There was an overwhelming feeling in Dubai that Lorena Wiebes would take stage one of the UAE Tour Women. For many, it was nailed on. So much so, even, that perhaps the only people not tipping the European champion were those racing against her.
Enter Charlotte Kool.
At the stage start in Port Rashid, Kool stood beneath the bow of the Queen Elizabeth II cruise liner with a grin on her face. How was she feeling for the sprint? “Really excited,” she said. “I can’t wait.”
For the 23-year-old, who spent much of 2022 as Wiebes’s lead-out woman at Team DSM, this was a chance to prove her worth. Her compatriot had moved on to SD Worx, and now she was the designated sprinter. This was her time to shine.
Kool kept safe in the peloton as it skirted around the city’s skyscrapers, and waited for her opportunity on the flat run-in by the harbour.
At the finish line, the wind had been picking up all afternoon. “I saw we had 40km/h headwinds, so being late was important,” Kool said after the race, but things didn’t go as planned.
With 4km to go, her lead-out train was caught up in a crash, leaving her with just one team-mate at her service for the finale. “We had to change quite fast,” she said. “But luckily our riders know what to do. We spoke a lot about scenarios, what can happen, so switching and being calm was the key today.”
Unknown to Kool, Wiebes had also come down in the crash. But before anyone could notice, the SD Worx rider leapt to her feet, remounted her bike and powered through to the front of the pack. With 150m to go, Wiebes launched her sprint first.
“I first had to close the gap,” Kool explained. Then, sheltering from the headwind, the advantage was with her. “I could come with speed behind Lorena,” she continued, “and I just did my sprint.”
In the end, there was something quite symbolic about how it played out. Kool, previously the understudy at Team DSM, emerged out of her old team-mate’s shadow and kicked, towards victory, into the sun.
The significance wasn’t lost on the race winner. “Being a finisher myself, it’s something I love the most,” she said. “I was just really excited to be in the game myself again.”
Some joked on Twitter before the race, asking how many bike lengths Wiebes would win by. As it turned out, it was Kool who won by one.