Marianne Vos doesn’t really need an introduction. She ruled the women’s peloton for years – claiming World titles in road, cyclocross and on the boards of the velodrome. She dressed herself in World Champion stripes for the first time in in 2004 as a junior and has been little out of them since.
The past couple of years have been less straightforward – an injury and reported ‘overtraining’ meant that Vos spent an extended stint out of competition from the tail end of 2014. Where in 2012 she rode to win at the Olympics in London, the Dutch rider’s Rio role was to support her team mates and anyone even a little in the know gasped to see the Queen of women’s cycling ferrying bottles. Vos herself, however, was not surprised at all by her domestique role – she was willing and able to support her team mates, and looked not a notch short of delighted to see teamie Anna Van Der Breggen take the Gold medal.
Journalists aren’t meant to have favourites – but Vos was the first athlete whose podium presentation made my cheeks wet. Watching the juggernaut of cycling weather the storms of injury then working her way back to fitness as part of a very public rehabilitation process, we’ve seen a more fragile side to a rider who has been idolised since she became World Champion across road and cyclocross aged just 19.
Now Vos is back – though still developing her form – the memory of the time when she wasn’t an eternal presence on the podium serves as a reminder that she’s not superhuman. She’s just super talented and super dedicated.
As well as being the first rider to make my cheeks wet, Vos was also the first rider to make my palms damp when I finally had the chance to speak to her at Eurobike in Germany last week. A few minutes into conversation, however, and I’d relaxed enough that my voice wasn’t shaky and I could eventually think of some sensible questions to ask. Starting with the Olympics.
Fresh from Rio, Vos detailed her own feelings around the Games this year, explaining: “As an athlete the Olympic games are of course the biggest sports event you can enter – so you want to get there. After Beijing [2008, Vos won Gold in the Points race] and London [2012, Vos won the Road Race] I definitely wanted to be there. Last year didn’t all go to plan, I got out for nearly half a year and then in the build-up I had some struggles… so it seemed it wasn’t going to be easy to get to Rio. Then in in the end, in March I started to race and in April I qualified.”
“In London I was the one who had to do it in the final – now I was the one who had to do the work before and had to get the other girls as easy as possible to the final.”
Though thrilled to be selected, Vos knew she had her work cut out – she tells us: “In that moment I knew I wasn’t good enough yet so I knew I had to push myself further and get myself ready for August 7. My role was to lead the team, to make the tactical plan, and also to help my team mates where I could. It’s a different role definitely for me – in London I was the one who had to do it in the final – now I was the one who had to do the work before and had to get the other girls as easy as possible to the final. In the end we wanted to win, and that worked out for us.”