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"It’s going to be really tough"

2018 UCI Road World Championships

"It’s going to be really tough"

Interview with Dutch pro rider Anna van der Breggen

Interview: Barbara Plattner, Text: Simon Leitner, Bild: Klaus Kranebitter

Anna van der Breggen, vice world champion in the individual time trial and Olympic champion in the road race, recently completed a high-altitude training camp in the ski resort of Kühtai. The Dutch pro rider used the opportunity to recon the courses which will feature at the World Championships this September. We met up for a chat at the Seegrube ski station high above Innsbruck, where she told us that although she is expecting tough racing the courses in Tirol play to her strengths.

Anna, we are currently at the Seegrube cable car station above Innsbruck overlooking sections of the courses which will feature at the 2018 UCI Road World Championships. We can see the Bergisel ski jump and other famous Innsbruck sights which riders will pass during the World Championships in September. What was your first impression when you went out training on the roads here?  Anna van der Breggen: Oh, that’s easy to say: steep, steep, steep (laughs). In other countries we may have more climbs, but here in Tirol they are really, really steep. That’s good if you have good legs. It also makes Tirol a good place to work on your climbing. But if you’re not feeling good it’s really hard to ride here.

Do you have the feeling that the courses at this year’s World Championships suit you?  Ja, ich bin eine gute Kletterin, und die Strecke hat definitiv viele Anstiege. Es wird zwar echt hart, aber im Normalfall sollten mir die Rennen hier liegen.

You are a gold medallist and Olympic champion. Last year you won two silver medals at the World Championships in Bergen. The one thing missing from you collection is the Rainbow Jersey, right? What’s your strategy for September?  September is still a long way away (laughs). I really like the courses and the World Championships are always something special every year and a real challenge. For many athletes they are the ultimate goal and their main focus of the year. The racing is different at World Championships because you’re not riding for your trade team but instead for your country. That means you’re riding together with team-mates you normally don’t ride with. That also makes it special. I know it’s going to be tough to win the race and become world champion. I will just have to do my best and hope that this time it is enough. In the last few years it wasn’t enough and I often finished second.

Dutch pro roadbike rider Anna van der Breggen on the Nordkette mountains.

© Klaus Kranebitter

What kind of terrain do you generally prefer – hilly or flat? I like hilly courses and tough races. I don’t like waiting. If you are in the group at the front of the race then you have to try a few things with your team and ride tactically. But I personally prefer races with a tough finish – ones where everyone is absolutely exhausted and then there is one more hard climb to come. I like different courses and different disciplines. That means I can set myself different goals for the season. It is a good way for me to stay motivated.

Roadbike racing has traditionally been a male-dominated sport. Do you have the impression that things are changing? Yes, a bit. We are getting more and more good races, but at the end of the day there are still big differences between men’s and women’s racing. For example, the teams are different. There are fewer female racers, so the peloton is smaller in women’s races. Women’s races also have a mixture of pro and amateur riders, which means the level of the athletes varies a lot. In men’s races there are only pro riders competing. I think we need to get more women riding bikes. We have to make the sport more popular and show that roadbike riding is also a sport for women.

Do you try and motivate other women to get involved in roadbike riding? I hope that all female riders do that by racing. It’s an important step forward that more and more women’s races are being shown on TV and broadcast in different countries. If women see us racing on TV then maybe they will become motivated having a go themselves.

Do you think that having more women’s races on TV can help get more women into competitive cycling? Yes, that’s the most important thing. Being on TV is a key element. Of course you also need sponsors to finance bigger teams with more female riders, but most of the money comes from TV rights. The more women’s races are shown on TV, the more interesting it is for sponsors to get involved and invest in women’s cycling.

What does it take to be a good roadbike rider? Power, stamina, the right mentality, the right tactics? I think within the top ten there is not much that separates us. Of course we prepare differently and approach races in different ways, but we all have a passion for the sport and train a lot. To be a good roadbike rider I think you have to want to be the best. You also have to believe that you have what it takes – otherwise you won’t win races. The most important thing is having the right attitude – and having good legs on the right day. (laughs)

“The important thing is having the right attitude – and having good legs on the right day.” Anna van der Breggen, Dutch pro rider.

I read that you studied at university to become a nurse. Does that mean that it was not always your number one priority to become a professional bike rider? To be honest I had never really thought about turning pro. I have three brothers and one sister. My parents made sure that we all went to university or learned a trade. For me it was a totally normal thing to do at that age. I went to university, completed my nursing course and then asked myself: “What should I do now?” Then I got the opportunity to become a pro rider and thought, “Hey, why not?” Still, I never really had a plan to become a pro. At the start I didn’t even know it was possible to make a living riding my bike. 

How important was cycling your family? My brother and my father liked cycling. It was the sport which we did at the weekend. Training was on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Every child had to do some kind of sport, and for me it was cycling. My mother didn’t really like it. She and my father aren’t really that into sport. Cycling was the sportiest thing they did. (laughs)

So you didn’t start taking the sport seriously until relatively late? You may have started cycling when you were young … but not exactly with the aim of winning the Olympics (Laughs). No, I never thought about that when I was a child. 

Thank you for your time.

© Klaus Kranebitter

Biography:

Anna van der Breggen was born on 18 April 1990 in Zwolle (Netherlands). She started taking part in bike races at the age of seven. In 2012 she turned pro. She currently rides for Team Boels-Dolmans Pro Cycling. In 2016 van der Breggen won gold in the road race at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. In 2017 she won silver in the individual time trial at the World Championships. She is a two-time winner (2015 and 2017) of the Giro d’Italia Femminile, also known as the Giro Donne or Giro Rosa.

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