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Marianne Vos: Being a Team Player, 2017 Sponsors and TWC’s role in Women’s Cycling

Now the dust has settled back on Copacabana beach we had the chance to spend a few moments with Marianne Vos

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.”

Vos back on winning form at Thüringen Rundfarht July. Image @velofocus

It certainly did, Vos’ team mate Anna van der Breggen won after chasing down a solo break away from America’s Mara Abbott. The race was far from a smooth open-and-shut win, though. On the hairpin ridden final descent, third Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten went down, dropping from lead position to powerless and hospital bound as she lay motionless whilst the race passed her by.

“I think if I had seen her crash then I would have been bad and I don’t think I would have made it to the finish.”

Describing the moment that she passed her fallen team mate, Vos says: “There are always moments in a bike race where you can’t change the circumstances… you just have to accept what’s happening. For me, when the group passed me on the climb I knew there were two other girls in the front so it was a good situation – we didn’t have [a race] radio – so I didn’t actually know what was happening until I was in the descent and I saw one of our girls in the side of the road. Then you know that shouldn’t be and she was there for a long time. For one moment I thought it was Anna [van der Breggen]. But actually it didn’t really matter who it was of course – but it was Annemiek.

“The first moment you think ‘this is not good’ but I saw there were already people with her and helping her, and you just hope for the best. I’m happy I didn’t see it really. I think if I had seen her crash then I would have been bad and I don’t think I would have made it to the finish.”

Thankfully, van Vleuten wasn’t damaged beyond a few broken bones, and she’s working through rehabilitation now, but it didn’t prevent a black cloud hanging over the win. Vos explains: “Of course the first question [when I finished] was – well first I saw Anna won – then second ‘how is Annemiek’?”

Ever the athlete, Vos only had time for a few days enjoying the Rio experience – she says: “We went to see some of the other events to get some other feeling of the Rio Olympics because in the end it’s a fantastic event. If you’re there – in it – actually you miss all that fun. So when I came back home I saw more of the Olympics than when I was there.”

aviva women's tour 2016 vos
Vos has been wearing Rabobank colours for years now - it's all set to change

Vos has ridden under the headline sponsor Rabobank since 2012, with Liv/Giant coming on board in 2013 and remaining – but at the end of 2016 Rabobank will cease their funding of the team. Several riders have already announced they’re moving on – Roxanne Knetemann is transferring to Poitou–Charentes.Futuroscope.86 for 2017, Anna van der Breggen goes to Boels Dolmans, Lucinda Brand will transfer to Liv-Plantur and Thalita de Jong will go to Lares-Waowdeals.

Though many of the key riders are choosing to separate from the team, Vos tells us that its essence will remain – describing what’s coming, she told us: “The team continues. The Rabobank sponsorship ends at the end of the year and we knew that already last year, so of course we have been planning a continuation of the team. There will be a lot of changes… It’s going to be a different name, but will be a Dutch team.”

“Women’s specific clothing, women’s specific bikes [are important]. And that doesn’t mean only colours: it means women are built different.”

She says she hopes Liv will continue to be a sponsor, and that they have a good partnership – but whether they will be a part of the team is very much TBC. Commenting on their women’s specific brand, Vos says: “Women’s specific clothing, women’s specific bikes [are important]. And that doesn’t mean only colours: it means women are built different so you have better materials that suit your anatomy. And I think that’s very important because you have to feel comfortable on a bike, you have to feel feminine but also safe and comfortable. And that’s one of the issues that was set out with Liv very well.”

Discussing the ethos of the team and her own role, she said:  “[I will] develop riders and maintain leadership. We will put a lot of effort into development of riders – it’s not a case of getting the best riders in the world together – we will be building potential, working on young riders – we have a nice group for next year so I am looking forward to it.”

Over the past year, Rabo-Liv have had their fair share of podiums – but the ‘team to beat’ all year has clearly been Boels-Dolmans, who lead the team as well as individual rider classification in the UCI Women’s World Tour with Megan Guarnier. Being an expert in performing at the very top, I have to ask Vos what she thinks is working so well for them – she says: “First of all they have a strong team, strong riders. From the first moment it went well, that works well for motivation, you can see it working. That can be annoying for other teams. But at the end of the day they set the level and other teams just have to try to match it.”

All this said, last month we saw Polish rider Eugenia Bujak of new Slovenian team BTC City Ljubljana win the WWT round GP de Plouay-Bretagne. Acknowledging this success, Vos adds:  “New teams can get through – it’s not easy, Beols do a good job – for other teams it might be good – we just have to push ourselves to the next level as well.”

For women's cylcing to grow we need more media attention, at more races

The UCI Women’s World Tour was introduced this year, replacing the previous UCI Women’s World Cup and adding significantly more race days to the calendar. Having been on the radar for over a decade, Vos is well placed to tell us what effect its introduction has had one women’s racing. Her view is promising: “Women’s cycling [is] stepping up, and races [are] stepping up and wanting to be there in the WWT, it’s good that we have a combination of one day races and also stage races. Now we have that highest level for all racing and you have a real professional league. But it needs to get further and it will take another step in coming years.”

“I’ve seen some good improvements and things like Total Women’s Cycling and Strongher will push women’s cycling forward.”

She adds: “We want it yesterday. But it will take a couple of years. I’ve seen some good improvements and things like Total Women’s Cycling and Strongher will push women’s cycling forward.”

We can’t even put into words how chuffed we were to hear Vos comment that TWC is playing an active role in furthering women’s cycling. That’s pretty much our goal in existence. Strongher is Vos’ own initiative. Discussing her hopes and dreams for furthering women’s cycling, she said: “Strongher is something that wants to get women on the bike, make them comfortable, make them at ease, and let them feel what cycling can do for you.”

She adds: “For more professional riders our aim is to get more attention. We know that women’s cycling is interesting, we have great races, but the bigger problem [is that the wider public] only sees it once every four years. It’s always an interesting race at the Olympics, but if you only see women’s cycling once every four years it’s not that much. It would be great if we had more races like that and for a wider audience.”

We hope to see more and more women’s races being televised to the same level as the Olympic road race, and we’re thrilled to be a part of the story alongside Vos.

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