Why SD Worx’s Itzulia dominance doesn’t define the state of women’s cycling

The Dutch team might have won every stage and the overall, but this doesn't mean they will be dominant for the rest of the season

A scan of the results sheet from the 2024 edition of Itzulia Women paints the picture of a predictable race. Last year’s Tour de France Femmes winner, Demi Vollering, won the final queen stage by almost one minute, attacking on the punchy climbs of the Basque Country with such power that her rivals had no response. With that move, the Dutchwoman also took the overall general classification in Itzulia, just a few days after winning the Vuelta a España Femenina.

Vollering isn’t the only SD Worx rider coming home with podium places and prizes from her Spanish campaign. In the opening two stages of Itzulia, Vollering’s teammate, European champion Mischa Bredewold, took victory. The first win came from a large bunch kick to the line, while the second saw the 23-year-old reign supreme from a breakaway, as Bredewold pipped the likes of Mavi García and Juliette Labous in a reduced group sprint. Vollering and Bredewold’s victories mean that in the three editions of Itzulia Women since it was first run in 2022, SD Worx have won every stage – an astounding record by any measure.

Mischa Bredewold wins the first stage of Itzulia Women 2024 (Image: Naikefotosport)

While the achievements of the Dutch team should be acknowledged and respected, their dominance in the race also raises questions about how the rest of the stage racing season is going to play out. Are we heading back to the era of SD Worx ascendancy? Will the next few months involve the team’s purple jerseys monopolising podiums? Is there even a glimmer of hope for their rivals?

The first answer to these questions comes from looking back to the cobbles and rain of the Belgian Classics, as well as the rolling hills of the Ardennes, earlier in this season. Before these races, there was an expectation that SD Worx would, as they were in 2023, be the team to beat, with riders like Vollering, Lotte Kopecky and Lorena Wiebes governing the podium places. The reality was a different picture –Lidl Trek’s duo of Elisa Longo Borghini and Elisa Balsamo found themselves able to pose a successful challenge to SD Worx, winning Trofeo Binda, the Tour of Flanders and Brugge De Panne. 

During the Ardennes week, Marianne Vos turned back the clock to win Amstel Gold Race for Visma-Lease a Bike, while Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon//SRAM) and Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez) won Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège respectively. SD Worx had an uncharacteristically dry spring when it came to big wins and everyone expected more from them. It was a lesson that bike racing doesn’t always follow the script, and this is something that should be kept in mind looking ahead to the Giro d’Italia Donne and the Tour de France Femmes.

Credit for the lack of SD Worx dominance in the earlier part of the season should go to other teams for working out how to beat the Dutch squad. The likes of Lidl-Trek, Canyon//SRAM and FDJ-Suez used their collective strength to make sure that SD Worx were unable to outnumber them in these races. In Itzulia, however, Canyon//SRAM only fielded a four-woman team, with many of their riders out due to sickness and injury. Lidl-Trek were without Longo-Borghini or Balsamo and FDJ-Suez also only had five riders, none of whom were the French team’s biggest stars. Visma-Lease a Bike didn’t start in Itzulia at all. SD Worx, on the other hand, had a full team filled with many of their strongest riders – this won’t always be the case in races to come.

It’s expected that Vollering won’t take to the start in the Giro d’Italia, for example, as she prepares for the Tour de France Femmes. This should mean a much more open fight for the general classification in Italy. SD Worx have been vocal that Kopecky will be there to win individual stages, so they will likely bring a team to help her with this aim. Gaia Realini and Longo Borghini should both start for Lidl-Trek, while Mavi García is confirmed for Liv-Alula-Jayco and Silvia Persico for UAE Team ADQ. With so many strong climbers, we can expect a much wider spread of talent in the battle for the maglia rosa in Italy than we saw in Itzulia.

Ella Wyllie wins the youth classification at Itzulia Women 2024 (Photo: Naikefotosport)

Finally, although the overall win was sewn up by Vollering with relative ease in the Basque Country, it’s important to take note of the youth classification when thinking more broadly about the future of women’s racing. Kiwi national champion Ella Wyllie won the white jersey for Liv-Alula-Jayco, while Shirin van Anrooij and Isabella Holmgren came in second and third for Lidl-Trek. Below the Trek duo were two promising French talents in 19-year-old Marion Bunel from St Michel-Mavic-Auber93 and former junior world champion Julie Bego from Cofidis. The top five in the young rider’s classification were separated by only two seconds and they were all only one minute down on overall race winner, Vollering. This is a sign of hugely promising young climbing talent coming through the ranks, from a range of teams and nationalities.

SD Worx’s dominance in Itzulia was impressive, but it was largely circumstantial and shouldn’t be taken too seriously as an indication that the rest of the season is going to be a walk in the park for the Dutch team. Vollering looks in imperious form, but she has been beaten before this year, and nothing is a given in bike racing. When other teams are back with their strongest line-ups, the challenge to SD Worx is going to be far greater, especially given that many have seen weaknesses in the world number one squad previously this season – and this is where they will be targeted.

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