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Opinion: Is Lotte Kopecky the Best Female Cyclist in the World?

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

For me, the most impressive sight at the recent Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift (TdFF) was that of the Belgian SD Worx rider Lotte Kopecky collapsing from exhaustion at the end of the race’s queen stage, after she had climbed to the summit of the Col du Tourmalet (17.1 km at 7.5%). Not previously known as a strong climber, she had clearly emptied her tank on that brutal ascent and was running on fumes at the end. Afterwards, she sat slumped on the bike, apparently unable to even lift her head – and perhaps even too tired to dismount and stand on her feet.

There was no obvious reason for her exertions. She had already clinched the Tour’s Škoda Green Jersey, her teammate Demi Vollering was far ahead of her on the climb and certain to win the stage – so that Kopecky was sure to lose the yellow jersey, which she had been wearing since stage 1. Finally, there was one more stage to run in the race, an ITT, in which she was among the favourites. The wise strategy would have been to take it easy on the Tourmalet and keep something in the tank for the next day. But not giving everything is apparently not Kopecky’s way of riding. And she had bigger plans.

The 27-year-old native of Rumst, a municipality located in the Belgian province of Antwerp, finished the Tourmalet stage in sixth place, 3:32 behind Vollering, and now sat fourth in the GC, 2:35 adrift. The next day, she finished an excellent third in the ITT and passed Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon–SRAM) and the retiring Dutch legend Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) in the GC, finishing second in the final TdFF yellow jersey standings. Her strenuous efforts on the Tourmalet had not been in vain because, in the end, she finished less than a second ahead of Niewiadoma in the GC. Having also won the TdFF Škoda Green Jersey, it was one of the most jaw-dropping Grand Tour performances I’ve ever seen by any rider, male or female, and made even more so when considering all the work she had already put into the race.

She won the first stage with a powerful solo breakaway, was the leadout rider for her team’s sprinter Lorena Wiebes when she raced to a bunch sprint victory in stage 3, could and should have won two more stages if her team had had the appetite for catching breakaways, and she owned both the yellow jersey and the Škoda Green Jersey for most of the race. Because when Wiebes was forced to abandon the race because of illness, Kopecky became the team’s de facto green-jersey hope. Amazing. But there’s more.

Lotte Kopecky
Kopecky (C) in the women’s Omnium Scratch Race at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome during the UCI Cycling World Championships. © Profimedia

The TdFF ended on July 30. One week later, Kopecky became world champion on the track at the UCI World Championships in Glasgow when she won the Elite Women’s Elimination Race, beating France’s Valentine Fortine and the American Jennifer Valente in the final. “It’s nice to start the World Cup like that,” she told Sporza after the race. “I read the race well. If you make the right decisions at the right times, you will get very far in the Elimination. This is a confidence boost and it is a nice bonus.”

In the Elimination Race, three riders begin from a rolling start and sprint every two laps. The rider that crosses the line last on the sprint lap is eliminated. The field is narrowed in this way as only the strongest sprinters stay in the race. Two days later, Kopecky won the world championship in the Points competition, a tactical race over 100 track laps, or 25 km, during which points are taken from intermediate sprints and by lapping the peloton. In that race, she had only one serious rival, Australian Georgia Baker, whom she beat by 39 points to 31. The third-place finisher, Tsuyaka Uchino of Japan, finished with 11 points.

These are races that require power, stamina and speed, qualities Kopecky has in spades, which makes her the perfect Classics rider. And she has won her share of spring Classics: the Tour of Flanders twice (2022, 2023), the Strade Bianche (2022), Le Samyn (2021) and the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (2023). She has now also won five track world championships, is apparently one of the best road sprinters in the world as the TdFF Škoda Green Jersey attests, and has been the Belgian national time trial champion for the past five years.

There is, apparently, nothing she cannot do on a bike. And she is not done proving that at the World Championships. She is one of the favourites in the women’s road race on the last day of the competition, on August 13. She finished second in that race last year, 1 second behind van Vleuten. Does Kopecky really need to win the race this year to be considered the best female cyclist in the world? No, but if she did, there would be no doubt at all about giving her that distinction.