Anna van der Breggen learning a lot in new role as sport director
The former professional, who now works as a director sportif for the SD Worx squad, says team support is becoming increasingly important in taking race wins.
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Anna van der Breggen is enjoying post-racing life.
The Dutch superstar hung up her wheels at the end of last season after a stellar career that saw her become one of the most dominant riders of her generation. She was still very much at the top of the sport, but she wanted something new.
Seven months on from her final race at the world championships in Leuven last year, Van der Breggen has embraced her next career as a sport director for the SD Worx team that she raced with for so many years. She now works alongside her long-time DS Danny Stam and fellow ex-pro Lars Boom, who joined the team near the end of 2021.
“It’s really interesting,” Van der Breggen said of her new job earlier this month. “I’ve learned a lot. I think it’s always like this when you start a new job, you need to figure out how it’s working, what you need to do, and what’s the best way to do it. It’s nice also that me and Lars actually are both starting up and trying to figure out how to do it and how to use all the talents we have.
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“I think that’s really nice, with Danny having the experience and we also have experience, but in different parts. You see a part of cycling that you didn’t see before, actually, that you didn’t pay attention to because you were only focused on being as good as possible. Now, the focus is on the team, and it is really different. You’re busy from the morning until the evening. Before it was like you were always tired and now you are also tired but it’s a different tired. It’s a big change and so far, I’m only enjoying the change.”
Rather than being in the mix of the peloton, Van der Breggen spends her races sat behind the bunch in the passenger seat of the team car, talking to the riders down the radio.
She’s happy being in the car, but sometimes she wishes that she could be back in the bunch. It’s not that she wants to race again, but it’s far easier to tell the riders what she wants to when she’s alongside them. It’s a small frustration that she’ll have to deal with and she’s already getting used to it.
Instead, the biggest change for her has been not in the race but it is all the background work that goes into getting the riders on the road.
“I have some moments that I think if you’re in the bunch you can say it quicker. But I also get used to that quite fast. In the car, you can say some things, but not that much,” she said. “I think what’s more unexpected is the planning besides all the cycling, the managing parts, which I think is pretty difficult.
“As a rider, you don’t pay attention to it. You check your schedule, okay, I need to go to this effort and then somebody picks me up and that’s it, that’s all you need to know. And now it’s different. Now I need to figure out who picks up who, where, and what time. But I will get there, also.”
In her first year as a DS, Van der Breggen has seen some success with the SD Worx squad taking five wins so far this season. While the team has been strong, its quest for victories has become harder with each passing year.
While part of that may be down to Van der Breggen’s retirement, she was the team’s biggest winner for many seasons, the widening strength of the peloton has also played its part. There are more potential winners within each starting lineup, but squads that back them have also stepped up their game.
“Things are changing, and teams are changing, but we are still pretty much the same team and strong as a collective. I think that’s also our strongest point,” Van der Breggen said. “You need the individuals to win the races, but you need the group also to do it. You can see that Trek is riding differently than before, of course with [Elisa] Balsamo now winning a lot of sprints.
“That’s really cool for them, and you also see more teams having a really good block, like FDJ. Some teams with young girls who are really motivated. I think it is something which is coming more and more. It’s not about individuals, but you really need the teams to be in front of the races, to save energy, and to go for the moments where you can make the difference.”