In a short period of time, Lotte Kopecky has become the leading lady of Belgian cycling. The 25-year-old is one of the favourites for the upcoming Road World Championships in her home country, but her ambitions don’t stop there. After the Road Worlds, two more goals remain: the inaugural women’s edition of Paris-Roubaix and the Track World Championships a few weeks later, also in Roubaix. After a fourth place in the Olympic road race and a crash on the Olympic velodrome, Kopecky is eager for redemption.
“The Worlds are now awfully close. After that crash in Tokyo [Kopecky cracked her rib and sustained a muscle injury to the gluteus] I would have liked to have a little more time. I did add some extra training after the Vuelta stages and have some longer training rides on the road to go. The course is ideal for me because of the hills and the slightly sloping finish. The fact it is in Belgium makes me want to get a great result even more,” she says from Italy, where she rode the European Championships.
Championship fever is hitting new heights in Belgium at the moment. The host nation has never had so many favorites across the categories – the men’s categories at any rate. Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Thibau Nys, Cian Uytdebroecks and Alec Segaert are all expected to medal [ed. both Van Aert and Evenepoel got things off to a good start, medalling in Sunday’s Men’s Time Trial, while Florian Vermeesch picked up a bronze in the U23 Men’s Time Trial].
In the women’s categories junior Marith Vanhove is a promising prospect, but otherwise, all the pressure – and not only at the World Championships – rests on Kopecky’s shoulders. And that comes with many media requests.
“All this media attention can be tough sometimes. I try to say no in some cases because I don’t enjoy it. I do understand very well that the fans want to follow the sport and stay up to date. I try to do that part of the job as well as I can, but only the necessary things. I rather focus on the things I need to do to achieve results,” Kopecky explains. “Rik is the press officer at Liv Racing and he filters the requests and together we decide what needs to be done. Also, I don’t have a very outgoing character. I am more of an introvert.”
Belgium doesn’t have a seemingly endless supply of talent on tap like the Netherlands or Italy. The number of girls racing bikes is about 20 times less than the boys. But despite the relative scarcity of Belgian women racing at the highest level, Kopecky feels she has a good team she can completely rely on for the World Championship race.
“Valerie [Demey] has been strong all season long. Her results were very constant. She always performs the tasks the team or cycling union asks her to do very well. I am also looking at Shari [Bossuyt] who seems to be in good shape at the moment. I think Jolien [D’Hoore] will be the third teammate who will be with me in the second half of the race. Jesse [Vandenbulcke] is a real team player and although Kim [De Baat] might be the surprise in the selection, she is a person who will support me optimally within her possibilities,” Kopecky says, running through the Belgian team.
“The Belgian cycling union is really active in developing the women’s sport and it’s not a question of not wanting to do anything. I think we look at the Netherlands too often where they have so many top riders, but there are really countries who don’t have what we have now in Belgium [with regards to talent],” Kopecky tells me.
“But yes, it’s remarkable that a cycling nation like Belgium doesn’t have more women on the bike. I think I can contribute by getting results [which are on television] to motivate the new generation to go cycling as well.”
Kopecky started her career in the junior ranks after trying her hand at multiple other sports including basketball, gymnastics and judo. She delivered promising results as a junior as both a road rider and a time trialist, before making the jump across to the elite ranks where she picked up a silver medal at the national championships in her first year.
When she was 21, she was fifth in the Tour of Flanders – a result representative of those early years of her career, which saw Kopecky score many top ten and even podium places without breaking through to a big win.
“At a certain moment you start to doubt yourself,” she says now. “I was always there in the finals but missed that last little bit. Then it started to click, and there was more faith in myself that I could finish it off.”
Kopecky’s breakthrough came at the Giro Donne of 2020, where she won the 7th stage ahead of Lizzie Deignan and Kasia Niewiadoma. She continued by winning her first national road race title later that year. Since then, Kopecky has continued to develop into a team leader – both for the Belgian team, as well as her trade team, Liv Racing.
“I have had to learn how to become a leader. I found that hard in the beginning but when you start finishing it off you gain more confidence from the teammates as well. They see what they are working for. You could see that in the last stage of the Vuelta Challenge where I was really impressed by the team,” Kopecky says, giving her team credit for an impressive personal stage victory, ahead of Elisa Longo-Borghini.
Next year Lotte Kopecky joins the SD Worx super team. With so many stars on the roster, it means that Kopecky won’t automatically be the team leader in most of the races.
“I am really looking forward to joining SD Worx. I had many offers from many teams but SD Worx really was the best. I know that there will be races I might be in a difficult position because there is a teammate up the road and I can’t do my own thing. Seeing my teammates win will also feel great. But there will many races where the situation will be different and I can play out my sprint,” she says, looking ahead.
But before she joins her new team under the leadership of sports director Anna van der Breggen, there are important goals left to achieve after the Worlds.
First up, the long-awaited, twice-delayed inaugural women’s Paris-Roubaix.
“I remember my first time in north France. I was curious to see if I would still like it after the first recon but luckily that was the case. I hoped my hands would not blister up but thankfully that also was not the case. I found a good flow on the cobbles and look forward to this race,” Kopecky explains.
The abnormal hardship of Paris-Roubaix requires a different technological mindset, and Kopecky has been getting this dialled in with her team, too. “This winter I experienced riding on low tire pressure for the first time when I did cyclocross. It was a bit of fun and good training. In Roubaix you also need to be able to handle those low tire pressures. You need comfort on the cobbles but also on the road. We tested a few times already but I want to return one more time to see the current state. The team mechanics and I are still investigating the best option for the optimal pressure. I am not super technical so I rely on the mechanics,” she smiles.
The World Track Championships also take place in Roubaix, three weeks after Paris-Roubaix. Kopecky didn’t have the Olympic glory she had hoped for in Tokyo, suffering crashes in the Madison race and Omnium, so there is a certain sense of unfinished business.
“I don’t feel I am done with the track,” she says. “I want to continue until Paris in any case. I do have the feeling I have something left to prove on the track. It’s the last race of the season and that unwanted pause after Tokyo might help me be fresher in Roubaix.”
Roubaix Track Worlds will mark one other milestone – after a long period as team-mates, Roubaix will mark Kopecky’s last races alongside Jolien D’Hoore on the track, with D’Hoore moving on.
“I learned a lot from Jolien,” Kopecky says. “I have raced a lot alongside her and seen first hand how she prepares for races. I was with her in Rio de Janeiro  and as a young rider that was a huge experience. I used to be very stressed. Jolien also experienced stress but could handle that really well. She really taught me to remain calmer and stay more relaxed towards a race.”
The future is bright for Kopecky. She just won her second Women’s World Tour race in the Vuelta, and as part of SD Worx that big win can’t be far away. On the track she is among the best in the world in events like the omnium or points race.
“I have many dreams,” she smiles. “World Champion, an Olympic medal, Roubaix, Flanders. The Strade Bianche also have a special place in my heart. I have many goals and dreams but I still have a fair few years to go to make them all come true.”
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