'I hope this will get a lot of young riders on their bikes' — Lotte Kopecky on her huge Tour of Flanders win

Belgian champion hopes to drive girls to cycling with victory

Lotte Kopecky
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The roar that greeted Lotte Kopecky's victory at the Tour of Flanders felt momentous. Women's cycling in Belgium is not small, obviously it still has a voice in the bike-mad country, but it certainly does not have the same heft of the powerhouse in the Netherlands to the north. Beyond Kopecky and Julie De Wilde, who finished second at Dwars door Vlaanderen, there are not stocks of talent.

It was probably a louder cheer than the one Mathieu van der Poel received for winning his second Ronde, and it certainly felt like it meant more. Kopecky, in the Belgian tricolor, stormed to victory in front of the woman widely touted as the best cyclist in the world, Annemiek van Vleuten. This could be the catalyst for an age of growth in women's cycling in the country.

It was the culmination of a dream that has been formed for a long time, although it was only made concrete when she finished fifth in the same race aged 21 in 2017.

"As a small girl I didn't know what I was capable of," Kopecky told the media post-victory. "It was only in 2017 when I came fifth in the Tour of Flanders that I thought that I could one day win this race. It has been quite a long time in my head already."

Not only post-victory, but after endless podium shenanigans, multiple interviews on Belgian TV in multiple locations. The rider from Rumst in the province of Antwerp must only just be realising how she is now one of the stars of Belgian sport.

"In Belgium it is the biggest race there is," Kopecky said. "For a Belgian to win it in the jersey is something really special. It was a big goal in the beginning of the season, and it's always nice when a plan comes together."

It was not her first big success of the season, that came at Strade Bianche last month, where she also bested Van Vleuten. On Sunday, the 26-year old proved once again that SD Worx were right to sign her, and that she is one of the biggest talents in the world right now.

"SD Worx has a big role in my victories," Kopecky explained. "Before I was alone in the final a lot of times. It's really hard to compete against such a strong team with many riders in the front of the race. Now they are my teammates, and I can work together with them."

In her one season with Liv Racing, the Belgian did win seven races, and was widely touted as the coming thing when she was at Lotto-Soudal, but it is the move to the Dutch super team that has elevated her to the next step.

Speaking ahead of the season, Kopecky had said: "I want to win as many races as possible." Now she is.

She also realises that her win is bigger than just her, and it might help the next generation of Belgian cyclists.

"After Strade I got got contacted by a lot of young girls," Kopecky said. "But maybe after this win I hope that young girls can dream of winning this race or even just riding it. I hope this will get a lot of young riders on their bikes."

The fact this is the second time she has beaten Van Vleuten in the final of a big race this season is not lost on Kopecky: "It's really nice to beat Annemiek, but I also have a lot of respect for her. On the climbs, she is the better one, she's the one to follow. It's really good for me and for my confidence."

While bigger things and more success await the Belgian, for now she just wants to drink in the victory and then move on to her future goals.

"I think I want to enjoy this, then afterwards see what's next on the program," she said.

On Sunday's evidence, there might be a lot more enjoyment to come.

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