LEUVEN, Belgium (VN) — So long, farewell, Anna van der Breggen.
The Dutch rider closed off her trophy-laden career with the women’s road race at the world championships in Flanders, with the number one on her back as the defending champion.
Perhaps one of the most stylish riders in the bunch, and definitely one of the most prolific, van der Breggen had marked this as her final event months ago. There was no sadness in her eyes as she worked her last mixed zone with the media as a professional rider, just a smile on her face after pulling down the curtain on her career.
“Pretty good, I must say,” van der Breggen said when asked how she’d felt pinning her numbers on for the last time. “I also worked towards this day so I was quite happy it was finished now, and I can do different things.
“It was really special today. Of course, in the beginning, I was really focused on doing the race and to try to do well, and then I could feel ok that it was finished,” she said. “We had two last laps on the circuit easy and that was really special to see so many people saying goodbye to me and thank you… It was a pretty special last race, and I was happy I could do it.”
Van der Breggen’s journey to her final race has been far from easy. She looked out of sorts upon her return to racing after the Olympic Games and pulled out of the European championships at the start of September.
She was subsequently diagnosed with fatigue and dropped out of the defense of her time trial title Monday, and later the mixed team relay. Cutting the races from her calendar allowed her more time to recover for her last hurrah, but she was concerned that she might not get a proper chance to say goodbye.
“I was pretty worried that I would not feel good today and I would be dropped in the first climb. So, I was happy it was a pretty good day and still I could manage to stay in the first group until the finish, but it was fine for me today. To have the opportunity to do the last laps like this was also a positive,” she said.
The next steps
There was no time for sentimentality van der Breggen as the race rolled out of Antwerp with the Dutch women searching for their fifth world title in a row. With a less than ideal build-up to the race, she was on team duties rather than going for the victory herself.
In the end, the Dutch dominance was broken by Italy’s Elisa Balsamo, who outkicked Marianne Vos in the sprint for the line in Leuven.
“We came here to win this race and many of the team wanted to win it and could win it, but it was also a circuit that was difficult to win on because a lot more girls could win on it,” said van der Breggen.
“Maybe a circuit that was tough with climbs would have been better. We knew it was going to be hard to win this race. I heard Marianne was really close. I don’t know, I will speak to the girls later and see how they feel about it. I’m happy I could help.”
Van der Breggen did not witness the final battle for the rainbow jersey up close and personal after she was dropped on the final circuit. Though she wanted to stay with her teammates as long as possible, being dropped finally allowed her to soak in the last moments of her career as she rolled in over nine minutes behind the leaders.
Her worlds wins in Imola last year were done ‘behind closed doors’ and she was thankful that 2021 was contested in front of a passionate crowd.
“I’m grateful for a day like this. If people were not allowed to be here then it would not be a day like this,” van der Breggen said. “To have a world championships in Belgium, everyone now feels how special it is to have so many people enjoying cycling. I enjoyed them, and it made me feel like I did something special and I’m really happy I’m here.”
There are few riders in the bunch that have a palmarès that can match van der Breggen, except for perhaps her Dutch teammates Marianne Vos and Annemiek van Vleuten, and the peloton will not be the same without her in it.
During her nine-year career, van der Breggen became just the second rider to win the time trial and road race world titles in the same year. She was an Olympic champion, she won Flèche Wallonne an almost unbelievable seven times in a row, and claimed the Giro d’Italia Donne title four times — the last of which came this year.
On her day, there were few that could beat her, and she continued to add to her scorecard through 2021. If she continued into next year, she would likely still be one of the most dominant riders, but she is at peace with her choice and ready to move into her new role as a sport director in 2022 for SD Worx.
“I’m happy it’s finished and I’m totally ready for the next step,” van der Breggen said. “In the beginning maybe when you really have trained for it and you have good races and you win races, of course, I’m going to miss having that feeling.
“Maybe after a year, you think that you’d like to do one again. You’re riding in the bunch, so you really feel what it is like but maybe when I’m in the car I’ll get the feeling that I want to be in the bunch. I don’t know yet, I’m ready to find out.”