Lotte Kopecky: I don't dare to say 'I want to win Paris-Roubaix'

Lotte Kopecky winning the Tour of Flanders in the Belgian champion's jersey in 2022
Lotte Kopecky winning the Tour of Flanders in the Belgian champion's jersey in 2022 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Lotte Kopecky has one thing on Eddy Merckx, Tom Boonen and Wout van Aert: She won the Tour of Flanders while wearing the jersey of Belgian national champion. It's a feat most recently claimed by Philippe Gilbert in 2017 and Stijn Devolder in 2008 and the kind of thing that whips the cycling-mad nation into a frenzy.

Kopecky, 27, speaking at the training camp of her new SD Worx team, plays down the impact has had on her career.

"It really made last season very special - my winning this race in this national kit and losing this jersey afterwards made me realize how important this one actually was to ride in this national Jersey."

Although she is no longer the Belgian champion, having lost the title to Kim De Baat last year, Kopecky will be targeting the Tour of Flanders again this year. Paris-Roubaix is another key race, but she is afraid to put too much emphasis on it.

"I dream of winning Paris-Roubaix, but it's so hard to target this race because there's so much luck involved," she says. "I don't dare to say 'I want to win Paris-Roubaix' - I just want to be good in the period from Tour of Flanders to the Amstel Gold Race. These are three very nice races, and I think if you have the good shape in Flanders, then you'd also have it for Paris-Roubaix, and in Amstel, it will give you a lot of opportunities."

The victory in Tour of Flanders was spectacular but it also finally confirmed Kopecky as a Classics star after years of podiums in major classics on home soil. But that wasn't the only special moment of 2022. Winning Strade Bianche the month before, she says, is what transformed her into a Classics champion.

It's a status that has gotten her more notice in her home country but has a greater meaning for women's cycling, which has lagged farther behind men's cycling than in some other countries.

"It was very big in Belgium. I can feel from fans that they all have seen it," Kopecky says.

"I have a lot more fans since this win and also for Belgium, it's really important because women's cycling is really growing.

"If it was only the Netherlands and Italy and other countries that are winning big races, then for sure it will not be so popular in Belgium. I think winning a race like Flanders as a Belgian has a very big impact also on [women's cycling] popularity in Belgium."

Kopecky has already enjoyed her fair share of fame as a four-time world champion on the track and with a near-miss on an Olympic medal in Tokyo, so being recognized is not a big deal.

"In the beginning, it was not so easy. But now I know a bit about how to deal with it, and I also know how to switch off this button you're a bit famous in Belgium. I would like to focus the most on just what I'm doing. I'm riding my bike and trying to win races and not so much on being recognized everywhere."

More importantly, Kopecky hopes she can be an inspiration for the next generation of riders in Belgium. While their neighbours in the Netherlands have come to dominate both road and cyclocross, women's cycling in Belgium has been slower to grow. Soudal-Quickstep manager Patrick Lefevere raised hackles in 2021 when he commented he wouldn't run a women's team because he wasn't a welfare organisation, and said the country didn't have "enough good riders".

Kopecky sees progress but admits the top level for Belgium may still be a few years down the road. "We can see that there are younger riders coming, and I just hope that they can keep progressing as they are doing now. In the next years, we will have a very strong national team but I think it's a process of years and it's not something that will be there next year."

The visibility of her Tour of Flanders victory was even higher because organisers Flanders Classics positioned the women's finish after the men's, on prime-time television.

"It's important, not just for Belgian cycling, that we also have a very good Belgian rider and that girls can look up to you. I think that this already contributed to a lot of girls and I hope in the future, there will be more.

"I think [by] riding, getting good results, inspiring young athletes or young girls, they will also be motivated and try to get a good level."

A free role with Wiebes

Lorena Wiebes, Lotte Kopecky and Demi Vollering at the 2023 SD Worx team presentation and media day

Lorena Wiebes, Lotte Kopecky and Demi Vollering at the 2023 SD Worx team presentation and media day (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

It wasn't much of a surprise that SD Worx signed Kopecky from Liv Racing in 2022 as she was seen as a successor to Jolien D'Hoore, who retired in 2021. This year they signed prolific sprint winner Lorena Wiebes and while it could be seen as a potential conflict, Kopecky doesn't see the Dutch rider as an intra-team rival. She says having Wiebes on the team gives her a freer role in the races and the chance to race aggressively.

"I won't be the rider anymore who has to wait until the sprint when we are together. I also don't mind because this will just give me more of a free role - more chances to attack and that is the side of racing I like the most."

Coming from the pressure of leading a team at Liv to being part of a power-packed team like SD Worx has also freed Kopecky up to race aggressively, as she did in Strade Bianche.

"That's what I liked last year about being in this team, that there are more riders who can win races and finish of races in every kind of way," she says. If an attack doesn't work, "we still have Lorena to finish".

"As long as we win as a team then I think the team will be happy. It will give me less stress towards races and just be more relaxed."

Big goals ahead

Belgian Lotte Kopecky hangs her head as she crosses the line in fourth in the Tokyo Olympics road race

Belgian Lotte Kopecky hangs her head as she crosses the line in fourth in the Tokyo Olympics road race (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Aside from the Classics, Kopecky has bigger ambitions ahead with the first combined UCI World Championships in Glasgow offering closely timed opportunities on the track and road in August. The former is especially key for qualifying spots for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, while a rainbow jersey on the road is a realistic goal, too.

Kopecky is still feeling the sting of winning the sprint for second at the Worlds in Wollongong when Annemiek van Vleuten was in sight of being caught.

"I'm still disappointed. If you come so close - it's just made me even more hungry to try and do one place better this year. It's a dream to become a world champion on the road. I know what it feels like to be on the track but becoming it on the road is also a very big goal."

Speaking of the track, Kopecky is also balancing a limited campaign on the boards this season, with the European Championships in early February and the Canadian Nations Cup immediately after the Spring Classics, then Track Worlds come just before the women's road race, in August.

"Together with the Federation and with SD Worx, we have tried to find a balanced program for that. It will not cost too much energy, but we will be able to get enough points to try and reach our qualification goal."

The calendar is stacked this year, with the Tour de France Femmes ending just before Worlds, so Kopecky's schedule will have to be carefully considered.

"We're still trying to see what would be best - doing the Giro [Donne in July], Tour and Worlds or only Giro or Tour, so that's not 100% sure yet. For the moment, I try to focus mostly on the Classics, after this first block, we will see, and we'll know what the rest of the season will look like."

Kopecky wants to make sure she and Shari Bossuyt, who stepped in for D'hoore after she retired, qualify for a spot for Paris so that she can make up for a devastating Madison in Tokyo where both she and D'hoore crashed, leaving them out of medal contention. She also wants a chance to improve on her fourth place in the road race

"If the Federation selects me for both, I will combine them. I have seen that in the Tokyo Olympics that the combination is really possible. I had very good shape and being fourth in the road race, and the legs I had on the track, they were very promising. But bad luck, of course, decided differently. But it's the goal to combine both road and track races on the Olympics in Paris."

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Laura Weislo
Managing Editor

Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Managing Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks. Laura's specialises in covering doping, anti-doping, UCI governance and performing data analysis.