Anna van der Breggen is leaving us wanting more.
The world champion is not finishing her career with a whimper but is setting herself up to go out with a bang when she retires at the end of the season. Whatever happens in the remaining months of the season, she will end a decorated career on a high.
“I want to end my career with a great, full season. Especially after this year, which was largely lost due to the corona pandemic, I am enormously motivated to continue for one more year,” van der Breggen said when she announced her retirement last year.
“I want to get the best out of myself on my bike for one more season.”
It’s hard to imagine a peloton without the attacking flair and smooth style of van der Breggen but it is a reality that we’re going to have to contend with. Of course, she’ll still be around next year as a sport director, but it just won’t be the same.
In many ways, the knowledge that every race she does will be the last has freed her to go all-in when the occasion calls for it.
There will be no other chance next year.
What a feeling that must be for a rider.
Van der Breggen’s continued dominance this year has been made all the more impressive by the fact that she could have won much more but has given up some of her chances at victory to set up her own teammate.
Both at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and La Course – two of the biggest events on the calendar – she has set aside any ambition she might have to ride Demi Vollering towards victory. She did the same at last year’s Tour of Flanders and at the 2021 Strade Bianche, using her own resources to kill off dangerous breakaways to allow Chantal van der Broek-Blaak.
And yet, she sits well clear at the top of the world rankings.
It is possibly her ability to give up the reins, even when it is a race that she could win herself, that sets van der Breggen apart from most champions.
With time ticking away on her career, we must savor her performances and appreciate one of the most talented and stylish riders in the bunch.
Dominating the Giro d’Italia Donne
Van der Breggen’s dominant performance at the Giro d’Italia Donne this week is yet more proof that she is calling time on her career when she wants to and not when she is forced to.
Aside from the slight hiccup when SD Worx lost to Trek-Segafredo team in the opening time trial, van der Breggen and her team have hardly put a foot wrong in the Italian grand tour.
Van der Breggen looked untouchable on the race’s first summit finish as she destroyed the competition to finish more than a minute ahead of her nearest rival, her teammate Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio. On Monday’s stage 4 time trial, she put in such a big ride that she sent 12 riders packing from the race because they’d missed the 30 percent time cut.
Unless something dramatic happens over the coming days, van der Breggen has the Giro d’Italia Donne win all wrapped up. The major question is how much can she win by?
With one more summit finish to Monte Matajur on stage 9 – the race’s queen stage – the rest of the pack will have to do all it can to prevent the flying Dutchwoman from adding another one or two minutes to her time.
Perhaps if Annemiek van Vleuten had been in Italy, van der Breggen may have had a tougher fight for pink but that is doing a disservice to the riders that are racing against her. There is some serious climbing talent in the Giro d’Italia Donne pack, but none has come close to wrestling the race lead off her.
With the Olympic Games on the horizon, her performances in the mountains and in the time trials of the Giro are a warning shot to anyone who hopes to earn gold – including her own Dutch teammates.
Where she races and what she does at the Olympic Games is yet to be defined but she will ride the world championships in Flanders in September. In the form that she has possessed over the 2021 season, who would bet against her adding another set of rainbow bands to her closet, but maybe we will see her setting up a teammate to success. One named Demi Vollering, perhaps.
Whatever her program over the coming months, we’ve probably got fewer than 20 more opportunities to see van der Breggen race before she retires.
Make the most of it because we’ll miss her when she’s gone.