Five conclusions from unscripted Gent-Wevelgem Women

 WEVELGEM BELGIUM  MARCH 26 LR Megan Jastrab of The United States and Team DSM on second place race winner Marlen Reusser of Switzerland and Team SD Worx and Maike Van Der Duin of The Netherlands and Team CanyonSRAM Racing on third place pose on the podium ceremony after the 12th GentWevelgem In Flanders Fields 2023 Womens Elite a 1625km one day race from Ypres to Wevelgem UCIWWT  on March 26 2023 in Wevelgem Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
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It was a Gent-Wevelgem Women that broke the mould, with a solo winner in 2023 for the first time since 2016. Back then it was Chantal van der Broek who spoiled the chances for the sprinters and this year it was again an SD Worx rider who went solo, with Marlen Reusser launching at 40 kilometres to go.

The wet weather, crashes and lack of impetus in the early chase gave Reusser an advantage that couldn’t be hauled back, even when the adept time trialist took a wrong turn on the run into the line.

The switch in the balance of the course when the steeper Ossuaire side of the Kemmelberg and the De Moeren sector, famous for its peloton-splitting high winds, were added to the race in 2022 may have taken a year to re-write the story in favour of the attackers but perhaps now the peloton will be a little more reluctant to let the break go next year.

It was a race that didn’t follow the script, with a solo winner, new generation continuing to make their presence felt on the podium, weather delivering havoc and sadly the crashes that came with it. It was a race that’s outcomes will reverberate through to all important spring events to come so we now takes a look at the conclusions from a paradigm shifting edition of Gent Wevelgem Women.

SD Work primed to defend Flanders title

WEVELGEM BELGIUM  MARCH 26 Race winner Marlen Reusser of Switzerland and Team SD Worx reacts after the 12th GentWevelgem In Flanders Fields 2023 Womens Elite a 1625km one day race from Ypres to Wevelgem UCIWWT  on March 26 2023 in Wevelgem Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
WEVELGEM BELGIUM MARCH 26 Race winner Marlen Reusser of Switzerland and Team SD Worx reacts after the 12th GentWevelgem In Flanders Fields 2023 Womens Elite a 1625km one day race from Ypres to Wevelgem UCIWWT on March 26 2023 in Wevelgem Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

The Spring Classics and one-day races are in full swing, with the two most iconic events still on tap at Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

SD Work has shown itself to be the team to beat this spring, winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Omloop van het Hageland, Strade Bianche, Ronde van Drenthe and Gent-Wevelgem, along with numerous other podium performances.

More impressively, they have won with a range of riders – Lotte Kopecky, Demi Vollering, Lorena Wiebes and Marlen Reusser – and in various race scenarios from bunch sprints to breakaways and with solo victories. This team has shown once again that they can do it all.

There have been a few upsets for SD Worx, with Shirin van Anrooij (Trek-Segafredo) winning Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Pfeiffer Georgi (Team DSM) winning Classic Brugge-De Panne, but on the whole, SD Work has a fleet of riders who can win on any given day and in nearly any race situation.

Reusseur's 45km solo performance to net the win at Gent-Wevelgem is the perfect example of how this team operates, using their numbers to outplay their rivals. The team still had a full complement of six riders when the peloton split because of multiple mass crashes mid-race, and even with 10km to go, they still had options for lower podium finishes behind Reusser.

A late-race crash did involve Wiebes, Kopecky and Elena Cecchini in the final toward Wevelgem, which could affect the team's line-up at the Tour of Flanders. However, with so much depth in their roster, they are bound to arrive at the Oudenaarde start line with ample strength and confidence in their bid to defend the title.

Riders brave the cold, wind and rain

A cold and wet Gent-Wevelgem
A cold and wet Gent-Wevelgem

Gent-Wevelgem was raced in true Classics weather. It was raining, windy and cold – the kind of weather that makes cycling fans appreciate they’re on the sofa at home with a blanket and a hot beverage and not out on the roads of West Flanders.

The conditions will have some riders question their career choices. Marlen Reusser said afterwards that “it was the coldest race of my life, at some point, I was thinking that we were going to die.”

Although there is some poetic licence in that statement, it is hard to overstate the impact of the weather on the race: The wet roads were the cause of several large crashes, and despite layering up, riders were eventually simply soaked.

Reusser’s winning move from 40km out was not even meant as an all-out attack, but the confusion after a mass crash and the general attrition after 120 kilometres of racing in deplorable weather combined to make everyone that little bit less eager to close her down. The rest, as they say, is history.

Team DSM rise to the occasion, again

Megan Jastrab (Team DSM) celebrates her third spot on the podium at Gent-Wevelgem 2023
Megan Jastrab (Team DSM) celebrates her third spot on the podium at Gent-Wevelgem 2023

Team DSM went into this season with all eyes on leading sprinter Charlotte Kool to dominate the bunch sprints, and Spring Classics campaign, especially as the team lost Lorena Wiebes to SD Work this year.

Kool certainly kicked off the season in top form, winning two stages at the UAE Tour, but Team DSM has shown its versatility outside of Kool, with Pfeiffer Georgi and Megan Jastrab rising to the occasion during the Spring Classics.

They seem to have dialled into their tactics, which were on full display at Classic Brugge-De Panne, where they were part of the front group that split off the field in the echelons. Working perfectly together, Jastrab attacked, and then Georgi countered in what was the winning solo breakaway to win in De Panne. Jastrab finished fourth.

At Gent-Wevelgem, Georgi was among the chase group in pursuit of solo breakaway rider Marlen Reusser (SD Worx), but when that move was pulled back by the field along the finishing straightaway, Jastrab was there to sprint for second place.

It will be interesting to watch this team at the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the Ardennes Classics as they compete for the top spots on the podium.

British riders make the chase

Elinor Barker, Anna Henderson, Pfeiffer Georgi in the chase group at Gent-Wevelgem
Elinor Barker, Anna Henderson, Pfeiffer Georgi in the chase group at Gent-Wevelgem

Something similar can be said for British women’s cycling. The local racing scene on both the men’s and women’s side may be in dire straits - teams folding and the Women’s Tour making a crowdfunding appeal to raise the money required to run their 2023 edition - but the Brits already on the Women’s WorldTour are becoming ever better.

Pfeiffer Georgi (Team DSM) won Brugge-De Panne on Thursday and was one of three British riders in the group of seven that raced for second place at Gent-Wevelgem, joined by Anna Henderson (Team Jumbo-Visma) and Elinor Barker (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team).

Henderson has been showing herself in race finals for two years already and finally turned her abilities into consistent top results. Barker returned from maternity leave in the second half of the 2022 season and is clearly back at her best now.

Claire Steels made the step up to the Women’s WorldTour with Israel-Premier Tech Roland for this year and performed with remarkable consistency in the first two months of the season, almost always finishing in the top 20. Josie Nelson (Team Coop-Hitec Products) and Anna Shackley (Team SD Worx) also achieved their career-best results in 2023 with fourth places in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and UAE Tour Women, respectively.

Shackley must be especially motivated to continue in the same vein as this year’s World Championships are held in her native Scotland. And the British national coach will have a hard time selecting the national team as Lizzie Holden (UAE Team ADQ), Alice Towers (Canyon-SRAM), Abi Smith (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) and the Bäckstedt sisters Elynor and Zoe also make their names heard.

Next generation on the podium

WEVELGEM BELGIUM  MARCH 26 LR The second classified Megan Jastrab of The United States and Team DSM and third classified Maike Van Der Duin of The Netherlands and Team CanyonSRAM Racing congratulate each other at podium during the 12th GentWevelgem In Flanders Fields 2023 Womens Elite a 1625km one day race from Ypres to Wevelgem UCIWWT  on March 26 2023 in Wevelgem Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

There is a trend being set at the moment: Young riders are breaking through on the biggest scene by putting their mark on races, even winning some of them. On the Gent-Wevelgem podium, 31-year-old Reusser was framed by Megan Jastrab (Team DSM) and Maike van der Duin (Canyon-SRAM), both 21 years old.

Jastrab’s teammate and Brugge-De Panne winner Pfeiffer Georgi, 22, was also part of the group that raced for second place, as was Shirin van Anrooij (Trek-Segafredo), 21, who had won the Trofeo Alfredo Binda. And the whole move had been initiated by Shari Bossuyt (Canyon-SRAM), 22.

Add the performances of several other riders and it is clear that a new and exciting crop of riders is on its way: Vittoria Guazzini, 22, beaten only by Elisa Balsamo in the sprint for second place at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda; 19-year-old Elise Uijen (Team DSM), seventh in the same race; Setmana Valenciana winner Justine Ghekiere, who is ‘already’ 26 years old but a relative newcomer to cycling; Julie De Wilde (Fenix-Deceuninck), who animated the Classics at age 20 until crashing out on the way to De Panne; or 21-year-old Gaia Realini (Trek-Segafredo), who pulled her leader Elisa Longo Borghini to victory at the UAE Tour Women and then won the Trofeo Oro in Euro herself.

And even established riders like Chiara Consonni, Lorena Wiebes, Juliette Labous, Marta Cavalli, Silvia Persico, or Elisa Balsamo are still in the 23-25 age bracket. The future for women’s cycling truly is bright.