Road

Van Vleuten and Van der Breggen on the obstacles and opportunities of new 2020 calendar

Dutch rivals on season-opener Strade Bianche, the importance of a first-ever Paris-Roubaix, and the difficulties of a Giro-worlds clash.

Arch-rivals and leading lights of the women’s peloton Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) and Annamiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) can look forward to trading blows again later this year.

The Dutch pair have been locked together in dominating the women’s sport for many years, consistently sharing podiums at both one-day and stage races across the Women’s WorldTour. With the UCI confirming the new 2020 racing dates last week, the pair can now start setting dates to resume their years-long battle.

“It is indeed good that we can draw up a schedule again,” van der Breggen said this weekend. “Although we may not be able to run the calendar, it does motivate me.”

The first event on the new-look calendar for 2020 is Strade Bianche, August 1. Van der Breggen and van Vleuten, speaking together to Sporza, confirmed they both hope to be competing on the Italian dirt roads.

“I’m going to do everything I can to be there in the Strade Bianche,” van Vleuten said. “It is a dream to be able to race in my rainbow jersey again and I am now working towards it. It is nice to have a goal again.”

“I was a bit surprised that the Strade Bianche will be the first race,” van der Breggen said. “Italy is still a badly hit country and August 1 is soon there. At the moment I don’t see exactly how, but I hope it can continue, because I think it is a very nice course.”

The biggest talking point of the 2020 calendar is undoubtedly the addition of a first-ever Paris-Roubaix, set to be held at the end of a block of one-day races October 25. Details of the route to be taken across the infamous pavé are yet to be confirmed, though ASO chief Christian Prudhomme has promised “certain mythical cobblestone sectors will be included.”

“It is very good news,” van Vleuten said. “I think it is really great that they are now also organizing that race for us. It will be a milestone for women’s cycling, which is now being taken seriously.”

The surprise addition of Paris-Roubaix to the calendar marks a notable step forward for the sport, and the news was met with a ripple of applause when confirmed last week. The next stride could be a women’s Tour de France, which Tour organizers ASO has already hinted could be a possibility as early as 2022. While van der Breggen sounded a little nervous at the idea of racing across Roubaix’s stones, she acknowledged the significance of the race.

“It is a very special course to have there,” said van der Breggen, who this weekend confirmed she would retire at the end of 2021. “We do not have such a course in the women’s peloton, so that is quite exciting and intense. It is good for the development of women’s cycling. I don’t know if I really like the match, but with the team we certainly have the ambition to make the best of it.”

Van der Breggen and van Vleuten will have to manage the difficulties of the worlds falling immediately after the Giro Rosa. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The repercussions of condensing the majority of the cycling season into a three-month period is that races butt heads and overlap at several points, a difficulty also facing the men’s peloton.

The main bottleneck in the Women’s WorldTour is the back-to-back placement of the Giro Rosa, due to wrap up September 19, and the Swiss world championships, kicking off the very next day. The women’s time trial is currently scheduled for Monday of that week, September 21, with the road race to follow on Saturday, September 26. Although it is possible to hop over the border after the Giro Rosa to compete at the worlds, recovery could be compromised.

“The world championship does indeed follow shortly after the Giro Rosa,” van der Breggen said. “Such a tough stage race just before the world championships, maybe I should skip that. I don’t want to burn myself up in the Giro, because after the world championships there will also be classics. The world championships are a great opportunity for me. That takes precedence over the Giro.”

Defending Giro Rosa and world road race champion van Vleuten has a similar dilemma. “Of course you would prefer not to choose, such as, for example, between the Giro Rosa and the world time trial championships,” she said. “I hope that something may change about that, so that the combination is possible.”

Van Vleuten’s hopes may be answered if rumors that the world championships may be shifted to fall and take place in either the UAE, Oman or Qatar are realized.

Both van Vlueten and van der Breggen acknowledged that the ability for the calendar to actually go ahead as planned is still far from certain as the world cautiously emerges from coronavirus lockdowns and peeks toward the future. However, the rivals also shared the sentiment that at least having dates penciled into diaries gives riders and teams hope for the future.

Pro outfits across the men’s and women’s peloton have been hit hard by the financial fallout of the pandemic, with Mitchelton-Scott and CCC Team among many teams slashing salaries. Bigla-Katusha is facing the complete loss of both of its sponsors backing and is currently attempting to rally funds with a crowdfunding campaign.

“It is very important that you can race again,” van der Breggen said. “There are already teams that are having a hard time. If we can make it through the biggest races, that could make up for a lot.”