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LEUVEN, Belgium (VN) — In front of screaming crowds packed around the circuitous worlds course in Belgium, American Ruth Winder chased down dangerous moves, launched herself in the wind, and attacked into corners.
And, at race’s end, she retired from a long career in professional racing.
“I just wanted to go in and make myself really proud, and just go for it, and race like I did when I was young,” Winder said at the finish, where she finished 21st. “Just going for the breakaways, attacking without fear of failing or anything. I don’t feel like I had any pressure. In a way, I had no pressure.”
Winder’s career spanned more than a decade across road and track, with multiple national titles beginning with winning the U.S. junior road race in 2009. Her last three seasons continued an upward trajectory; she won the U.S. national road title in 2019, the Tour Down Under in 2020, and Brabantse Pijl in 2021.
Now, the 28-year-old is looking forward to some simpler things.
“Sleeping in my own bed. Getting up when I want because I don’t have a roommate to worry about waking up. Cheering on the girls,” Winder said. “I love cycling, and I want to stay in the sport somehow. I think I am going to be such a fan girl of the sport, too. I am excited for what’s next.”
While Winder does not yet know exactly what is next, she is interested in working as a coach and serving as a representative of the women’s peloton to the UCI.
Winder rode as a teammate for one last race with friends, including Coryn Rivera and Tayler Wiles.
“It is special and emotional,” said Rivera, who finished 10th. “We have been teammates and have been going head to head since we were like 16. I respect her a lot for making the decision on retiring, and she just had an amazing last race. She rode really well. She was not rewarded with a medal, but obviously, as you could see, she rode her heart out today.”
Wiles and Winder first raced together on UHC in 2017, and then were reunited on Trek-Segafredo.
“When Trek was forming this team I was like, I’m gonna bring Ruth with me because I knew what a talent she was, and we were really good friends,” Wiler said. “We’ve been through a lot together, and I’m really going to miss her.”
Winder said she has many fond memories from her career.
“Winning nationals in the U.S. with Tayler was a big one,” Winder said. “In 2013, we won the Giro Rosa with Mara Abbott, and that is when I really learned how to work as a team. Lessons like that were invaluable, just really committing with a group of people together. And I have been able to experience that same feeling many times, whether I am working for someone or when I won Santos Tour Down Under, when the team was working for me. It is a really special feeling to have a group of people come together for a goal.”
“There are so many moments and so many memories. Sometimes on cycling teams you just have colleagues, and sometimes you make really good friends. And those friends will still be in my life past today. They are going to be my friends for the rest of my life,” she said. “I have a lot of memories from the racing itself, but there is so much time we spent together outside of the racing, around the dinner table talking about boys or whatever.”
Wiles seconded this, and struggled to list just one single stand-out memory from their years racing together.
“There are so many. All the Giros we did together. There were tears, hysterical laughing,” Wiles said. “Maybe my favorite memory was at the 2019 Giro: After the uphill TT we begged someone in the town for money to get gelato, and we just sat in our skinsuits and ate gelato, and it was the best thing in the world. It was only the middle of the Giro but we were already cracked. I have a picture of it on my fridge.”
“You can’t fill a Ruth-type hole,” Wiles said. “We will miss her.”
A screaming Belgian goodbye
Winder was content after the hard women’s worlds race, knowing that, whatever happened on that day, her career had been rewarding.
“I was there when I needed to be. I didn’t miss anything. I didn’t have the legs that I needed at the finish but that’s because I covered almost everything that went,” she said. “The result is the result, but I am really proud of myself and how I raced today.”
With Belgium having lifted crowd restrictions just weeks ahead of the worlds, the course was lined with rowdy fans from all over the world, including one particular fan whose voice Winder recognized on the Leuven circuit above the din.
“I was super excited to be racing in Belgium for my last race at the world championships because I knew the crowds were going to be amazing. It’s always fun to have loud crowds,” Winder said. “I heard my dad at one point, so I know his voice is going to be gone.”