Cycling in the modern day is a team sport. It’s more of a Formula 1 operation with numerous people employed to make sure one person in the team wins, and others who are capable of winning employed not to win. It’s a different sport to when 10 Belgian men wanted to find out who could cycle the quickest from Liege to Bastogne and then back to Liege in 1892. Back then, it took the winner almost 11 hours to cycle 250km, compared to six hours nowadays.
In many (but not all) cases, certainly in the last couple of seasons in cycling when the racing has been more competitive, the winner has often won because their team has employed the most efficient strategy to support the key rider in the best way possible - whether that’s behind-the-scenes support from the team staff, a strong lead out, protection from team-mates out on the road from wind, crashes, fetching bottles, and so on.
SD Worx’s Demi Vollering won the fifth edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege Femmes because team tactics delivered. Earlier in the week, the 24-year-old Dutchwoman rode for Anna Van Der Breggen at La Fleche Wallonne where the world champion secured her seventh (yes, seventh) straight victory there. Vollering’s win on Sunday was the biggest of her career so far, however, with it being only her third time at the Ardennes classic and second podium, clearly talent has some input over the Belgian bergs.
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Van der Breggen was more than capable of challenging for the win – we saw flashes of dominance that we are so used to seeing with the world champion shining through, particularly in the final 10km in the descent to Liege as she controlled the pace of the breakaway group, but that’s not how cycling works anymore.
Instead, Van der Breggen played the ideal domestique role, delivering her team-mate Vollering to outsprint Annemiek Van Vleuten to win, thus returning the favour from Thursday.
There’s no doubt SD Worx (formerly Boels-Dolmans) have been the most dominant team in women’s cycling for most of their reign since 2012. Trek-Segafredo more recently have posed a challenge, but with Van der Breggen departing for retirement at the end of the season, the team have only until then to find the next natural leader, which doesn’t leave much time for Van der Breggen to pass on her experience. In the same way Edinson Cavani is so valuable to Manchester United at the moment - older more experienced players and riders bring some form of excellence and performance that can’t always be taught by coaches.
Van der Breggen’s shoes are large ones to fill, both within the team, and cycling as a whole. Her departure opens up a gap for young talent to flourish – for example, Vollering is the first rider under the age of 28 to win a race in the Women’s World Tour so far this season.
Superb teamwork such as that shown at Liege-Bastogne-Liege are what will make all the difference in SD Worx either continuing to dominate in the coming seasons, or flop once their star has retired. Their current roster of talent shows the latter is unlikely, but other teams should follow suit and focus more on strategy and team-work, because that’s what wins bike races now.

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Can ketone esters help fuel elite riders to victory? Is this new legal food supplement the next big advance in sports nutrition? This documentary delves deep into the theory and research surrounding the mystery of the newest super supplement, ketone esters, to find out if they do improve performance. You can stream this and more of the best cycling stories in the world
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