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Veronica Ewers navigating the balance of leadership and inexperience

Rising US star is hoping to maintain an underdog status, despite strong opening season as a professional.

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For Veronica Ewers (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB), this season will be one of finding the sweet spot between inexperience and leadership.

Despite only riding in her first full season as a professional last year, the 28-year-old from Moscow, Idaho, quickly became a pre-race favorite at many events after scoring her first victories and riding into the top-10 at the Tour de France Femmes.

While she has swiftly risen through the ranks of the peloton, Ewers is acutely aware that she still has a lot to learn about being a professional rider and she doesn’t want to forget that.

“For myself, 2023 will be still balancing the role of being a race leader on the team, while also being a developing rider. I have spoken with my directors, and they acknowledged that I’m still not as experienced as some of those on the team, but I’m also in a position where I have become the race leader in a few races,” Ewers told VeloNews.

“Being able to balance that and become better navigating that balance, and giving myself the freedom to develop still, that’s going to be a lot of patience on my part. I still am a developing rider, but there may be races where I need to sort of throw that out the window and acknowledge, ‘OK, you’re a race leader, and you need to this is you need to be 100 percent’ and sort of switch over to that mentality.”

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Ewers is not new to taking the role of team leader and she was increasingly put in the position as her strong results continued to roll in throughout the season.

However, it has taken her time to adjust to feeling responsible for the team’s main aims and feeling as though she had earned the right to claim that role.

With a growing palmarès to point to, Ewers is feeling increasingly comfortable leading the team at races.

“When I was given that role, I didn’t necessarily feel that I deserved it, or when I had it, I was in a bit of denial,” she said. “I also had, at the same time, significant expectations of myself to do well, when I was given that role.

“The team is so amazing in that they obviously have so much faith in me as a rider to put me as a race leader, but also giving me grace in knowing that I’m a developing rider and trusting that I’m going to do the absolute best that I can, as a race leader, but I can make mistakes as much as anyone else.

“Having the successes that I had this last year is giving me a bit more confidence going into this next season for when I am given that role as being a race leader.”

Playing the underdog

With the results she’s already racked up, it is easy to forget that Ewers only contested her first professional race less than 18 months ago, having taken a surprise third place in the U.S. national road race a couple of months earlier.

Last year saw her thrust into the WorldTour with just 22 days of UCI racing under her belt, but she thrived in the new environment. With the help of some friends, she’s been trying to absorb just what went down in 2022 before kicking off her 2023 campaign.

“Honestly, I’m still reflecting on it a bit. In some ways, it’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s a bad thing,” Ewers told VeloNews. “I’m very much a futuristic-minded person, so I catch myself constantly thinking about what’s next and preparing for what’s next without really acknowledging what has happened.

“Fortunately have an amazing team and amazing [people] around me that will stop me sometimes and make me realize what I’ve accomplished in my first year and help me to reflect on it and acknowledge the achievements I’ve made and the success that I’ve had and owning it.”

Despite her performances in 2022, Ewers still believes that she can go into races flying somewhat under the radar, with the likes of Annemiek van Vleuten and Demi Vollering still dominating the races she is good at. However, she’s also benefitting from not being a complete unknown anymore.

“I really enjoyed being an underdog and an unknown, but on the flip side, toward the end of this last season, there was a big shift for me in the bunch and being a recognized rider and seeing the positives in that and having gained a bit of respect as a rider and having a bit more leverage in the bunch,” she said. “As a rider, there are positives on both sides, but I do really enjoy being an underdog. Going into the next season, I’m hoping to maybe still have a little bit of that going on.

“There’s still quite a big gap between myself and the likes of Annemiek van Vleuten for example. In that respect, I think I do have a bit more of an advantage of being an underdog, as in I’m not expected to win in a mountain stage, whereas Annemiek is. The expectations aren’t necessarily there for me, except for myself.”

Being badass in 2023

Ewers may be able to still fly under the radar somewhat when the likes of Van Vleuten are in town, there will be plenty more expectations on her shoulders as she and the team look to back up her 2022 performances.

A return to the Tour de France Femmes is on the cards for Ewers, where she’s aiming to improve on her ninth place, but she’s also looking forward to some new experiences.

“I am personally really looking forward to doing Strade this year because I wasn’t able to do it last year. I haven’t been involved in bike racing for that long, but it was one of the first races I watched on TV as I was getting into it and I thought it was the most brutal and beautiful looking race and just looked absolutely badass,” Ewers said. “I never thought I would be in that position, so I’m really excited to have the opportunity to race in that. That is a race I’m really looking forward to at the beginning of the season, and then I will also be looking at the Tour this year.”

Ewers scored a ninth-place finish at the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, climbing up two spots on the final day with a strong ride on the Planche des Belles Filles.

Race organizer ASO unveiled a new-look course for the second edition with the start moving away from Paris to Clermont-Ferrand. The move down south means that the race could head to the Pyrenees and take on one of the Tour de France’s most iconic climbs.

The visit to the Tourmalet will see the women’s peloton make a rare trip above 2,000 meters and is followed by the race’s first time trial. Amazingly, Ewers hasn’t contested an individual time trial since turning professional, but she’s looking forward to the challenge.

“I’m really excited about it. I think it allows for more potential for different riders to win. I don’t think it’s as obvious as last year’s race was. It just provides a lot more opportunity for different racers,” Ewers said of the course. “I’m also glad that it doesn’t look to have any pancake flat courses, so it’ll be really dynamic throughout. Something really tough and attritional is something I really prefer.

“I am excited to do a lot more TT work this year and I think having the TT after the Tourmalet finish will be really interesting. After not just the Tourmalet finish, but after 7 stages it’s just like zapping.”