One victory after another… that’s been the theme of the season for Lotte Kopecky. When she hasn’t featured on top of the podium, it has often been her team-mate in 2023. At the world championships the 27-year-old maintained her momentum, winning the elimination and points race titles on the track before shifting focus to claim the rainbow jersey in the road race.
Photos: Stefano Sirotti
With her run of success in the Classics and the Tour de France it was clear that Lotte Kopecky was going to be the rider to watch in the final event of the road cycling program at the all-in-one world championships of 2023. Before she lined up as part of the 200+ peloton, however, the Belgian superstar was already a winner in Scotland.
For a while Kopecky found herself classified as a sprinter, but that broad description doesn’t do her justice. Okay, she’s fast when it matters and can muscle her way to the front of a rapid bunch and still have the kick required to reach the line ahead of formidable rivals. But there’s much more to the package than sprinting alone.
Second place overall in a Tour de France that featured major mountain passes and a time trial highlights the versatility of this Belgian rider. Yes, she can sprint but that’s not her only quality. There are few in the pro peloton – female or male – who have the all-round ability that Kopecky has shown in a season that is filled with highlights.
Attack, attack… and attack again
Even before the race arrived for the six city circuit laps the large peloton had been thinned out thanks to the pace, the slippery conditions and multiple crashes and/or mechanicals.
The defending champion, Annemiek van Vleuten – who scored a coup in the pentulimate race of the championships in Wollongong last September that surprised even herself – was frustrated by punctures. First a front wheel and a slow change, and later another issue that hindered her hopes… and because of this we’ll never know if her farewell to the worlds could have ended differently.
Perhaps the Dutch powerhouse who has won so often during a stunning career would have had the tactical nous and strength to match Kopecky. Still, if we consider the approach taken by the Belgian – who demonstrated that she was willing to share the workload with other title contenders, or attack them if they couldn’t maintain the pace she wanted – it was clear that few were in her league on an inspired day.
On the opening circuit, 75km from the finish Kopecky hit out hard on the climbs and showed her intent. While others struggled to hold her pace, the runner-up in the recent TDF only seemed to get stronger as the race progressed.
Her Dutch team-mate during the season Demi Vollering knows the form of Kopecky better than others and she knew that any advantage she could eke out was going to be on the climbs. Whenever there were surges at the front, the Dutch and Belgian teams were most attentive and by the closing lap it was apparent that the Tour de France champion was willing to challenge the Belgian who was clearly well suited to the conditions.
An attack by Vollering may have distanced everyone but Kopecky and yet the signs were obvious to all that the Dutch rider was in pain while the Belgian still had more to give.
A couple of touches of the left quadricep told much of the story: while good on the uphill, the effort was creating cramps that demanded an easing of effort and, ideally, a subtle massage to sooth the situation. Vollering, however, couldn’t mask the pain and this gave Kopecky the confidence to attack again.
With 5.5km to go, the title had been decided even if there was still work to be done to ensure the rainbow jersey was hers.
She can sprint. She can climb. She can manage the tag of favourite – and all the additional pressure that comes with it. Lotte Kopecky is a complete rider, a star who has shone brightly and inspired a generation of young racers.
The win would come but it has effectively been three years in the making. In 2021, when the worlds were in Flanders, Kopecky had already achieved enough to prompt a loud chorus of cheering around a circuit where hopes of a local winner were high. At 25, she was still maturing and building her reputation.
Belgian media and fans alike knew her pedigree. They have followed a career that has gone from good to better since her teenage years. National championships came with such regularity that Kopecky had already become synonymous with prize jerseys, long before she wore the maillot jaune of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift this July…
She has won races with such regularity that it was becoming difficult to pigeonhole her into one category or another.
During the Classics season, she’s a “one-day specialist”. In stage races, she’s a reliable sprinter and first-class team-mate for the strongest formation in women’s cycling. On the track, she is cunning, quick, capable and oozing with confidence. And in the road race for the world championship crown in 2023, the final event of her program for the worlds – one that has featured numerous conquests – she had no equal.
There was no way anyone could respond to the final emphatic attack and while the dominant Dutch would again earn podium time, this is the year when Lotte Kopecky was destined to win the world title.
Vollering recovered from the cramp. She was able to sprint for podium honours and, in the very last second of effort, muscle her way into the silver medal position. Bronze goes to the ever aggressive, always entertaining Cecilie Uttrup-Ludwig… and the events of Glasgow came to a close with a fitting finale. The champion can do it all. Kopecky is an all-rounder. And although she has done a lot already in 2023 you get the feeling that there’s still a lot more that she wants to achieve.
The rainbow jersey will again be prominent in the peloton. One champion is soon retiring but there are others who will continue shining a light on the beauty of cycling and Kopecky will be ready to showcase her abilities at every opportunity.
– By Rob Arnold