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No one can actually believe that Anna van der Breggen is retiring at the end of this year, except perhaps the Dutchwoman herself.
“It’s personal, and it feels for me like the right time,” she told a group of journalists on a Zoom call last week. “That’s enough. I shouldn’t hesitate. I should continue and make new goals. I’m fine like this, I’m happy with my last year like this with something new starting. It makes me happy to look into the future like this.”
Our disbelief is due to the fact that the double world champion seems to be riding into the prime of her career. The 30-year old had an astounding 2020 season, winning her third Giro Rosa, sixth Fleche Wallone, second road world championship, among many other career-defining victories.
Furthermore, she seems not to be putting the brakes on in 2021 with two podium finishes at the first two WorldTour races of the season.
The Zoom call was to celebrate yet another achievement in van der Breggen’s long list of them: the Dutchwoman had just accepted a nomination for the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year award.
The Laureus World Sports Awards honor the greatest sportsmen, sportswomen and teams across all sports each year. For 2021, van der Breggen was nominated among an impressive international field of athletes, including tennis player Naomi Osaka, skiing’s World Cup champion Federica Brignone, Kenya’s marathoner Brigid Kosgei, footballer Wendie Renard, and basketball’s Breanna Stewart, who led the Seattle Storm to the WNBA Championship.
“Its always a big honor just to be nominated in a list of sportspeople like this,” van der Breggen said. “Mostly of course, you have nominations in cycling, so it’s really special to have a nomination among all sports in the whole world.”
Both van der Breggen’s age and abilities make it puzzling to some that she would leave cycling right now. However, she has long been clear on two points about her retirement: it’s both personal, and she’s not leaving the sport entirely.
Like many female professional cyclists, van der Breggen is confronted with the challenge of when and how to start a family. Rather than follow in the footsteps of riders like Marta Bastianelli and Lizzie Deignan who have returned to race after having children, van der Breggen has decided that she will change careers in tandem with starting a family, rather than returning to the peloton.
“It’s a nice example that it’s possible, that’s really refreshing,” she said. “It’s not there in men’s cycling, the choice of having a family, having children. In women’s it’s a big thing, it’s changing your life. It is a big factor for me in quitting cycling at this point. I’m married and my husband is nine years older than me, and that plays a role, and it’s our decision. It is possible [to continue riding after having a child], but you need to feel that motivation.”
Her motivation now, she says, is to use her experience and expertise to guide another generation of cyclists forward. Van der Breggen plans to work as a sport director at the team that has called home for the past five years, SD Worx.
Although she’s confident in her decision to move from rider to director, van der Breggen also acknowledges that deciding to retire right now wasn’t necessarily easy.
“I think it’s really hard for athletes, when you still like the sport and for years, you’ve gained so much experience and then you decide, I’m done,” she said. “And you’re gone. For me, it’s a good thing that I can continue in another way. My knowledge is not gone. I can help young girls. That’s something I‘m really looking forward to.”