisa Longo-Borghini in the sprint for second place 36 seconds after Kopecky saluted her second successive victory in the Ronde.
For SD Worx, it’s a confirmation of the team’s status in the peloton. Even before the start of the season, the reputation of the Dutch-registered squad was formidable. In 2023, even more strength arrived with the likes of Dutchwoman Lorena Wiebes (from Team DSM) and the good team became better.
So far in 2023, Kopecky’s team has competed in nine races, six of them part of the WorldTour calendar, and four times SD Worx has claimed first and second places – Kopecky and Wiebes at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad at the start of the Classics season, Vollering and Kopecky at Strade Bianche two weeks later, Kopecky and Wiebes in Nokere Koerse, and now Kopecky and Vollering in #RVV2023!
Victory in ‘Vlaanderens Mooiste’
Kopecky, the silver medallist from the penultimate race of the world championships in Wollongong last year, is only the second woman to have won the Ronde van Vlaanderen two years in a row (matching the efforts of Dutchwoman Mirjam Melchers from 2005 and 2006). And she remains the only Belgian to have won the title of the race that first started (for women) in 2004.
The Flemish fans have become familiar with her attacking style, while also aware that she packs a strong sprint. Still, with the second group containing the likes of Persico and other stars of the sport such as Longo-Borghini, Katarzyna Niewiadoma, and Kopecky’s Swiss team-mate Marlen Reusser (herself a Classics winner only a few days earlier), there was a sense of urgency to maintain the advantage she had built on the Kwaremont.
The chant that reverberated around Flanders towards the end of the 2021 season when the world championships were contested nearby was significant. Two names were repeatedly called back then: Lotte and Wout on the Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Alas, for Kopecky and van Aert, the rainbow jersey(s) didn’t come back to Belgium that year; they finished 16th and 11th, respectively when the worlds were in Flanders.
In the Classics, however, Kopecky has established herself as the rider to beat in almost any situation. She can climb, she can sprint, she can cope with pressure, and she can manage her emotions at times of considerable strain.
The loss of her 29-year-old brother, Seppe, at the start of the year would have been enough for her to capitulate and forget about sport for a while. Instead, Lotte says she used cycling and her time on the bike to manage her emotions. “Sometimes,” she said, “[cycling] helps to get the frustrations out of my head.”
The title was successfully defended. The home crowd had reason to cheer. And Lotte Kopecky joined the other winner from yesterday, Tadej Pogacar, on the podium to celebrate another triumph – another showcase of cycling from the heart of Flanders.
– By Rob Arnold