Anna van der Breggen will step into the unknown in 2022.
After 13 seasons racing as a professional, she will be trying her hand as a sport director for her longstanding team SD Worx. While there have been some new races added to the women’s calendar in recent years, she’s rarely — if ever — found herself in a situation that is truly new to her.
Making the switch from racer to DS next season will give the multiple world champion a challenge she’s never faced before, but it’s one she can’t wait to get started on.
It’s also a task she doesn’t expect to flourish at immediately.
“You know a lot about cycling and about some other things, but I think as a rider, you have so many things you have no idea of. If you go to race what the team already organized, or what the staff already did,” van der Breggen told VeloNews. “I need to learn those things. I need to learn what’s behind cycling, how to organize everything, and how to coach in a proper way.
“I always did the things that were about me, and as a cyclist, you’re pretty much individual, you look to yourself and that’s it,” she said during a call. “Everything will be different next year, to try to do everything well for somebody else. That’s something I really need to learn next year, and I won’t be good at it straight away. Of course, that takes time and it needs people around me who are able to teach me.
“I will try to learn as fast as possible. It’s something I’m really looking forward to it because it’s probably a big change.”
Van der Breggen has been dipping her toes into life as a sport director during her final season as a pro. She was behind the wheel for the first stage at the Simac Ladies Tour and then again at the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes just a week after competing in her final race.
They were opportunities for lead DS Danny Stam to pass off his knowledge to his star rider.
Since 2013, Stam has been the major driving force behind the SD Worx squad and its success. Retaining van der Breggen and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak — who is due to retire after the classics next season — as sport directors for next season will be an opportunity for him to spread the burden.
“Already this season, he shares more from the team with me, and I have tried to learn what it takes to be a sports director and what do you need to organize. He’s teaching me a lot, actually,” van der Breggen explained. “Danny is doing so much on his own and he’s really the leading guy behind our team and it’s probably also nice for him.
“We can share some things now, which he always did alone. I think the more you know about it, and the more you learn from it, the more you know that you still need to learn many things. I will find out next year and I think it’s this season is already a nice way just to have a little start with it but not to have the responsibilities already from it.”
Back to school and no gravel
While van der Breggen has had a small taste of what it is to be a DS, there’s still plenty she needs to do before she can officially take up her role for 2022. First and foremost will be her sport director qualification with the UCI.
She will be doing alongside her teammate van den Broek-Blaak. The learning doesn’t stop there, and she is also taking on a coaching course so that she can help the riders in more ways.
“I’m doing [the DS course] in November together with Chantal in Switzerland. I’m also, at the same time, doing a Dutch education class in Amsterdam, and that’s more about coaching. So, I’m learning something and it’s not like I’m going straight into it. It’s also a bit of learning the things on paper,” she said.
With her focus now on helping her teammates from the car, rather than on the road, van der Breggen will have more choice in where and when she wants to ride.
She’s not going to chuck her bike in the garage like some newly retired pros, but she says that she also won’t be joining the influx of riders that have ditched the road for gravel.
“I think it’s good to find out more disciplines and to practice more disciplines,” she said. “Gravel is a bit in between mountain biking and road cycling, but the boring side of mountain biking and road,” van der Breggen said. “It’s a lot of straight, but it’s still difficult in the corners because it’s very slippery. If I go off-road, I prefer mountain biking.
“I still like riding the bike. If you have a busy day, and you can go on the bike for one hour just to go outside, I think it will make you feel better. So probably that’s something I still will do. I think riding will be different in this way. To not look at what I do every moment and to have training in mind, but just to go on the feeling whenever you like to do it.”