The most dominant female cyclist in history talks about her career, recovery, and strong riders around her.
In 2018, Marianne Vos returned to the top step of the podium.
Vos, the most dominant female cyclist in history, famously took a break from pro cycling in 2015 to recover from injury and fatigue. She returned in 2016 lacking her world-famous horsepower, and her 2017 season was marred by injury and sickness. Then, in 2018, Vos exploded with stage wins, GC victories, and one-day successes.
VeloNews caught up with Vos to discuss her comeback season and why her countrywomen have rocketed to the top of the sport.
VeloNews: Do you feel like you are all the way back to top form after several years of injuries and fatigue?
Marianne Vos: Definitely. In 2015 I was out, and 2016 I was hoping to be back on my best as quickly as possible but, of course, recovery takes time. I felt I was getting better step by step, but sometimes those steps were backwards, and it was difficult to get through. I knew I had to be patient and dedicated. I’m very happy over the last few months, and I feel that I’m getting stronger and back to my best. It took a long time, but it was worth it.
VN: Does your overall form in 2018 feel similar to where you were prior to 2015?
MV: Not for the entire 2018 season, but there were points where it was. It grew during the season. I had illness in the winter and then a crash at Liège-Bastogne-Liège where I broke my collarbone. But going further into the season, I really got back to the feeling I had before, and that has been a great feeling. For me it was like, I’m still able to do this, and this is what I love.
VN: Is that assessment based on results or something else?
MV: It is not based on results. I have had some good results in the last two seasons, but a result doesn’t tell the whole story. For me, it’s about what I can do in training and what I’m capable of in races.
VN: Looking back on your fatigue in 2015, what do you attribute it to?
MV: It was a combination of factors. I was really good from 2011-’13, and I was pushing myself very hard. I wanted to do well not only for myself, but for everyone around me. I felt responsible for the team and for the sponsors. It took more energy than I expected. If you really push your body past your limit, to where it has never been, that is an interesting process. I really wanted to win the Giro, which I did, but it was so much work to get this done. I suddenly started to train more, and when I needed to rest, I also wanted to build up and race with my team. It’s a thin line to balance between healthy and fit, to know which pain is normal and which pain is too much.
VN: Where did that pressure come from?
MV: I’ve always wanted to give my best and get the best out of myself. That might be a really good thing as an athlete, and that might give you lots of success. It’s also very demanding.
VN: How do you do things differently now?
MV: I know I have to take care of my body, and that is about rest, but also nutrition. And I learned not to be demanding to my body all of the time. Sometimes I give it hard efforts and sometimes that is rest. In the past I wanted to be at 100 percent all the time, but I found out that is probably not possible. I learned to stay more patient and listen to my body when necessary.
VN: You were teammates with Annemiek van Vleuten in 2014. Van Vleuten won the 2018 Women’s WorldTour overall. Did you know back then that she was destined for greatness?
MV: To be honest, I have to say no, I did not see her becoming as dominant as she is now. I knew she was very strong and very dedicated and, actually, the most dedicated rider. She could handle so much pain. I knew she could have a great career with great wins, but being so dominant in the time trials and the longer climbs, I don’t think she knew it in that moment. She found out.
VN: That season you were also teammates with Anna van der Breggen, who just won the world title. Did you know she was destined for greatness?
MV: Definitely. Anna is sometimes shy. Back then, as a younger rider, she was already a powerhouse with great efforts. She probably needed a little bit of time to get the faith and the knowledge of how to win those bigger races. But you could already see at that young age that she was very strong and able to grow into the world-class rider she is now.
VN: This season you skipped the road world championships and instead started your cyclocross campaign early. Why?
MV: After last season I decided to start earlier in the cyclocross season this year, and to take the fitness from road season and go into the first World Cups and the continental championships. Then I will have a small break in the winter, before building into next year’s road season. Last year I found out that going into the cyclocross season later meant that I missed the rhythm. I also missed the points [required] to be [at the front of ] the starting grid. I also wanted to do something new. It’s been racing in the elite category since 2006, and I wanted to do something fresh.
VN: Last month the UCI revealed new plans for women’s racing in 2020, which include a mandatory minimum wage and a two-tiered racing system. What are your thoughts?
MV: I think it’s already been five or six years since we started talking about this. It looks good. A minimum wage is one thing, but the two-tiered system will make it possible to have a really high standard of competition. With only one level you have the best of the best together with a whole lot of riders and teams from lower levels. With all of those levels together it’s not easy to make the various steps you need to make riders more professional. It’s not possible to ask the teams to have higher standards of staff and rules. I definitely think that the highest level will be much more professional, and interesting to watch for spectators.
VN: You’re 31 now. How long do you want to keep racing, and what keeps you going?
MV: I don’t feel old. I feel like I have more left, and I’m very happy that I’m getting there. I still love the game of cycling. When I was out in 2015, it was a hard period. What motivates me is still to get the best out of myself, and I feel that I’m getting back there.