The Canyon-SRAM rider finished the season without climbing to the top step of the rostrum for the third year in a row.
Though she remains one of the top riders in the women’s peloton with top 10 finishes at some of the biggest races of the year, including Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Amstel Gold Race, and the Tour of Flanders, Niewiadoma would like to raise her arms again as she crosses a finish line.
“I feel like this past season is like 50/50 for me. In one point, I’m happy that I achieved goal of being on the podium Tour de France, one of the biggest races in our calendar,” Niewiadoma told VeloNews this week. “On the other hand, knowing that I did not win anything during the season, and it’s another season without a victory, it’s something that kind of just upsets me in some ways.
“I also try to turn it into motivation or something that I should be working more towards. I am trying to find a way how to change it.”
- Women’s road races are getting longer, but is that good?
- UCI Road World Championships: Kasia Niewiadoma wants shorter road race, more action
- Cultivating positivity: Kasia Niewiadoma on switching off and giving it everything on the road
Niewiadoma’s lack of victory wasn’t for a lack of trying, and she remains one of the aggressors in the peloton. However, she wonders if her way of racing has become too predictable, especially when there are so many more riders capable of chasing her down.
“At the current level of women’s cycling, it’s not so easy to win anymore and I am definitely lacking, like the surprising part or unexpected attack,” Niewiadoma said. “I feel like I’m too visible or I’m attacking in such an obvious place that everyone can just get on the wheel straight away. And seeing how Annemiek [van Vleuten] won the worlds, sometimes you just have to commit, even though you might not be the strongest that day.”
The world championships were a particular frustration for Niewiadoma this year.
Having gotten into a strong break twice in the closing stages of the race, her group was reeled in with just meters to go and she could only watch as Van Vleuten surprised the whole group with an immediate counterattack. Niewiadoma ultimately finished eighth, and left Australia wondering why she hadn’t done more.
“It definitely felt like another opportunity being lost,” she told VeloNews. “I feel like quite often I find myself in five or six-person groups going towards the finish line and so somehow, I don’t make a move to surprise them. I always ride with them and then I’m like, ‘why do I do it?’ I’m not the fastest in the group. I feel that when fatigue just creeps in, I just cannot find this rational thinking.
“Races that finish on a mountain top finish, like we had during the Tour de France, the strongest person wins. Yet during the classics, it’s not always the strongest, but also the most crafty one or the unpredictable one. Thinking about how [Marta] Cavalli won Amstel… At Flèche she won showing her strength, but in Amstel, I felt like she won with clever riding also. I feel like when I was younger, I was doing it more often and the older I got, the more calculated I got. It’s not my style of riding so I don’t know where I got it from.”
Balancing Tour de France and classics ambitions
Despite her frustrations about not taking a win, Niewiadoma did enjoy a reasonably strong 2022 campaign. Her major highlight was finishing third at the Tour de France Femmes, behind Van Vleuten and Demi Vollering.
She’s got form as a strong stage racer after finishing second at the 2020 Giro d’Italia, on top of a string of top-10 finishes. However, Niewiadoma worried that she would struggle when she reconned the route and realized just how much climbing there would be on the final two days.
It led her to shake up her training and she would go on to find some of the best climbing form of her career.
“I would always say that I’m not a good climber. I could climb for 20 minutes, and that’s it. So, reconning the stages five weeks before the stage, I thought ‘shoot the climbs are actually longer than 20 minutes.’ In my head, I was sure I was not going to be able to fight for the podium anymore and I was kind of down on myself. But then I went back home to Andorra and I went to my coach and said what can we do so I can do better.
“I was determined to lose weight and to work my on climbing. He had a very good approach and a great training program that wouldn’t make me too tired, but I was definitely working hard.
“I remember doing this test before the race started and I was like, ‘wow, I’ve never ever been able to push that much,’, especially on altitude. So, after that training, I just got so much confidence because it was insane. I remember coming home and now, in my head, I could start to visualize being on the podium.”
Niewiadoma spent the following weeks dreaming of that final podium and the confidence she’d gained from training rubbed off in her racing. She grabbed onto provisional third on stage 2 by making it into a late breakaway and held it all the way through the mountains.
“When you’re in shape, you’re very confident, confident. It’s crazy actually,” she said. “Just the fact that you know you’re good makes you very resilient to pain. I felt that I pushed further than I normally would. I just felt very good mentally and physically, and I was super hyped by the whole atmosphere around the race.”
Making herself a stronger climber did have an impact on other aspects of her racing and Niewiadoma noticed that she didn’t pack as much punch as she might have done previously when it came to those short and steep finishing climbs.
“It’s interesting, because the better long-distance climber I became, the more explosivity I lost. I could see that. Normally, I love quick, short, steep hills, like two minutes all out. And I could feel with the fact that I was a better climber, I wasn’t as explosive,” she said.
“For example, I could see that Cecilie maybe wasn’t the best long climber, but she still had explosivity. With Demi [Vollering], because normally she’s super-fast, she became crazy, amazingly good, long climber, but she also lost her explosivity.”
Her explosivity is something that has helped her in the classics and her performance leaves Niewiadoma with the challenge of balancing the spring races with her GC ambitions. She’s hopeful that the long gap between the two will help her peak for both.
“It’s very hard to be honest because I love the classics so much. I really like racing them, because it’s like one shot, one opportunity, one day, all out basically, whatever you have, but also the Tour is so beautiful,” Niewiadoma said. “Luckily, there’s enough time in between to kind of reschedule or retrain yourself. As long as the Tour stays in the dates that are this right now, it’s all good.”
Fortunately for Niewiadoma, the Tour will stay in its end of July slot for 2023 so she will be able to target both. The Polish rider has started training again after switching off completely from cycling to decompress following a busy season.
Though she tried to stay away from cycling as much as possible, she couldn’t help looking at the new Tour de France route when it was unveiled last month.
“I like it, to be honest,” she said. “I like to see that it remained eight stages. I think it’s a great amount of days for interesting racing for us. And also cool to see that we actually have a time trial, even though it’s something that I don’t train for. It’s nice to have extra motivation to do something different this off-season, or to have like another factor that actually truly motivates me.
“I feel like the older you get, the more you look for something that truly motivates you. So, I’m very happy to see an ITT involved. And then the Tourmalet. It’s a massive climb and it’s quite close to Andorra where I live so that’s going to be nice for me to recon maybe a couple of times.”