Leah Kirchmann: Ending Classics season on a high
Team Sunweb finds success, more equality in Ardennes
With a race every weekend, the Spring Classics flew by and have now come to an end. The inclusion of a full Ardennes week for the women was a great way to cap off the first part of the cycling season.
To start off with, Team Sunweb won the Tour of Flanders! Coryn [Rivera]'s victory salute was one of sheer disbelief and jubilation. I think that victory is still sinking in for her and the whole team. There were more than a few tears of joy shed by riders and staff. The emotional victories are the best ones in my opinion, and those victories are even more satisfying when the team gives everything in pursuit of a common goal, which was the case at Flanders.
The team carried the momentum into the Healthy Ageing Tour [previously called the Energiewacht Tour], a week of classic Dutch racing. Flat, fast and windy summarizes the race in a nutshell. Ellen [van Dijk] finally got a well-deserved GC victory after playing an instrumental role in every race for Sunweb this season.
Morale was high heading into the Ardennes this past week. Without an obvious favourite for these races, Team Sunweb played to our strengths, and helped propel Coryn to top 10 finishes in the Amstel Gold Race and Fleche-Wallonne. Ellen showed that hills are no obstacle for her brute strength, finishing an impressive 4th place at the inaugural women's Liege-Bastogne-Liege. After a slower start to the season, Boels is back in top form, with Van der Breggen claiming an impressive Ardennes hat-trick.
Combining more women's races with iconic men's events this spring has been a positive development. Races such as Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders, Fleche-Wallonne, Amstel and Liege-Bastogne-Liege have all had the most incredible atmospheres. It is easier to suffer a little bit more, and push a few more watts when the course is lined with ecstatic fans. I think that most people waiting for hours on the side of the road would like any excuse to cheer, regardless of the rider's gender. The popularity and success of these events goes to show that holding multiple races on the same day works, so hopefully this trend continues.
One the best moments from this month was signing in alongside the Team Sunweb men's team before the Amstel Gold Race. Standing up there with the whole team together in Maastricht in the packed town square sent a strong message that it is possible to give male and female cyclists equal recognition. I would love to see more race organizations using this kind of creativity to give women's teams more exposure.
Now that women are competing in the traditionally iconic men's races on the calendar, it would be even better if our races could be provided a similar level of coverage. With the Women's WorldTour gaining in popularity, I hope that a higher standard of coverage will become a requirement for races wanting to be part of the series. The full dynamics and drama of our racing cannot be captured in a 10-minute summary video. I watch the summaries and think it is a pity how many pivotal moments don't make the final cut. Surely some of the larger organisations must have some budget available to put towards showing the world their race. It is ironic that some smaller races offer the best live stream coverage.
I still remain optimistic for the future of the sport. This season offered the most complete Spring Classics race calendar, and featured some of the highest quality and exciting racing to date. Certain events have already stepped up with fantastic coverage from start to finish, with some races at least now airing an uninterrupted final hour of racing. Hopefully more coverage will come with time as the sport continues to grow. At this moment, I am grateful for Twitter race updates, and for all the news publications who have increased their women's cycling content in the past few years, engaging and informing cycling fans.
I am now back home in Canada for a little rest before making a return to North American racing at the Amgen Tour of California, a race that has developed into a very well-organized women's event, including decent coverage for all the stages. I have fond memories of the race from back in 2015 where I won two stages and finished second overall. With Coryn racing in her home state, and many European teammates visiting California for the first time, Team Sunweb is motivated and looking forward to stage racing season!
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Growing up in Winnipeg, Canada it was always my dream to race in Europe. Two years ago, my dream came true. In this, and future posts, I will be giving you insight into my experiences racing in the European peloton with Team Sunweb.