SD Worx-Protime takes risks at Gent-Wevelgem to save Wiebes for finish

WEVELGEM BELGIUM MARCH 24 LR Shirin Van Anrooij of The Netherlands and Team LidlTrek and Marlen Reusser of Switzerland and Team SD WorxProtime compete in the breakaway during the 13rd GentWevelgem in Flanders Fields 2024 Womens Elite a 1712km one day race from Ieper to Wevelgem UCIWWT on March 24 2024 in Wevelgem Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
Swiss champion Marlen Reusser of SD Worx-Protime sets the pace in the breakway, with Lotte Kopecky and Lorena Wiebes tucked in the group (Image credit: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

SD Worx-Protime looked to hold all the cards in the Gent-Wevelgem Women after the final Kemmelberg ascent, where Pfeiffer Georgi (DSM-Firmenich PostNL) had to fight to hang on to Lotte Kopecky and Lorena Wiebes, giving the duo's team an obvious numerical advantage in a front group of three.

When the five-rider chase group, including Swiss Champion Marlen Reusser bridged to her SD Worx-Protime teammates, they had three riders out of eight. Combined with a cross-tailwind to Ypres and a full-on tailwind to the finish, their decision not to push on with this group seemed puzzling.

“Marlen was setting the pace for a while, but the peloton was too close behind. She can’t do it all alone. And if I had started taking turns too, I would have lacked power if the sprinters came back,” eventual-winner Wiebes explained in her post-race interview.

Kopecky’s attacks on the first Baneberg ascent and both climbs of the Kemmelberg broke up the peloton, and Wiebes was always very close behind. But with over 30km still to race when the group with Reusser came across and the gap to the chasing peloton only being 20 seconds, there was the danger that they would overextend themselves and not have enough left for the final.

“There was a risk of that, yes. As I said, Marlen set the pace, but it wasn’t good enough to keep the peloton behind. And of course it was still far to go,” Wiebes continued.

They would have a tailwind only after the passage through Ypres, meaning they would have to hold off a much bigger group in a cross-tailwind for almost 10 kilometres. And even if the group had made it beyond Ypres, this was far from a guarantee they would hold off the chasers to the finish.

“We talked with each other, but the decision was also made in the team car,” said Wiebes.

Led by Lidl-Trek and DSM-Firmenich PostNL, the chasing peloton quickly closed the gap, and SD Worx-Protime then had Reusser control the pace on the way to the finish, leaving the work of closing down attacks to Lidl-Trek. 

Kopecky led out Wiebes for the sprint on the long, flat finish, but Elisa Balsamo (Lidl-Trek) could not be shaken and hit the line alongside the Dutch sprinter, who saved the race with a well-timed bike throw.

Had Wiebes not won the sprint, the decision not to push on would have faced more scrutiny, but with the winner’s trophy in their hands, SD Worx-Protime can say: All’s well that ends well.

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