Achieving the Gold Standard
Anna van der Breggen’s down-to-earth approach to cycling has brought stellar results. The reigning Olympic champion from the Netherlands this season joined the Dutch Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team. We caught up with Anna at the team’s recent training camp in Javea, Spain, to talk about her background, life beyond cycling, and goals with her new team. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation during the team's thetraining camp in Javea, Spain:
Top main photo © Tim De Waele TDWSport.com
Above photo © Victor Lucas
When teammates, family or friends talk about you what are the three words they would use to describe you?
I don’t know the exact word in English, something like “realistic,” “down-to-earth”… that’s three words, right (laughing)? Most of the time I know what I want.
Does it mean that you are stubborn?
Oh, yes. So it can be in a positive way but also sometimes in a negative way…
Can you tell us something that not a lot of people know about you or something you like such as a hobby?
I like mountain biking, playing piano, spending time with my family. Pretty standard things, actually.
© Victor Lucas
Besides your riding gear, is there something you always take with you when you travel for races/camps?
Nothing really special. Most of the time I take my music box. I’m not superstitious. I don’t need a teddy bear to sleep…
Where is your favorite place to ride? And why?
I love riding in Italy, especially in Tuscany because it’s going up and down a lot and the scenery is beautiful. Also, the food. If you are done with training you can enjoy the food. I love the way they talk about it and they cook. It’s always fresh products and super tasty. I’m passionate about food. I like to make good dishes.
So what’s your favorite dish?
I don’t have a favorite dish. I thought about it several times but I cannot make a choice. I like almost everything as long as it’s fresh. I also like to try new things.
© Victor Lucas
Who inspires you, in the sport or outside the sport?
Nobody in particular. But I’m generally inspired by people on TV about what they do; when they are not afraid of saying what they think. When they try to do the things they think are the best. So they really stand for something.
If you were not a pro rider, what would you do?
Well, I studied to be a nurse. I am a nurse. Actually, cycling it’s my dream job. I don’t know what the future looks like but when my career will be over I want to work. And maybe start something around sport and nutrition. It’s interesting and I’m getting a lot of experience and knowledge about it.
© Tim De Waele TDWSport.com
This is your first season with Boels-Dolmans Pro Cycling. What do you like about the team?
You can feel it’s really one team but there is also space to do your own things. The team is really professional and at the same time there is a bit of flexibility. We know each other, we train, work and train together but at the same time we are also really individual. There is a good balance that gives space to every rider to express herself. Every rider can be who she is and be respected. And for example if three girls do something, you can do things differently.
When and how did you start riding?
That’s a long time ago. I was 7. My brother started cycling because of a friend and I really liked it. Sometimes I was going with him to watch. At that time, I was too young to really compete. But in the Netherlands you have events where you can go with your “normal bike” before the real races. I took my normal bike with me; I raced and won my first race. Since then I love to be on the bike. A lot of my girlfriends were also cycling and part of the team. They were also coming with their brothers and families to the races. I wanted to be with them and also be on the bike. So it worked out well. My brother stopped completely, but I kept on riding.
At the same time I never saw myself as being a professional cyclist. It did it because it was my sport and my hobby. I was studying and then “one day” I realized that I could be a professional cyclist. I just grew into it naturally.
What has been your biggest achievement in cycling, your victory in Rio?
Yes. 2015 also was a really good year for me because I won a lot of races, which were goals, like being Dutch Champion in Time Trial, the Giro Rosa, la Course, Flèche Wallonne. Of course, the year after was all about the Olympics. For me it worked out perfectly, gold in the road race and bronze in the time trial.
In Rio, you probably went through different emotions with the crash of your teammate, Annemiek van Vleuten, and your title. What went through your mind when you crossed the finish line?
First, I thought about Annemiek van Vleuten because we saw her crashing and it looked really bad. At the same we heard directly from the soigneur who was around that she was fine. It’s the very first thing he said. Then I realized that I won the race. But it was weird. It was kind of a shock. Actually, I didn’t really have the feeling that I was Olympic champion. It felt unreal. So I really realized after when I had more time to think about. It took some time to get used to it. It’s such a big goal and something special to achieve. You work so hard to get there and then everything happen so fast.
Did you enjoy the Olympics afterwards? See other sports.
Not really as the Olympics with the TT and the season were not over. I think I only had two days left. But for me it was fine because I needed to continue with training and focus on my other goals, the European and world championships. My family went home as well so being “alone” there wasn’t really nice. Also in 2015, we went to Rio to see. And we visited a bit, the Favela, the Christ statue (Christ the Redeemer) at the top of the mountain. We did it ahead of the Olympics.
What are your goals for the year?
It’s a new team this year. It’s the year after the Olympics. For me it’s a bit more a year of “experiencing” things with the new team. Get to know them and find my way in the team. We have some new races this year, like Amstel Gold, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. So those races are goals for the team and also for me. And of course the Worlds at the end of the season.
What is your favorite race on the calendar? And why?
If I could pick one to win, that would be Worlds in general. It’s always an important race; doesn’t really matter in which country it is. Of course, the profile of the course matters. I haven’t checked the road course in details for this year (Bergen, Norway). I hope it’s a tough course with some ups and downs. Also, the time-trial is important. It seems that this year will be a good course.
© Tim De Waele TDWSport.com
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
My strength is my endurance, which is important for long races and stage races. After hard races, I’m still strong at the end. Climbing also is one of my strengths, and time trialing is also something I’m pretty good at. My weakest points are sprint, super fast races. Those fast, short things are tough for me.
Following your Olympic title in Rio you were made ‘Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau’. “People who deserve appreciation and recognition from society for the special way in which they have carried out their activities.” What does it represent for you?
It was really strange to get it because it’s for people who did something which help others in the Netherlands. To get it feels really weird. You know, I’m a cyclist and I do what I’m good at. It’s strange to see that you get something big for it. As I said I didn’t feel like an Olympic Champion, but after so many people said to me that it inspires them and motives them to get on the bike or do sport, it’s super cool to hear. It feels like you are not just racing for yourself but also for people and that you are a source of inspiration. It shows that sport is important for everybody and not only on the highest level.
© Victor Lucas
What changes would you like to see in the sport?
I think in women cycling we have already seen a lot of changes in the past few years. Ten years ago it was really different compared to now. We are getting more and more professional. We have more and more races on the same day as the men and we have a lot more attention. Also in Holland cycling is getting more and more popular. It’s not strange for women to be on the bike. And that’s different from some years ago. But we still have a lot to improve in the women’s peloton. It’s not as big as the men’s. You see the differences in terms of salaries, size of the teams, how difficult it is to get sponsors. Everything is small, and I think we have to think big. The good thing is that, year after year, things are going in the right direction. Things cannot change overnight; it’s coming step by step.
Is there a men’s race that you’d like to see in the women’s calendar?
I had one, Lüttich–Bastogne–Lüttich (Liège–Bastogne–Liège). So we have it now. That’s really cool. The Giro Rosa is the longest stage-race we have. It’s tough, but it’s not even close to some of the men’s stage-races like the Tour de France. It’s not even one step of it. We don’t have a stage-race that is well known all around the world. That’s one thing I would love to see. It doesn’t have to be the Tour de France, and it doesn’t have to be a three-week race because we are not used to it. It can be called differently, be in another country but it has to be a big stage-race and super famous. The Giro Rosa is super nice but it’s not possible for people to follow it on TV. Stage-races are a bit behind in terms of coverage.
More about Anna
Age: 26 (turns 27 April 18)
Specialist: All-rounder, Classics
Pro since: 2012. 2017 first year with Boels-Dolmans
Key results: Rio Games, gold in road race and bronze in time trial (2016); Silver in Road and time trial in world road championships (2015 Richmond); La Flèche Wallonne Féminine (2016, 2015), EU Road Race (2016), Giro Rosa (2015), Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (2015), La Course by Le Tour de France (2015), National Time Trial Champion (2015), several stage wins.