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London Olympics, Tour de Yorkshire, next the Worlds? Vos eyes more success on British roads

Maria David
10 May 2019

The multiple world champion and winner of the Women’s Tour de Yorkshire talks about getting back to her best form. Photo: CCC-Liv

When Marianne Vos dropped her rivals and crossed the finish line ahead of the field in the howling gale and rain along Scarborough’s Marine Drive on Stage 2 of the Tour de Yorkshire something about the way she fist-pumped the air gave a sign to the world that said, I'm back.

This was her way of putting down a mark to show that the Marianne Vos who dominated women’s cycling is again present and correct.

Vos probably knew deep down that she could win the Tour de Yorkshire. However, a combination of pushing hard on the gale swept roads, the absence of an injured key helper Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, and not knowing the roads as it was her first time in Yorkshire could have left a little doubt in her mind.

So when the win did materialise Vos must have felt a massive relief that her plan had come together, and her hard work was paying off.

'Liege-Bastogne-Liege were the same circumstances so the rain is not really a problem and you get used to those circumstances. Friday [TdY Stage 1] was a bunch sprint, and we did okay, but we were looking forward to the Saturday, and looking for opportunities on that day.

'Half-way through I thought maybe I am not having the best day, but then the attacks came, and I went with the right moves. I began to think I may have done too much work earlier because normally I would say I would be the best sprinter of the three in the breakaway, but in these conditions I didn’t know anymore.

'Paladin was riding well, and Garcia was also really strong. In the final I felt better and better and it felt really nice to take a win.'

Vos was back and didn’t the Yorkshire crowds know it. Folks have been saying that Marianne is not quite the racer that she was five years ago. In fact, she is very close to the form that took her to gold at the 2012 Olympics.

Vos has certainly been competitive for over a year, having taken wins at the Ladies Tour of Norway, the Bene Ladies’ Tour and earlier this year at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda.

There have also been a number of podium spots too, notably at the Ovo Energy Women’s Tour, Prudential RideLondon Classique, and the European Championships last year.

'From my break in 2015 I started to build up slowly and I was happy to make it to the Olympics in 2016 and be a domestique for Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten at that time, so that was the first motivation – to come back and make it to the Olympics and to be as good as I could at that time.

'Over the last years I definitely felt like I wasn’t as stable in shape, I had some ups and downs. I felt I really had to pace myself and be very cautious in training and rest – and still it’s the case, but I can also push myself again.

'I can push my limits – I can handle more training and races and that’s the reason why I am getting better now and this year I’m more stable. I am not taking big steps, but this way maybe I can do the extra one per cent or half per cent to be really back at the top.'

Granted that following her enforced break in 2015 due to fatigue and over-training, her return has been laboured and has at times had setbacks such as when she broke her collarbone in 2017 and 2018, but in fact it's not been purely an issue around Marianne Vos’s fitness.

The last three or four years have seen the emergence of a number of phenomenally strong riders like Coryn Rivera, Kasia Nieuwiadoma and Vos’s own compatriots Van der Breggen, Van Vleuten and Kirsten Wild which has simply raised the level of the women's game even higher.

Where it was previously a case of saying, 'Marianne is here so everyone will be racing for second place', things have changed. These days there isn't an automatic clear favourite at any given race.

This year's Spring Classics have seen a variety of winners, with only Marta Bastianelli, Van Vleuten, Lorena Wiebes and Wild, plus Vos herself winning more than one race.

Vos has not been fazed by this, and has focused on returning to form in small incremental steps, executing her race in the best way possible, rather than targeting any specific rivals.

Flashes of classic Vos were seen last year when she struck up a successful partnership with Dani Rowe as co-leaders of her team, and the two riders took podium spots at the Women’s Tour.

'Dani was a very important part of the team as a co-leader and as a team player. So as an all-round rider she was very important in our team. It was a loss when she retired because she definitely added something and it’s not easy to find a rider like Dani to make up for that.

'It would have been nice to have had Dani racing, but she did a great job for ITV4 and I think she seems really happy with her decision and her new life. You can only appreciate a courageous decision like that.'

This year’s team, sponsored by CCC and Liv once again sees Vos partnered with an experienced rider in the shape of Moolman-Pasio, as well as other young strong and emerging racers.

'We have a strong team again, and I am very happy about that. We have the experienced Ashleigh [Moolman-Pasio] and we have some strong Dutch riders. They might not be the big names yet but they are very good in their role and they are still growing, like Jeanne Korevaar. She’s still a young rider, but in all of the races she played an important role to be in the front, to control the race, to be in the action, to be safe.

'We also have Riejanne Markus who hopefully can make the next steps to getting results. We have two young Polish girls – as a Dutch team with a Polish sponsor it’s nice to give them the opportunity to grow within our team. We want to grow as a team and develop and help riders get the maximum out of their potential.'

Vos is keen to build on her latest success in the UK and come back ready for more of the same this June at the Women’s Tour, and hopefully later this year at the World Championships.

As well as this win at the Tour de Yorkshire, the Women’s Tour and famously at the London 2012 Olympics, the UK seems to have been good to Vos, so it is not surprising to see her as a regular visitor to our shores.

'I really like to race in England, especially with all the support from the people. That’s another thing that is different to most other places. It’s such a great sight if you come into town and all the people are there cheering, but I also think the terrain suits me.

'It’s constantly up and down, never really flat. You get really in a nice easy rhythm so for me, that would be the reason why I like it very much, but the support also gives me an extra motivation to do well.'

While Vos is happy to have found a strong and stable trajectory in her form she is all too aware of the need to rest in between races, but not rest on her laurels. Within the Dutch team competition to represent the Netherlands at major championships will be tough, and it is important not to allow complacency to set in.

Having done a recon of the World Championships course with the Dutch national team while in the UK for the Tour de Yorkshire, Vos describes the course as being suited to a Classics rider – which could mean most of her compatriots.

However, being part of a set of highly competitive racers can only be a good thing as it contributes to her raising her game.

'In the Dutch national team we train together, we go on training camps together and then in this way the federation helps us to get better and while getting better we stimulate each other to higher levels. We know each other well and there is a good atmosphere.

'For us we are proud to represent our country and we want to give something to our country. Of course we don’t want to sit down and relax. It’s important to keep our motivation high and keep pushing. If you want to be in the Worlds squad, if you want to be in the Olympics you have to constantly improve and get better, otherwise other riders catch up with you and you don’t make the selection anymore, so there is a constant motivation that keeps you going.

'Still, when someone is in really good shape and wins races we can be happy for them, and really appreciate it if another one rider is doing really well. There is not much jealousy in the team. That’s one of the strongest points in our national team.'

So for the 31-year old, who takes inspiration from the likes of German former road and cyclocross champion Hanka Kupfernagel, as well as Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill Vos is in this for the long haul, and definitely has her eye on more success.

'I am just a bike rider. Whatever bike I’m on, whichever terrain I’m on, I feel comfortable. My motivation is to get better and better, but my biggest motivation is my love of cycling. I love the game and I love the competition of the race.'