You may not know the name Kata Blanka Vas very well yet, but you will.
The Hungarian 19-year-old was snapped up by cycling behemoth SD Worx earlier this year and she’s on course to become the next big thing in multi-discipline racing.
Vas, runner up in last year’s mountain bike worlds U23 cross country race, will be lining up Tuesday in the Olympic cross-country mountain bike event in Tokyo after stepping out of the junior ranks less than a year ago.
“It’s incredible. Three years ago, I didn’t think I will go to the Olympics because I was a junior,” Vas told VeloNews. “I thought I hadn’t the chance to go but then in Hungary, we had the three qualification races. I could start just two races because the third race was when I was a junior. I won those two races, and I could go to the Olympics.
“It’s the biggest race and everybody speaks about the Olympics. I always saw it on the TV with my family and it was my dream. It’s a very big thing.”
Vas will be an outsider going into the race, with some older and more experienced competitors vying for the gold medal. However, the Tokyo Olympics will provide some invaluable experience in what is likely to be the first of many appearances at the multi-sport.
With her lightweight frame of just 49kg, Vas is looking forward to testing herself on the hilly course.
“I have not been on the course, but I’ve seen some videos and I really like it,” Vas said. “Maybe the steep uphills suit me but also the technical downhills and I really like the rain. So, I hope it will be raining.”
Unfortunately for Vas, the weather is unlikely to go her way with temperatures of up to 33C degrees expected in Tokyo on Tuesday.
A little bit of everything
While Vas has focused her efforts on mountain biking in recent months, it is not the only discipline in her skillset. Over the winter, she showed herself as a promising cyclo-cross talent by beating Inge van der Heijden and Sanne Cant to win in Gullegem, and taking bronze in the U23 race at the world championships.
Her road record is less proven but she still has some strong results with the Hungarian national time trial and road race title — on top of her mountain bike and cyclocross titles — a third place in the youth classification at the 2020 Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and seventh in the junior road race at the 2019 world championships.
Most of her childhood cycling heroes speak to her desire to boss it in several disciplines.
“When I was young, I had a Hungarian rider. Her name is Barbara Benkó,” Vas said when asked about her favorite riders. “I am always looking at her mountain bike races and thinking wow. I also like Mathieu van der Poel, Anna van der Breggen, and Marianne Vos, and my big favorite Pauline Ferrand-Prévot because she’s the world champion in three disciplines. I also really like Jolanda Neff and Wout van Aert.”
Vas picked up cycling thanks to her father, who loved to ride, and began racing about five years ago. For a rider who is promising to be one of the sport’s future stars, her competitive beginnings were fairly inauspicious.
“My father is a mountain bike racer, and he always went to do marathon races. On the holidays, we would always take our bikes and just go out riding. We were on holiday in Italy and we saw there was a race, and I wanted to start it. So, I started with a horrible bike, and then I was the last one to finish the race. I thought I won the race, but my mother didn’t tell me that I was the last one.”
Vas is a shy and unassuming person, but it belies a determination within her. The Hungarian rider’s broad skillset quickly caught the eye of SD Worx, whose team manager Danny Stam is on the search for young talent to shore up the team’s future domination.
She has not met her new teammates yet, as she has been preparing for the Olympic Games, but she’ll link up with them afterward as she makes her road debut with the squad.
While she has potential on the road, the team was particularly interested in her cyclocross abilities. She will work with the new team coach, and former rider, Lars Boom over the forthcoming winter to work on some of the more niche parts of the discipline.
“I can learn a lot from the girls because I don’t have so much experience on the road. I really need to learn how to work the road racing,” Vas told VeloNews. “In cyclocross, I will have a coach who can show me how to run with my bike because my running skills are very bad, and also how I have to ride in the sand. I’m not so good in the sand.”
Vas will continue to ride all three disciplines for the foreseeable future, but she knows that she will eventually have to make some tough decisions about her race program.
“I think there will be a point I have to choose mountain bike or road,” she said. “Maybe I want to choose road because mountain bike is not so professional, but I really like it and I think I will not totally [be] finish[ed] with [the] mountain bike.
“I can start some mountain bike races, but not all because it’s too much together. Maybe half the season on the road, and the next half on the mountain bike, because it’s not so easy when you start the week, one weekend on the road, and next weekend on the mountain bike, because it’s different and I need some time to switch.”