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International Cyclist of the Year: Anna van der Breggen

What didn't the Dutch phenom win this year?

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Anna van der Breggen was the most successful racer — man or woman — throughout the 2020 season. She won the Giro Rosa and the Dutch national road title. Then, at the UCI world road championships in Italy, van der Breggen took gold in the road race and the individual time trial — a feat only accomplished once, by Jeannie Longo, in 1995. And van der Breggen wasn’t done. Perhaps her most impressive moment came without a win. At the Tour of Flanders, van der Breggen chased down her longtime rival, Annemiek van Vleuten. Rather than attack to win, van der Breggen simply slowed van Vleuten so that her teammate, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, could win.

“They already did a lot the whole season to help me,” van der Breggen said. “For me, it was really nice to race like this and do something for them.”

With her final season before retirement on the horizon in 2021, we reached out to van der Breggen to discuss her gilded 2020 campaign.

Which of your victories in 2020 are you most proud of and why?

Our [Dutch] national championships were pretty good. We really made a plan and it worked out and I think it’s also a really big team victory because I could not have done that course without the team. For us, also the win at the TT worlds was really special because I did many worlds TT before but I’d never won it. That’s something you really do by yourself. Of course, being world champion again. That’s always a hard race because everyone wants to be world champ, so I was proud to be the strongest in this race, so it means a lot.

Which win was most unexpected and why?

[Dutch] national champs. I was just back from altitude and it wasn’t that hilly, but there were two climbs every lap. It was a pretty steep climb, though, and I thought [the course] was a little bit more for the sprinters like Marianne [Vos] or Amy [Pieters]. I didn’t really focus on it, and I didn’t really expect to win there. The world TT was also pretty unexpected, although if I looked at the course, I knew I trained well and was ready, but I knew I was not the biggest favorite.

What did lockdown look like for you?

I trained already a lot in winter, and then we raced in Valencia and I got ill after that, for almost two weeks. Then, the first thing we did was take off two and a half weeks. And then we were just working on everything actually. I had structured weeks, every week. I didn’t think, “Oh, races aren’t there, so why am I doing this?”

I also had my goals in training. I tried some new things, some harder training. Intervals. It was pretty motivating to continue. I was feeling it was working for me, as I was getting stronger. That was actually my goal, so it’s not like thinking all the time, “Oh we have no races, why do we train?” Getting better as a rider was motivating me. Of course, then the whole program came, and I felt pretty ready to race again.

How does this season compare to other seasons you’ve had in terms of form and your overall results?

It was a really strange season because it was really short and we had different preparation than normal. I think the good thing was that I was in shape at the perfect moment, and because every race was next to each other, I won a lot of races. Also, because there were not a lot of races, all of them were important, and I won a lot, so in this way it was my most successful season.

Being world champion twice in both disciplines already makes it my best season ever. Being national champ was a big surprise and so nice because I never was before.

After a season like you’ve had, is there any part of you that thinks you made the decision to retire too soon?

I’ve been racing since I was really young. Sometimes, I like to race for others because sometimes their victory feels maybe even nicer than for myself. I think that really has something to do with my own motivation.

Of course it’s great to have a season like this, but doing the same things — training, riding the same races — I still have some goals for next year, but I feel motivation already isn’t enough for all the races or the races I’ve done too many times. If you lose 100 percent motivation, it’s better to find something in which you do have motivation. For me, it was not really a question. I think it’s really the perfect time to make this change for myself and my family and for the future.