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Van der Breggen embraces team-first mentality at Boels-Dolmans

Anna van der Breggen stood atop the podium many times in 2017 but says she gets just as much satisfaction out of helping a teammate win.

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She may have been the top-ranked cyclist on the Women’s WorldTour last year, but Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) had no problem letting her terrific form tail off over the winter break. She’ll be working hard to get back to her best the next few months, and that’s just the way she likes it.

“It sounds a bit strange, but I try to get rid of my condition so I can start on a totally new level when I start training again for next season,” van der Breggen told VeloNews in a phone interview last week. “It’s also good for your body after a year of sport that you have a couple of weeks being different. Your body can recover from the year, sort of. That’s the main thing in the offseason.”

The 27-year-old Dutchwoman enjoyed a brilliant April last year, sweeping the three Ardennes Classic races, and stayed sharp through the rest of the season. She claimed the Amgen Women’s Race in May and the Giro Rosa in July, and she stayed competitive all the way through the September world championships. After such a successful racing campaign, van der Breggen relished the chance to unplug for a while and enjoyed plenty of relaxation over the offseason.

That’s not to say van der Breggen hasn’t already begun building for the 2018 season. She and her Boels squad are particularly focused on making improvements against the clock, looking for ways to perfect her positioning on the time trial bike.

She is also mixing things up in training to see if she can improve her finishing kick. “I always try to do something new [in offseason training]. This time I’m doing some sprints,” she said.

Beyond her training goals, van der Breggen has yet to develop much of a specific list of objectives for the season. In fact, she doesn’t seem especially interested in rattling off any particular events as her favorite targets.

“The main goal is to be good with the team again. I don’t really point out which races. I don’t really care which races,” she said. “I want to be good at the moment I want to be good. I still have to figure out what those moments are.”

The Ardennes trio of the Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège will make for an obvious spot to circle on her calendar, but van der Breggen was quick to point out she may put herself to work for someone else in those races.

“I love those races, so I want to be good at that point. If I want to win it, if I need to help my teammates, whatever my task will be, I need to be in shape to do that,” she said.

That openness to helping her teammates is a key component to riding for the best team in women’s cycling. Capable of contending in practically every race on the calendar, Boels-Dolmans dominated the first two editions of the Women’s WorldTour. The team counts each of the last three road world champs on its lineup.

Van der Breggen paints a picture of a group of riders that buys into the team-first mentality, despite all the star power.

“The good thing in this team is that we all really can go for each other,” she said. “If somebody wins that race the way you plan it, that feels the same as if you win a race yourself because you helped a lot with winning that race for the team. Last year, it was perfect in the team. I hope next year will be the same.”

Team manager Danny Stam echoes van der Breggen’s take on the team’s approach. He also acknowledges the challenges of trying to top her 2017 campaign. For Stam, the expectation is that van der Breggen continues to be a major threat, even if it’s just one of the team’s multiple threats in any given race.

“Anna did a really good season last year. It’s almost not possible to do a better season. If you look at it, there’s only one small spot on it, that’s the worlds. The rest of it, everything she wanted to win, she won,” he told VeloNews.

“I think Anna can also enjoy racing when somebody else gets a win and she did a good job for them. Of course, it’s always nice to try to get the win for yourself, but I also can understand for her that it’s not easy when you’ve already won three times and everybody is focused on you to do it again.”

In any case, van der Breggen certainly seems likely to rack up more wins in 2018. It’s hard to see anyone with such a well-rounded skill set not throwing up her arms more than a few times over the course of the year.

Strade Bianche is the first big race on her calendar for 2018, and van der Breggen did go so far as to say she wouldn’t mind crossing the line first into Siena.

Beyond that, she’ll take the season as it comes. And if she finds some of her rivals in the women’s peloton getting the better of her along the way, she seems to welcome the change, noting the positive impact a diverse field of stars will have on the sport.

“Men’s cycling, you have so many different riders who can win a race. In women’s cycling, we have less women who can win a race,” she said. “There should be more and more. That should be the main thing to develop with women’s cycling because if you have more riders who can win a race, the teams will develop, you get bigger teams, you can do more races.

“I think it’s good and we have more attention for it when young girls have that feeling of, ‘I can win a race,’ and then go for it. And that’s getting more and more the case I think.”