Strade Bianche 2021 - Unpicking the SD Worx masterclass in the women's race that resulted in victory
First Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and now Strade Bianche, it has been an astonishing week or so for SD Worx. The Dutch superteam are more than living up to the billing and gave a masterclass on Saturday as they dominated the women's Strade Bianche. Kit Nicholson looks in detail at exactly how they managed to do it.
The first Women’s WorldTour event of the season, Strade Bianche, was won by Dutch superstar and former world champion Chantal van den Broek-Blaak after a masterclass display from her SD Worx team.
The Netherlands-registered superteam was unstoppable at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend, where Anna van der Breggen and Amy Pieters came first and third respectively. Van den Broek-Blaak and Demi Vollering also made the trip from Belgium to Italy for Strade Bianche, and were joined by Elena Cecchini, Ashley Moolman-Pasio and Niamh Fisher-Black, completing an all-star cast for one of the most beautiful races of the year.
In her post-race interview, Van den Broek-Blaak said it wasn’t really the plan for her to win, but with such a strong line-up, SD Worx could follow their plan and let the race situation decide who’d get to the finish first.
In the end, four out of their six starters made it into the 11-rider group that would contest the win, and two of them would make the trip to the podium. This is how they did it.
Fisher-Black goes for broke
SD Worx kicked things off with 20-year-old Niamh Fisher-Black getting her hands dirty early on in her debut appearance for her new team, breaking away with Le Samyn winner Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing).
'Absolute perfection' - Van den Broek-Blaak triumphs at Strade Bianche Donne
To have any chance of going all the way or even getting much of a gap, they’d have needed many more legs to share the workload, but their being at the pointy end took the heat off their teammates, not least Fisher-Black whose SD Worx superteam was lying in wait further down the road.
Strength in numbers
Once the two-rider breakaway was brought back, there was a flurry of attacks that was near impossible to keep track of. The first to stick was the dangerous pairing of European champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar Team) and Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), although the latter made her compatriot do the lion’s share.
'It wasn't the plan for me to win' - Van den Broek-Blaak on Strade Bianche Donne win
Never much more than ten seconds behind, SD Worx were instrumental in neutralising the dangerous Dutch duo, and as soon as they were brought back, Moolman-Pasio initiated a fresh volley of attacks. Another new signing, Moolman-Pasio was also making her first appearance for the team. Wearing the colours of South Africa, she already looks completely at home with SD Worx, not least because they’re a team with a history of having multiple national and world champions in their roster.
The decisive attack came at 6km to go. Van den Broek-Blaak accelerated away from the elite group and only Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) could stay with her. If this move hadn’t stuck, we can only assume that Vollering, Moolman-Pasio or Van der Breggen would have been next to try the same...
It was the perfect scenario for Van den Broek-Blaak and SD Worx. The Dutch rider could sit on the Italian champion’s wheel and let her do all the work with no less than three teammates managing things in the chase behind.
Defence in the chase
At this stage in the race ‘calm and collected’ comes to mind, at least where SD Worx is concerned. With Van den Broek-Blaak riding the coattails of a frustrated Longo Borghini up ahead, the chase group seemed to stall a little as it entered Siena, in no small part due to the dominance of the Dutch team. When 20-year-old Marta Cavalli (FDJ) tried to get away, she was brought back by none other than Van der Breggen, and from then on, SD Worx were so confident and in control that they even used attacking as a form of defence.
Highlights: 'Incredible' Van den Broek-Blaak wins Strade Bianche Donne
It was strange at first to see SD Worx riders accelerating into the gap with their teammate hitching a ride to the finish line, but it prevented anyone else from launching an attack. Not to mention bringing the pain to anyone who wasn’t already completely exhausted.
They successfully kept the group in check until the gap to the two leaders was all but unbridgeable. After driving the pace all the way into town, Longo Borghini finally broke on the infamous final climb leaving Van den Broek-Blaak to ride few hundred metres solo. Further down the slope, Van der Breggen and Van Vleuten climbed away from the disintegrating chase, and the world champion beat her nemesis to third place.
SD Worx, and all its previous incarnations, has had its ups and downs, but they’ve always been one of the very best in the business. The ups can be counted as history-making – just look at their roster – and their downs are only relative to their own past. That is, in 2019 they took 18 wins, compared to 26 in 2018, and 38 in 2016, etc… Their recruitment has got to be among the most smart and effective in the sport and, like men’s team Deceuninck-QuickStep, they’ve developed a culture of success where winning breeds winning.
The smart money is on 2021 being a very big year for SD Worx.