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Commentary: Marianne Vos returns to her throne

Why Marianne Vos's thrilling victory in Pau represents a pivotal moment for the Dutch star

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Tour de what?

Today, we must bask in the glory of another thrilling Marianne Vos victory.

On Friday Vos won La Course by le Tour de France in a way that she often wins races, with an expertly timed burst of speed, delivered at the perfect moment, to close a seemingly insurmountable gap to a rider up ahead. At La Course, Vos’s carrot was Amanda Spratt, who succumbed to the same fate as so many riders before her, and watched Vos rocket by her with the finish line in sight.

Last week Vos’s prey was Spratt’s poor countrywoman and teammate, Lucy Kennedy, whose unfortunate premature celebration — she was SO close to winning! — was captured by photographers and videographers at the finish line. Vos caught her just inches from the line to win her second of four — four! — stages at the Giro Rosa.

Both scenarios are examples of bicycle racing mastery, and I suggest you all do what I have done, and watch them again and again and again.

Here is Vos’s win at La Course:

And here is Vos catching Kennedy:

Vos is on a tear in 2019, and her win at La Course marks her ninth victory and seventh Women’s WorldTour win of the season. There’s historical relevance surrounding her latest tear through cycling, and important context behind what she’s achieved.

The first point is perhaps the obvious: Vos has unquestionably regained her spot as pro cycling’s queen nearly four years after she had to take a break from the sport to recover from fatigue and injury.

Last fall I interviewed Vos about her decision to race a full cyclocross campaign, and the familiar topic of Vos’s quest to return to her past dominance came up. For those who are unfamiliar with Vos’s story, here are the Cliff’s Notes: After years of dominating women’s pro cycling, Vos took a break in 2015 to recover from injuries and fatigue.

She returned in 2016 and began her pathway back to the top, only to be derailed in 2017 by crashes and broken bones. Vos was brilliant in 2018, however she was far from her old dominance. And there were logical reasons for this, namely that stronger riders such as Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans), and Coryn Rivera (Sunweb), among others, had risen to the top.

Vos was philosophic about her long quest to return to the peak of women’s racing.

“I felt I was getting better step by step, but sometimes those steps were backwards, and it was difficult to get through,” Vos said. “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.”

So, what’s the next lens of context with which to view Vos’s current tear? Vos has won by focusing on her biggest physical advantage — her incredible accelerations on short, punchy hills — and then deploying it with calculated precision.

Vos used to be able to win every type of race she started: flat sprints, mountainous Giro stages, and even individual time trials. The last time she won La Course was 2014, when the race was a pan-flat sprinters race around the Champs-Élysées. You know what else Vos won that year? The climb-heavy Giro Rosa, a mountainous stage of the Emakumeen Euskal Bira, the hilly Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria, the overall at the UK Women’s Tour—a sprinters race—as well as the prologue time trial at the Festival Luxembourgeouis du cyclisme Elsy Jacobs.

Vos had Swiss Army Knife-like versatility, and could win almost every race she started.

Those days, it seems, are long gone, because the entire women’s peloton has unquestionably leveled up. These days Vos cannot beat Annemiek van Vleuten in an individual time trial, or soar in the high mountains with Anna van der Breggen. And, on a section of cobblestones, Vos may also be a few watts shy of Marta Bastianelli or Ellen van Dijk.

Thus, Vos has had to adapt and choose her battles. Friday’s victory is more proof that Vos can choose and then win those battles perhaps better than any rider in the pro peloton. Her CCC-Liv team has catered its strategy to place Vos in the position to win, and then Vos has delivered, punching away from the bunch at exactly the right moment.

“I still love the game of cycling,” Vos told me in our interview.

Indeed she does, and the game is going quite well for Marianne Vos.