Stage race season belongs to SD Worx
Demi Vollering has stamped her authority on stage race season.
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The classics were undoubtedly less of a success than she would have been seeking and the Dutch rider came into the Spanish block of races looking for her first Women’s WorldTour win of the season. Not only did she find the first, she came away with four stages and an overall GC prize.
Vollering’s commanding ride at Itzulia Women was executed with trademark SD Worx teamwork. Despite going into the race with just four riders the team came away with all three stages, the general classification, the points jersey, and, with Niamh Fisher Black, the young rider classification.
Fisher Black, who is still only 21 years old, set up Vollering perfectly for attacks on the climbs and patrolled the front of the bunch when the leader was ahead. Despite the full collective strength of the rest of the peloton, all they could do was watch as Vollering swept the race clean, looking formidable and untouchable off the back of a post-classics training block.
Just a few days later, however, and Vollering’s streak of form already looked to be in jeopardy. She crashed during the 1.1 Durango – Durango Emakumeen Saria that took place between Itzulia Women and Vuelta a Burgos Feminas, pulling out of the race and later describing on Instagram how she had experienced dizziness and was hospitalised for a night.
But it was her teammate, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio who came off worst on the same day, eventually making the decision not to race Burgos. Vollering remained as impervious to the effects of her fall as she was to the attempts of her rivals to thwart her at Itzulia — not only lining up on Thursday but finishing with the front group while her teammate, Lotte Kopecky, took up the winning mantle for SD Worx.
Another day working for her teammates on the second stage saw Vollering joining the chase of the early breakaway who eventually managed to stay the course. Kopecky eventually won the bunch sprint for eight while Vollering rolled in with the rest of the bunch.
Having started her career seeming to lean more towards sprinting than climbing, Vollering has now shaped herself into an all-rounder who can hold her own when the road heads upwards as much as anyone. But what is impressive about her win on the climb to Lagos de Neila was that Vollering did not appear to be conserving herself for a final showdown.
On the penultimate stage, with Kopecky just six seconds away from the leader’s jersey, we saw her putting in a huge effort to reel in the duo of Mavi Garcia and Evita Muzic to the extent that she briefly lost contact with the bunch — but not for long. This is Vollering, after all. Kopceky struggled on the final climb and eventually slipped into third, while Vollering finished 49 seconds down.
After Vollering’s efforts in the earlier stages for the Belgian national champion, Kopecky got herself into a breakaway on the final stage alongside the ever-dependable Anna Shackley with Lucinda Brand, Marie Le Net, and Elise Chabbey for company.
Heading into the bottom of the 11km climb the team took control of the race providing the perfect launchpad for Vollering to go clear, taking Juliette Labous and Paula Patiño with her. Labous, who was part of a large group of riders sitting 15 seconds behind leader Garcia, held on just long enough to seal the GC win, but Vollering cracked the French climber, fighting with her bike all the way to the line and gasping for air after she crossed it.
After the race Vollering described the stage as “terribly difficult,” adding: “Because I lost a lot of time yesterday, I knew I had to create a big gap if I still wanted to take the overall win. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to take more than 34 seconds which I needed to win the GC. This was one of the most difficult battles of my career. After all, I didn’t feel top after my crash in Durango-Durango.”
That she had expected to make up a 34 second deficit to win the GC is testament to the kind of form that Vollering is used to having at her disposal. Still, GC win or not, with the victory, Vollering bookended the race with victories for the team after Kopecky’s win on the opening stage.
While it’s unfair to directly compare the 25-year-old to Anna van der Breggen, whose inimitable shoes she has stepped into this season, the team do seem to have seamlessly swapped out one Dutch superstar for another.
Of course, she did not come up against the rider who is arguably her closest rival, Annemiek van Vleuten, at these races, but after riding some of the best climbers in the women’s peloton off her wheel today she showed herself to be on course to take hold of the upcoming stage races, including the Tour de France Femmes.