When Anna van der Breggen rolls out along the banks of the Meuse river and through the streets of Huy Wednesday, she will be looking to break new records.
Maybe because mastering its uphill sprint verges on an art form, La Flèche Wallonne is a race for record breakers. She shares the record for wins at the Belgian race with compatriot and former teammate Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) and both will be going for a sixth win.
Both will be going for a sixth victory in Huy, but, and whisper it quietly, van der Breggen’s dominance on the wall is even more impressive than Vos’. Her five wins to date have come in successive editions.
And, don’t bet against her. Van der Breggen has had a record-breaking month. In the space of the last 30 days, the 30 year-old Dutchwoman became only the fourth woman to win three editions of the Giro Rosa, and the second to win both road and time trial rainbow jerseys in the same year.
That’s some record.
So much of the hype during the early part of this disrupted season has been around compatriot Annemiek van Vleuten. The Mitchelton-Scott rider’s palmarès certainly bears scrutiny, and of course we’ll never know for sure, but had it not been for a stage seven crash it might have been her and not Van der Breggen who won the Giro, and even both rainbow jerseys.
But a deeper dive into Van der Breggen’s results reveals a rider who is among the sport’s most prolific winners, with the Tour of Flanders, two each at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Amgen Tour of California, the 2018 road world title. Oh, and a gold medal at the Rio Olympic road race too.
Indeed, since Vos’s injury-enforced racing sabbatical in 2015, when she and Van der Breggen were both at Rabo-Liv, it’s fair to say the younger woman has been the sport’s dominant rider.
That year she began by winning Omloop Het Niewsblad, then netted her first Flèche Wallonne and Giro Rosa titles, before finishing second in both road and time trial world championships in Richmond, Virginia.
And she’s kicked on from there.
But despite announcing her intention to retire at the end of 2021 to a role as a sport director with what is now Boels-Dolmans and will be SD Worx, it’s not about records for Van der Breggen. She is not securing her legacy.
“Maybe that’s something you think about later,” she said at a pre-race press conference in Maastricht Tuesday. “It’s happening now and I just enjoy riding with my team, if it goes well that’s nice but I’m not looking at a list and I need to have this victory. For now it’s just going from one race to another.
“If you win a race for the third time it still feels nice, of course, every victory feels different. If you win something for the first time that feels like the best, but it’s also the story behind the victory which is I think more important than having a list of races that you have won multiple times. It’s more about how the race was, about how I was feeling, about how the team was riding. That’s something you remember.”
While her public persona is more quiet and thoughtful as opposed a woman with a voracious appetite for winning, she certainly knows how to win. And the Olympic time trial, where she was third in 2016, is her final target.
But win or lose next year in Tokyo, Anna van der Breggen is a leading light with a record we should all remember.