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VeloNews Awards 2019: Marianne Vos, female cyclist of the year

In a candid interview, Marianne Vos discusses her biggest wins of the 2019 season, including her dramatic stage win over Lucy Kennedy at the Giro d'Italia.

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This story appeared in the November/December print issue of VeloNews Magazine. 

No cyclist, man or woman, dominated the WorldTour calendar in 2019 so thoroughly as Marianne Vos. She won big races early (Trofeo Alfredo Binda), then at the season’s midpoint (four stages of the Giro Rosa), and finally, at the season’s close (five stages and the overall at Tour de l’Ardeche). By the time the season ended, Vos had amassed 19 race victories.

We caught up with Vos to discuss her amazing 2019, and why it represented a return to greatness.

VeloNews: What is the significance of 2019 within the greater story of your career?

Marianne Vos: In 2018, the second half of the season marked a start of getting back to my best again, and I think in 2019 I’m not far off my level from 2011 and 2012. That seems like quite a while ago, but I’m happy to be back in this shape and to be able to train well, and race and recover, and build on my fitness again. It has been a great season, and it’s what I’ve been looking for over the last years, and what I thought I still had.

Vos opened her account early in 2019, winning the Trofeo Alfredo Binda. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

VN: You spent 2017 and 2018 trying to get back to your old form after suffering from fatigue and injuries. Why do you think you hit it this year?

MV: I think most of it is [due to] time and patience and persistence. So, I had this off season in 2015, and my body needed the time to build again, and to get back to the balance and to be able to train well. So, at the time, the doctors said it might take a few years, and I thought, ‘Well, we’ll see. I must be able to go faster.’ And it definitely took me a couple of years. The persistence and the belief, and the team backed me all of the time, and that was very helpful. Being able to steadily grow and do more training and longer training again and to recover from that. That helped me to get to this level where I am now.

Vos continued winning throughout the season, racking up 19 total victories. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

VN: Which victories from this year stand out as particularly dramatic, or hard-fought?

MV: It was great to win Trofeo Alfredo Binda because it was early in the season and I was coming out of the winter, and everybody doubts themselves at that time of year. In Binda I felt, ‘Hey, I can really add value to the race and I can really do my attacks and can really be there and still have something left for the final.’ So, that was a good win, and also good for the confidence.

Then, the Tour of Yorkshire was quite dramatic with the really bad weather. What was special about it was that it was in Yorkshire, so to have a good pre-Worlds race there was great. But what I think was the most special win was La Course, where I think everybody expected me to do the early sprint on the steep hill into Pau. So, to still be able to do that, and to win from there, gave me a good feeling.

The four stage wins in the Giro were incredible, and one of them was the hardest one for me. It was a sprint in the uphill against better climbers. Normally, the better climbers could have dropped me. I had to dig deep to stay there, and I won that stage. I remember lying for five minutes on the ground, not being able to do anything but breathe. That is very satisfying. When things go that well, and you have to really give everything you have, that gives the best feeling to win like that.

VN: You’re the best in the world on punchy, uphill sprints. Does it feel like your competition isn’t executing properly to beat you on stages like this?

MV: Well, it’s not that I get it for free. Sometimes, like that stage where I talked about, where the climbers could have dropped me before the final sprint, they tried. I was in better shape than I expected, and I’ve been lucky as well. But you still have to be there and be fresh at the final. They do anticipate me, and they don’t think that, ‘Oh well, Marianne will just win.’ So I have to take chances, and the team does the ride to get me into the right place, and it’s amazing when things work out.

VN: We often miss the action before the finale in women’s races, due to the shortened broadcast. What are some examples of your team setting you up for the win that we missed?

MV: La Course is one of the good examples. Amanda Spratt was up the road, and my team had to work really hard to get her back, and to work hard and smart to get her back at the right time—not too early, not too late. If I was there alone, I couldn’t have won. At Binda, I was in the first group with [my teammate] Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, and we had a small breakaway, and she pulled from the last uphill to the finish. If she wouldn’t have done that, we would have been caught.

Vos caught and passed Kennedy just feet from the line on stage 3 of the Giro Rosa. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

VN: You won stage 3 of the Giro after catching Lucy Kennedy just inches from the line. Afterward you gave her a hug. Why?

MV: I felt sorry for her. Of course, I was happy with my win but I also knew it was going to be her first big victory, and she deserved it. She always works for her team and puts a lot of energy into her races. She did a good attack, I just came around her with more speed. Yeah, in the moment I was happy with my win, but for her it would have been such a big win. Some riders don’t get to win that often when they really deserve it. But it’s sports and part of the game.