Wednesday, September 14 2022

In a short time, Lotte Kopecky has become the great lady of Belgian cycling. The 25-year-old is one of the favorites for the upcoming World Road Championships in her home country, but her ambitions don’t end there. After the World Road Championships, there are still two goals: the inaugural women’s edition of Paris-Roubaix and the Track World Championships a few weeks later, also in Roubaix. After a fourth place finish in the Olympic road race and a crash on the Olympic velodrome, Kopecky is eager to redeem himself.

“The Worlds are now terribly close. After that crash in Tokyo [Kopecky cracked her rib and sustained a muscle injury to the gluteus] I would have liked to have had a little more time. I added a bit of extra training after the Vuelta stages and had longer workouts on the road. The course is ideal for me due to the hills and the slightly sloping finish. The fact that it’s in Belgium makes me want to get a good result even more, ”she said from Italy, where she raced the European Championships.

Championship fever is currently reaching new heights in Belgium. The host country has never had so many favorites in all categories – the men’s categories anyway. Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Thibau Nys, Cian Uytdebroecks and Alec Segaert all set to win medals [ed. both Van Aert and Evenepoel got things off to a good start, medalling in Sunday’s Men’s Time Trial, while Florian Vermeesch picked up a bronze in the U23 Men’s Time Trial].

In the women’s categories junior Marith Vanhove is a promising prospect, but otherwise all the pressure – and not just at the World Championships – rests on Kopecky. And that comes with a lot of media requests.

Lotte Kopecky racing Gand-Wevelgem

“All this media attention can be difficult at times. I try to say no in some cases because I don’t like it. I understand very well that the fans want to follow the sport and keep up to date. I try to do this part of the job as best I can, but only the things that are necessary. Instead, I focus on the things I need to do to get results, ”says Kopecky. “Rik is the press officer at Liv Racing and he filters out requests and together we decide what needs to be done. Also, I’m not very outgoing. I’m more introverted.

Belgium doesn’t have a seemingly endless talent pool like the Netherlands or Italy. The number of girls riding a racing bike is around 20 times lower than that of boys. But despite the relative scarcity of Belgian women at the highest level, Kopecky feels she has a good team that she can totally rely on for the World Championship race.

“Valerie [Demey] has been solid throughout the season. His results were very consistent. She always does very well the tasks that the cycling team or union asks her to do. I also watch Shari [Bossuyt] who seems in good shape right now. I think Jolien [D’Hoore] will be the third teammate who will be with me in the second half of the race. Jesse [Vandenbulcke] is a real team player and although Kim [De Baat] perhaps the surprise of the selection, it is a person who will support me optimally to the extent of his possibilities, “said Kopecky while browsing the Belgian team.

“The Belgian cycling union is really active in the development of women’s sport and it’s not about wanting to do nothing. I think we look too often at the Netherlands where they have so many top drivers, but there are really countries that don’t have what we have now in Belgium [with regards to talent]Kopecky tells me.

“But yes, it’s remarkable that a cycling nation like Belgium doesn’t have more women on the bike. I think I can contribute by getting results [which are on television] to motivate the new generation to cycle too.

Lotte Kopecky wins a stage of the Thuringen Rundfahrt 2021

Kopecky began his career in the junior ranks after trying his hand at several other sports including basketball, gymnastics and judo. She had promising results as a junior as a road and time trial rider, before making the jump to the elite ranks where she clinched a silver medal at the national championships in her first year.

At 21, she finished fifth in the Tour of Flanders – a result representative of those early years of her career, which saw Kopecky score many places in the top 10 and even on the podium without clinching a big win.

“At a certain point you start to doubt yourself,” she says now. “I was still there in the final, but I missed that last little moment. Then it started to click, and I had more confidence in myself than I could finish it. ”

Kopecky’s breakthrough came at the 2020 Giro Donne, where she won Stage 7 ahead of Lizzie Deignan and Kasia Niewiadoma. She went on to win her first national road racing title later that year. Since then, Kopecky has continued to develop to become a team leader – both for the Belgian team, as well as for his sales team, Liv Racing.

“I had to learn to be a leader. I found it difficult at first, but when you start to finish you also gain confidence from your teammates. They see what they are working for. You could see it in the last stage of the Vuelta Challenge where I was really impressed by the team, ”said Kopecky, acknowledging his team with an impressive personal stage victory, ahead of Elisa Longo-Borghini.

Next year Lotte Kopecky joins the super SD Worx team. With so many stars on the roster, that means Kopecky won’t automatically be the team manager in most races.

“I am really looking forward to joining SD Worx. I had a lot of offers from a lot of teams but SD Worx was really the best. I know there will be races where I could be in a difficult position because there is a teammate on the road and I can’t do my own thing. Seeing my teammates win will also do me good. But there will be many races where the situation is different and I can play my sprint, ”she said, looking to the future.

But before she joins her new team under the leadership of sporting director Anna van der Breggen, there are still important goals to be achieved after the Worlds.

First, the long-awaited and twice delayed inaugural Paris-Roubaix for women.

“I remember my first time in the north of France. I was curious to see if I would still like it after the first recognition but luckily it was. I was hoping my hands wouldn’t have blisters, but luckily that wasn’t the case either. I found good fluidity on the cobbles and I am looking forward to this race, ”explains Kopecky.

Paris-Roubaix’s abnormal difficulties require a different technological mindset, and Kopecky has incorporated that with his team as well. “This winter I had the experience of riding low pressure tires for the first time when I rode cyclocross. It was a little fun and a good workout. In Roubaix, you also need to be able to handle those low tire pressures. You need comfort on the cobblestones but also on the road. We have tested a few times already but want to come back one more time to see the current status. The mechanics of the team and I are still studying the best option for optimum pressure. I’m not super technical so I rely on the mechanics, ”she smiles.

Lotte Kopecky at the 2021 Ghent athletics meeting

The track world championships also take place in Roubaix, three weeks after Paris-Roubaix. Kopecky didn’t have the Olympic glory she hoped for in Tokyo, suffering falls in the Madison and Omnium race, so there is a certain feeling of unfinished business.

“I don’t feel like I’m done with the track,” she said. “I want to continue to Paris anyway. I have the feeling that I still have something to prove on the track. This is the last race of the season and this unwanted break after Tokyo could help me to be cooler in Roubaix.

Roubaix Track Worlds will mark another milestone – after a long period as teammates, Roubaix will mark Kopecky’s final races alongside Jolien D’Hoore on the track, D’Hoore moving on.

“I learned a lot from Jolien,” says Kopecky. “I have run alongside her a lot and have seen with my own eyes how she is preparing for the races. I was with her in Rio de Janeiro [2016] and as a young rider it was a huge experience. I was very stressed. Jolien also experienced stress, but could handle it very well. She really taught me to stay calmer and more relaxed before a race.

The future is bright for Kopecky. She has just won her second race of the Women’s World Tour in the Vuelta, and as part of SD Worx that big victory cannot be far away. On the track, she is among the best in the world in events such as the omnium or the points race.

“I have a lot of dreams,” she smiles. “World champion, an Olympic medal, Roubaix, Flanders. The Strade Bianche also have a special place in my heart. I have a lot of goals and dreams, but I still have a few years to achieve them all. “


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