Such was their list of ill and injured riders, Boels-Dolmans – last year’s stand-out women’s team – were forced to withdraw from Dwars Door Vlaanderen this week.
These health issues have greatly impacted on the team’s ability to race as they would like, and negatively contributed to the team’s results.
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This year their victory in the WorldTour race at Drenthe is their sole success in seven starts. That contrasts starkly with last season when the Dutch team opened the European season with Lizzie Deignan’s victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and followed that by winning the opening five WorldTour races.
Perhaps the most significant of the health issues suffered by the team is the concussion sustained by 2016 WorldTour winner Megan Guarnier.
The 31-year-old US road champion suffered injuries in crashes at Omloop Het van Hageland and Strade Bianche earlier this month, and has not raced since abandoning the Italian race.
The team told Cycling Weekly she will not return to competition until after the Tour of Flanders on April.
“She crashed pretty hard and is still having a little bit of a problem with it,” team manager Danny Stam said. “We don’t want to take any risks with it and give her time to recover. It’s not something to be worried about but it is better to do it good.”
Among the other riders, Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen – who joined the team over the winter – has been ill, domestique Kasia Pawlowska has yet to recover from injury, and British cyclocross champion Nikki Brammeier is yet to begin her road season after an injury-hit winter.
Nowhere was Guarnier missed more than at Trofeo Binda last weekend. She finished second last there year and would have given the team options in a race won by Deignan in two previous two editions.
“It affected us. We love to race pretty aggressive and we are not able to do that at this moment,” Stam lamented. “We are just not strong enough, so we have to think of different tactics, but we cannot race how we like to race.
“It is not so bad that we have to panic. I feel confident, but of course that has to show in the results. Our bigger goals are later in the season and during the first couple of races we were not as dominant as people expected. I think the race at Drenthe shows how we race when 90 per cent of the girls are healthy.”
World champion Amalie Dideriksen’s success in Drenthe came following a show of strength from Boels-Dolmans. Massed on the front, the team brought back a dangerous break which allowed the young Dane to sprint to victory with her characteristic apparent nonchalance.
The team is based in the Limburg region of the Netherlands, making April’s races in the area a priority.
“We still want to win WorldTour races,” Stam continued. “We have won one from three already, but Amstel Gold Race is in our home town, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège are close by, so that is a really important week for us.
“After that we will know if we had a good spring or not.”
Guarnier has a good record at Flèche Wallonne and both Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège suit her strengths. Boels-Dolmans will be hoping she – and her team mates – will be sufficiently recovered to bring home success.