SD Worx had to wait until the third day of the Simac Ladies Tour for their first victory as Charlotte Kool (DSM-Firmenich) and Riejanne Markus (Jumbo-Visma) beat the trio of Lotte Kopecky, Lorena Wiebes, and Demi Vollering in the prologue and Elisa Balsamo (Lidl-Trek) pipped Wiebes to win the sprint on stage 1.
But after Kopecky’s time trial victory, wearing the Belgian time trial champion’s jersey on home soil in Leuven, the world road race champion took the leader’s jersey. And with Wiebes in third place at 13 seconds and Vollering sixth at 16 seconds, the powerhouse team is in the pole position to defend the overall lead all the way to the end.
Stage 3 through the polders of Flevoland is almost guaranteed to be another sprint, and with a stage win – which would be her team’s 58th of 2023 – and the resulting 10-second time bonus, Wiebes could move to within three seconds of the yellow jersey that she won in 2022.
Lorena Wiebes showed last year that she could hold her own in the hilly terrain of southern Limburg, though the stage 4 finish atop the Cauberg will be a challenge for her and could mean that the team will look to Kopecky and Vollering instead.
However, Wiebes should still give it her best up the famous Valkenburg hill in order to stay close in GC and keep options for her team. The final stage will be hard to control, featuring as it does seven ascents of the Emmapiramide and Posbank climbs followed by five laps of a hilly circuit inside Arnhem, and so having three riders at the top of the GC is better than only one or two.
The strongest opposition to the purple-pink-orange-clad superteam will probably come in the yellow and black of Jumbo-Visma: Riejanne Markus is second overall, just two seconds behind Kopecky.
She won last year’s Limburg stage solo, showing that she can not only handle the hills but gain time there. Teammate Anna Henderson is not much further down in fourth place at 14 seconds, and finally there’s Karlijn Swinkels in 12th place at 26 seconds.
Zoe Bäckstedt (Canyon-Sram) and Christina Schweinberger (Fenix-Deceuninck) briefly had the best time in the time trial, showing their strength against the clock. Bäckstedt is now fifth overall, 15 seconds behind Kopecky.
The 18-year-old may focus on defending her white jersey for leading the U23 classification against an onslaught of three AG Insurance-Soudal-QuickStep riders, though – Ally Wollaston, Marthe Goossens, and Maud Rijnbeek are all within 19 seconds of Bäckstedt, as is…