SD Worx has become so dominant that the team now can concern itself with how it wins, rather than just whether it is victorious or not.
On Sunday, on stage three of Itzulia Women, the Dutch super-team could have decided to try and leave the General Classification as it was going into the final stage: Demi Vollering (SD Worx) in first, with a healthy 56 seconds over her teammate Marlen Reusser in second, and 1-05 over Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), in third.
Vollering was in top form, with her streak of victories at Itzulia such that she seemed almost unbeatable in the Basque Country, despite a strong lineup for the Women's WorldTour race in the north of Spain.
The 26-year-old won every stage of the race and the overall, obviously, in 2022, and was heading to do the same in this year's race, with victories on stage one and two. Vollering has won nine times across 18 opportunities in 2023, so she is in good nick.
And yet, on Sunday, SD Worx decided to race from the front, not wait for other teams to attack, and turned the race upside down - but in doing so, replaced their woman in the lead with another of their riders, Marlen Reusser. Simple.
Vollering and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), the world champion, were initially away together on the climb to Mendizorrotz, after the former attacked first, but were chased down by Niewiadoma, Reusser and Olivia Baril (UAE Team ADQ) 14km from the finish. Instead of sitting on and waiting for the inevitable sprint, Reusser was given the green light to attack.
The European time trial champion showed the power that led her to win Gent-Wevelgem earlier this year, putting 2-38 into the chasing group behind by the finish, which saw her win overall by 1-50 from Vollering. The latter, inevitably, won the sprint for second, SD Worx's seventh 1-2 of the season, with the general classification results being the eighth.
Other teams would have simply tried to have protected its GC lead, but not SD Worx. The team is so powerful that it can dictate which of its riders wins.
Sunday's tactic was redolent of the method SD Worx used throughout the Classics season, sending one rider up the road in the knowledge that if they were brought back, they would still win the sprint. It proved so effective on the cobbles, so why not on hillier days too?
"I can't believe it and I'm really overwhelmed because when we discussed our team tactics today in the meeting we could just have stayed with one and two as it was," Reusser explained post-race. "We could try to defend it, but we said no, we want to race aggressively and be the ones that force the other teams to act."
"I asked Demi what if this tactic leads to a change in the GC and I win it instead she said that's fine for her and today you saw that she was the strongest and could stay with the attack. Then she waited for me and didn't ride and gave me the chance to put in this attack which we planned.
"That's a real champ and I'm so thankful for her to do that and I'm really grateful that I had good legs. I'm really satisfied with my performance and my climbing. It's so nice that we finish this tour with one and two in that way."
It helps that Reusser and Vollering are great friends, the pair spending time in the Sierra Nevada for a training block ahead of the Tour of Flanders, but this result also proves how SD Worx is operating on a different level from the other teams around it; it has so many options for a race like this. 19 wins in 33 race days this year beggars belief.
It might also prove invaluable to build this sort of camaraderie in a team; for Vollering to allow her record and the overall win to disappear in the aid of Reusser's victory shows how close the bond is at SD Worx. Come bigger goals like the Tour de France Femmes, that kind of camaraderie could be crucial.
For now, the Women's WorldTour moves onto another Spanish stage race, this one the Vuelta a Burgos, and it would take a brave person to bet against SD Worx coming out on top once again. The team is simply too good.
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