Ready to dominate again: Demi Vollering returns to her ruthless best at the Vuelta

After an uncharacteristic winless run so far this season, Vollering dismissed any transfer saga induced difficulties with a crushing win at the Vuelta

There has been one subplot hanging over the first five stages of the Vuelta Femenina, one which, if not acted upon, threatened to become the main narrative of the season’s first Grand Tour.

It wasn’t whether or not Marianne Vos (Visma-Lease a Bike) would add to her ever-lengthening win tally – she of course did, as early as stage three, in fact – or whether Lidl-Trek would continue their terrific spring and prove SD Worx-Protime’s principal foe – a win, narrow though it was, in the opening team time trial, confirmed their status – but instead, whether Demi Vollering, the standout rider in women’s cycling, would end her barren run without a win and reassert her dominance.

It has been a strange quirk to the first few months of the season that the woman who won last year’s Tour de France Femmes, and 17 races in total, including a clean sweep at the Ardennes Classics, had not yet triumphed in 2024. She’s been close – a handful of second and third places attest to that – but she has regularly been outfoxed and outsmarted by riders (and sometimes teammates, in the form of Lotte Kopecky), who she was clinical against just a season previous.

Part of the intrigue of the subplot was speculating whether her much-publicised impending exit from SD Worx was affecting the Dutchwoman’s form. The 27-year-old, it was announced during the cobbled Classics, would not be renewing with the preeminent team in the women’s peloton at the end of the year, and instead seeking new employers. UAE Team ADQ were first linked with Vollering, but it has emerged in recent weeks that she is instead primed to join FDJ-Suez, the second-oldest team in women’s cycling, for a reported fee of €1 million per year, becoming the first female cyclist to reach that landmark figure.

Image by ASO

The question, naturally, was if Vollering’s form had become a victim of the media talk and the contract negotiations, and if her deteriorating relationship with SD Worx was hampering her output. Danny Stam, SD Worx’s principal sports director, told Rouleur at the start of the race in Valencia that “we try to manage that as much as possible,” referencing the transfer, but insisting that “nothing will change from last year for the future.” When pressed if there would be any issues in directing Vollering, he said: “Not at all. I think it’s pretty clear that it’s in both interests that we get the best result for Demi in the Tour de France. Winning the Tour de France is what the team dreams about so it’d be stupid if we need to motivate ourselves for that.”

Yet sport being sport, and the theatre of it all, meant that Stam’s answer did little to convince. It needed Vollering to win, to put her hands in the air, to really settle the doubts. And it finally arrived on stage five of the Vuelta Femenina, in the convincing fashion that this growing narrative required. Moving clear 900m before the line to Jaca while still sat in her saddle, a focused-looking Vollering was too strong for the rest of the competition, blowing them away on the steep ramps and overturning a 21-second deficit on the general classification to a 31-second advantage in a matter of minutes.

In an instant, the doubts had been answered, the fears nullified, and in taking her maiden victory of the season during the Vuelta’s first difficult test, Vollering had let her legs do the talking: she is not distracted by the transfer saga, and is ready to once again dominate women’s stage racing. Three stages, including two major mountainous tests, remain, and the question being asked once more is as familiar as it is reassuring for the subject and her entourage: who can stop Demi Vollering?

*Cover image by Alex Broadway/Getty Images 

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