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Confidence is key in sport, and Blanka Vas is building up plenty of it in a huge 2021 season.
The rising Hungarian multi-discipline star took the biggest win of her young career in late October, beating Puck Pieterse and reigning world champion Lucinda Brand to victory at Overijse.
She’s also racked up a string of top-10 finishes as well as finishing second at the European Championships earlier this month.
While she’s enjoying a huge season already, Vas is still working to improve some of the areas she feels need attention.
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“I didn’t expect it but I had a really good day. Everything was perfect. When I woke up, I felt it would be a good day and it was. If I have a good day, then maybe I can win. It’s good to know,” Vas told VeloNews of her Overijse win.
“I need to work on the running but I think it’s improved a bit. I also need to be more aggressive on the races and fight for my position.”
With the cyclocross world championships looming in just over two months’ time, Vas is hopeful that work will pay dividends. She’s already notched up fourth in the mountain bike event at the Olympics and another fourth at the road world championships.
After stepping out of the U23 category this year — she’s still just 20 —it’s going to be tougher, but she is growing in confidence as the season progresses.
“I will start in the elite category so it’s already a big motivation. Like [in Overijse], if I have a good day, maybe I can beat them, but I think they are stronger than me. But if I have a good day and a bit of luck anything is possible,” she said in a video call.
Vas’s step up in her cyclocross performances this season can be attributed to a number of things, such as her increased experience and age. However, working with a dedicated CX coach for the first time is bound to have helped.
Former ‘cross world champion Lars Boom joined the SD Worx team as a DS this year and is helping Vas refine her racing style. The Dutchman had only positive things to say about his new rider.
“I’m happy that I can come work with her because she’s a multi-talented rider with a high technical level on the bike and, in the end, I only can improve small things, but I think the small things can still make a big difference in a cyclocross race,” Boom told VeloNews.
“She already told you that sometimes she has to be a little bit more aggressive or a little bit more in position in the race, and those small things we talk about after the races. I can already straightaway see in a new race that she works on it and that’s good to see.
“She’s a little bit shy, but she’s really nice,” he said. “If we can improve every race, and we get everything out of the races, that’s the most important thing for us. She’s really young so, we’re learning every race. Also, we shouldn’t be afraid that sometimes it’s not good, or the races are a little bit less. We can learn from that as well.”
Looking to 2022
Vas has been rising through the ranks for a couple of seasons and her huge promise was highlighted when SD Worx came knocking and secured her as a rider from June 1. The team snapped her up with a view to extending its success into cyclocross and mountain biking, something that has swiftly been rewarded.
“I just enjoy combining the disciplines. It is good to switch the bike and always try to do something new it’s good,” Vas told VeloNews.
Her talents on the road were less well-known but she quickly proved to be a strong contender in that discipline when she took ninth overall at the Challenge by La Vuelta, her first road race with SD Worx. New teammate Anna van der Breggen, and roommate at the Spanish race, was so impressed with her that she told Vas she could take the rainbow jersey at the Flanders worlds.
While she didn’t win, she wasn’t far off with a hugely impressive fourth place.
“We didn’t have too much time together but before the world championship, she just came to me and she said, you know, you can win this race, you can win this race and I just loved it,” she said.
“It was a very good feeling, and it meant a lot. Also working with Lars if he says something then you know it’s good. You try to do what he said or what Anna says. It’s also a big motivation to work with these kinds of people.”
Vas’s full focus is the cyclocross season, but she will switch back to the road at the start of next year. Precisely when she makes the jump is not yet known as she may continue competing in CX events after the worlds, but she’s looking forward to getting stuck in.
“I haven’t decided yet. But yeah, I just know I want to do more road races with the team next season. I have to find the balance to make it work,” she said. “Maybe I will have some period of road racing and then a period of mountain bike races and then again, road races, because I think it’s not good when you change the bike day by day.
“On the road, I want to try myself on the classics. And we will see how it’s going. And I’m really looking forward to meeting my teammates.”