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State of the Nation: Analysing Belgium's women's 2021 World Championships team

(LtoR) Kim De Baat, Lotte Kopecky, Jesse Vandenbulcke and Valerie Demey training on Flandrien roads for World Championship
(LtoR) Kim De Baat, Lotte Kopecky, Jesse Vandenbulcke and Valerie Demey training on Flandrien roads for World Championship (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Ahead of the 2021 UCI Road World Championships elite road races, Cyclingnews is taking a deep dive into the key teams. We've looked several of the women's teams from Great Britain, the United States, Australia and the Netherlands.

Here is a look at the Belgian women's team for the road race on Saturday.

History

Yvonne Reynders amassed four world road titles for Belgium between 1959 and 1966, one shy of the record of five held by Jeannie Longo of France in the 1980s and 1990s. However, you will only find one other Belgian rider with a rainbow jersey after that, Nicole Vandenbroeck in 1973, and only four podiums since then, the last in 1994 when Patsy Maegerman earned silver. It’s been a long drought of 48 years for a medal in the road race for a country that is crazy for cycling.

Lineup

Key riders

IZU JAPAN AUGUST 06 LR Jolien DHoore and Lotte Kopecky of Team Belgium compete during the Womens Madison final of the track cycling on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Izu Velodrome on August 06 2021 in Izu Japan Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Lotte Kopecky ready to slingshot Julien D'hoore in the Madison at Tokyo Olympic Games (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Lotte Kopecky is one of the top picks for a world championship in the elite women’s road race. She’s not only in top form at the right time, but believes the route caters to her strengths as an opportunist to set up a final kick at the finish. And unlike the Olympic Games where she only had two support riders, this time out she has track teammate Jolien D'hoore and a reliable cast of four sprinters.

Kopecky has eight victories on the road this season, including double national titles in the road race and time trial. She is a multi-discipline athlete who excels in cyclo-cross and on the track. However, because of her track training each autumn, she had only competed at the World Championships on one other occasion, in Qatar in 2016. 

She left the Tokyo Olympic Games with huge disappointment, having crashed in the Madison where she was competing with D’hoore and finished 10th, and was 10 seconds away from a medal in the road race in fourth place.

However, in the two stage races post-Olympics, Kopecky took stage wins in both the Challenge by La Vuelta and Trophée des Grimpeuses Vresse-Sur-Semois. On the fourth and final stage of La Vuelta, Kopecky launched an attack on a steep climb to the finish then won the head-to-head sprint against Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini. 

Jolien D’hoore has one of the best sprints on the road and on the track. The 15-year road pro will retire at the end of the season to take on a director’s role with NXTG Racing, a development squad, and the four-time national road race champion (2012, 2014, 2015, 2017) has made the most of her final competitive year. It was her timely acceleration that gave her the victory in the opening stage at the Healthy Ageing Tour in the spring. In one-day races, she’s had eight top ten results, including podiums at Women’s WorldTour Brugge-De Panne and 1.1 Dwars door de Westhoek. 

Bossuyt has recovered from a broken collarbone suffered in a crash in March at Brugge-De Panne Classic, but she was back on the bike in two weeks and in the summer landed one spot off the podium in the road race nationals for elite women. A few weeks later she captured the U23 time trial national title. At just 21 years of age, Bossuyt is a versatile speedster who has shown great form with a seventh overall at the Lotto Belgium Tour for her NXTG trade team. 

Speed is also the name of the game for the support cast on the Belgian squad of Kim De Baat, Valerie Demey and Jesse Vandenbulcke. It is the first elite Worlds for De Baat and Bossuyt.

Strengths

BRUGGE BELGIUM JUNE 23 Jolien Dhoore of Belgium and Belgium National Team Green Points Jersey Lotte Kopecky of Belgium and Belgium National Team at start during the 9th Lotto Belgium Tour 2021 Stage 1 a 1126km stage from Blankenberge to Bruges LottoBelgTour LottoBelgiumTour on June 23 2021 in Brugge Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Jolien Dhoore in the Belgium National Team Green Points Jersey lines up at Lotto Belgium Tour alongside Lotte Kopecky (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The team is fully behind Kopecky for a home victory, as D’hoore stated Thursday at a team press conference: “We stand behind her as a rock and will do everything we can to help her get a medal.”

It is a home-field advantage of sorts with a team stacked with speed. Unlike the Belgian classics in spring, where official routes were not made public to discourage spectators along the roads for COVID-19 safety, the crowds will be back for this showdown. 

There are no major climbs, but it is packed with lurching and laborious slopes that wear down legs as much as ambitions. Kopecky and D’hoore are a double-sided sword to cut through the landscape, and with a support riders to help change the tempo when needed, can help each other save energy for a final and decisive sprint.

Weaknesses

It is the jubilee event for the UCI Road World Championships, but will the rainbow riches finally strike Belgium again after almost 50 years? 

There is a lot of pressure to perform this year with the Worlds on home cobbles and climbs, known as the ‘heartland of cycling’ in Flanders. Then again, the roar of the home crowds may give Kopecky and company just the extra boost they need to make the right move at the right time. This was a missing element for the Belgian champ at the European Championships, where all seven teammates did not finish the race, and the Olympic Games, where she only had two support riders. All riders on the squad will have to contribute to make something happen.

A view from Belgium

Lotte Kopecky - rider comments from Belgian team press conference coverage by Het Nieuwsblad

Everything has to fall into place on Saturday. You can have good legs, but if the race course is not favourable, it is of little use to me. The Netherlands will carry the race, they control the race, they have a number of favourites. I actually expect a very hard course. What is my ideal scenario? Well, as I like in other races: finish with a small group and then sprint for the win. I hope that we will sprint with a small group on this course, and I think there is a good chance.

Jackie has been involved in professional sports for more than 30 years in news reporting, sports marketing and public relations. She founded Peloton Sports in 1998, a sports marketing and public relations agency, which managed projects for Tour de Georgia, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and USA Cycling. She also founded Bike Alpharetta Inc, a Georgia non-profit to promote safe cycling for people of all abilities and ages. Tyson has been recognized for communications excellence with 10 Phoenix Awards, presented by the Georgia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. She is proud to have worked in professional baseball for six years - from selling advertising to pulling the tarp - and was recognized by a national media outlet as the first female depicted in a pro baseball card set (Ft. Myers Royals). She has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez three times. Her favorite road rides are around horse farms in north Georgia (USA) and around lavender fields in  Provence (France). Her favorite mountain bike rides are in Park City, Utah (USA).