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When Anna van der Breggen won Olympic gold in 2016 she was already an established star. The previous season she had claimed her first Giro Rosa, finished second in both road and time trial world championships, and had embarked on an as yet unbeaten winning streak at La Flèche Wallonne.
Now 29, van der Breggen is preparing for yet another season racing at the top of pro women’s road cycling with Boels-Dolmans, and her schedule is focused squarely on the Olympic games in Tokyo. When VeloNews caught up with van der Breggen recently, there was one question atop our list: Did winning the Olympics change her life at all?
“That’s a difficult question because I don’t know how it would be if I was not an Olympic champion,” van der Breggen said. “It changed a bit, but not that much. I still do the same as my teammates, I still have the same goals, I still have the same things. So it doesn’t matter what you achieved if you’re not happy with it yourself.”
Van der Breggen said the idea that an athlete’s life changes dramatically after an Olympic title comes from those outside the sport.
“People from the outside say if you are Olympic champion then your life is complete, and that’s not true, your life still continues and your life is what you make it yourself,” she said. “It’s not all about winning.”
But winning is something she has done regularly, and the van der Breggen hopes to win another gold in Tokyo, despite being on record as saying multiple victories in the same event aren’t important to her.
“That’s different. First of all it’s four years ago, and it’s the same as the Worlds, it’s a big race and every year is somewhere new so it’s not the same race.
“Before Rio I was talking with Kasia [Niewiadoma, now Canyon-SRAM] and we dreamed about reaching the podium of the Olympics. It felt like a dream, you like to think about it but it’s far away. But once you’ve done something like that that feeling is gone, and that’s a magic feeling that I like to have.
“Of course I know it’s possible to win it, so that’s different from four years ago, but still you go there with a different mindset. So I’m still motivated for it. Luckily.”
Van der Breggen’s presence in the orange of the Netherlands’s Olympic team is nearly guaranteed, and another gold is certainly possible should the she reach the form she has held in recent seasons.
Like many others, she has seen the route and expects a tough race, but the Olympics is less predictable than other championships, a smaller peloton changes the feel and dynamic, and strong teams like the Dutch are less able to dominate.
“It’s so different, the Netherlands leave riders at home who could win the race. You have a bunch half its normal size and that’s different, we never race with four riders.
“Some riders who go to the Olympics don’t have the level, of course you see the strongest riders on the front, but you also know there are a lot of riders watching on the television at home.”
Before and after the Olympics there is the WorldTour season to tackle. Her Boels-Dolmans team are without sponsors for 2021, adding uncertainty, though Van der Breggen says that has not affected their build up, morale in the team remains high.
She will start her season earlier than last year, when she competed in and won the Cape Epic mountain bike race, before a break in May. Then it will be all systems go for the Olympics, with the Giro serving as a warm up.
Though it is her main target, Van der Breggen remains typically laid back about Tokyo.
“We are cyclists and we do more races,” she said. “We have the whole spring before the Olympics and we have the world championships after the Olympics. I am already busy with it, I’m doing a lot for it, I’ll try to be as good as possible, but if it doesn’t work out I will still have a great preparation and I’ll enjoy it.”