On Sunday, a large group of AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step Elite & U23 riders, each in their own national colours, lined up for the final race of the Cycling World Championships in Glasgow. Over the last week, no fewer than 16 of the team’s riders, including juniors, U23 and elites, displayed their individual national pride across a range of disciplines at the event.
Fee Knaven traveled to Scotland as part of the Dutch team to participate in the junior category of both the road race and time trial disciplines. The time trial in particular is Fee’s specialty. Speaking after the event, she said, “This Championship was a very fun and educational experience. The road race in particular was like a rollercoaster for me, as I knew that I had to be positioned at the front, but unfortunately that didn’t work out as expected. Because of this I may have missed a better result, but I am still satisfied with my race and I have learned a lot from this. The time trial went exactly as I had hoped and to get an 8th place felt very good and it was definitely a highlight of the World Cup for me.”
Noëlle Rüetschi braved the road race for the U23 category in the Swiss national jersey and in support of team leader Marlen Reusser. For Noëlle, this was a tough assignment, as she explained: “For me, this World Cup, in my first year with the U23, was a unique experience and opportunity to race together with the elite team. I have never ridden such a long race in distance and time, as well as at this level. In recent weeks I have been able to prepare myself really well to ride this Championship, but also for the second part of the season. This ensured that we arrived in Glasgow in good shape and with a very good mindset.
The course itself was a little different than I had dreamed or predicted. I expected the first part to be a bit smoother. Around 20km I decided to attack, which cost me a lot of energy. At the local circuit I managed to recover and feel better and I even had time to really enjoy the race – the many spectators along the road made it really special. It was the first time I saw so many people along the road. Also that my parents and friends were there for me made it even more special. On the one hand I reached the finish exhausted and a bit disappointed, as I would have preferred to see some things go differently, but on the other hand, I was also very proud. For me, this was a great and important step for the future and hopefully not the last one.”
In addition to Noëlle, the team also had Marthe Goossens who put in a great performance for the Belgian tricolor, in her role to support World Champion Lotte Kopecky. Besides her contribution to lead Lotte to the gold medal and coveted rainbow jersey, Marthe came 6th in the U23 after the many gruelling kilometres on a tough parcours.
“It was my first World Championship participation, and also the first time that I was allowed to participate in the most important one-day race of the year without earphones and therefore without communication from the outside,’ Marthe explained. “That was quite exciting, especially because we had the top favourite in the team with Lotte. Such a competition requires very good agreements and at the same time a united spirit in which everyone works together. If you experience this up close and the plan succeeds, you see how beautiful this sport can be.
Lotte’s focus, cool-headedness and calmness is very inspiring to me as a young athlete and I like to take it as an example for the future. The highlight was therefore when I crossed the finish line and heard that Lotte had won. In addition, the large audience also caused many goosebump moments.”
The final weekend’s road race included many of the AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step riders, including the elite ladies. Team leader, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, had put on the South African jersey to represent her country. By attacking early, she immediately made a strong impression on the race. Unfortunately not everything went as planned, as both she and the team car experienced mechanical problems and she was unable to compete for the result she had hoped for.
After the race, Ashleigh said, “I started the World Cup in good spirits and very motivated, seeing it as an extension of the Tour de France Femmes. At the same time, I started this spectacle with an open mind, because I don’t get the same support from my national team as I’m used to in my ‘own’ team AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step. South Africa is a very inexperienced cycling country, especially at the highest level, and my teammates have no experience in the European peloton.
Fortunately, I had some conversations with Jolien beforehand about tactics, tyre pressure, which gave a boost to my positive mindset. I was in the breakaway with some very strong riders early on, but unfortunately things started to go wrong quite early when I hit a pothole and my saddle slid down. Luckily it wasn’t too bad, so I kept riding and hoped to get help from the team car a little further on. This one apparently had mechanical problems, which I was not aware of, as there is no radio in this race.
Going into the local laps in the city, I was still in a good position but again I hit a bump or a bottle and my saddle dropped even further. At this point the position of my back was completely wrong, my saddle was too low and I couldn’t keep up the pace.
Mentally and physically it was a tough day for me. I am leaving this race feeling quite disappointed, as I believe I had more in me, but I gave everything I could to make the best of the situation with the many challenges and at the end of the day a 15th place was the best I could get my hands on.”
Justine Ghekiere was the team’s rider who strengthened the Belgian team in the elite category. She managed to make her mark in a powerful way and played an essential role at crucial moments in the race to ride Lotte Kopecky to victory.
“I thought it was an incredible experience, yesterday was one of the highlights of my ‘short’ cycling career. First and foremost, I am incredibly grateful that they believe in me and select me for such great moments,” said an enthusiastic Justine.
“At such moments you don’t want to disappoint and certainly not when you have to ride for Lotte, the best cyclist of the moment. This really gave me extra wings and power to give everything for her. The moment I was alone with Lotte in a small peloton I panicked for a while, because everything fell on my shoulders, but I think I did my job. You could see that the other teams were watching us because the other big countries waited a long time to cooperate, which of course was a pity because I couldn’t help in the deep final and I had to let go at kilometre 125.
What I take from this experience… I can do more than I sometimes think. I mainly focused on the first 60 kilometres, because I thought I had to let go quickly on the local laps, because I am perhaps a little less skilled and not as explosive as the others, but yesterday showed that if I have good legs I can handle multiple courses. I will also not forget the interest, the fans, the audience!”