Marianne Vos is without doubt one of the greatest cyclists of all time, with an amazing palmares that includes two Olympic gold medals and twelve World Championship titles across road, cyclocross and track. But after a relatively lucky career without too many injuries, 2015 has been a bad one for her, with a hamstring injury and broken rib that have kept her off the bike for most of the season. She’s focusing on recovering completely before she comes back to race, and in the mean time has been busy with new challenges including presenting the tv highlights of the Aviva Women’s Tour, and visiting the Giro Rosa… and being her usual generous self, taking time out to answer some questions. Listen to her talk about riding with strangers from the internet at AWT, why watching racing on tv is more scary than riding herself, who she most enjoys competing with on the road and in the mud, why she’s not planning to take on the Hour – and of course, where she is with the recovery.
We spoke after Stage 6 of the Giro Rosa, when Marianne had just come back from a ride….
Are you back in the Netherlands now?
What’s it like going to races when you’re not riding them? Is it strange?
Yeah, it’s strange. For example, at the Tour of Britain, first you have to explain why you’re there, but you get used to it, and for me it’s always nice to catch up with all the girls, with the team but also all my colleagues. I’m used to it now, not being racing, and all the girls are used to it too, so that’s a point of acceptance, but it’s still a bit strange, and of course I hope to be back soon.
We hope you’re back soon too. At the Aviva Women’s Tour it was weird, because last year you couldn’t walk anywhere around the race without 100 people asking for your autograph, and this year you were kind of sneaking around with people not recognising you – did that feel weird?
Well, actually, I still got recognised a lot, even outside the race and not in my cycling gear, so that was more unexpected than being recognised in my cycling clothes last year. To be that known in Great Britain, maybe even more than in Holland, that’s surprising. But of course without my helmet and glasses and cycling kit, it’s not so easy to recognise me, and sometimes I had an opportunity just to hang around, be the tourist, and cycle along from start to finish, and be a bit more on my own.
Of course you were doing the TV every day, so that would help people recognise you. What was the TV work like? Did you enjoy it?
Yeah – on the first day I was a bit nervous because it had to be in English, of course, and I’ve never done it before, it was the first time. I was a bit nervous, but Ned Boulting was really good, he made me feel at ease, and the guys from ITV4 were really good, so after the first day, it went better, I got more relaxed and knew what to talk about, and the good thing was I only had do do a short piece before the race, and a short one after the race, with a small recap and looking forward to the next stage – but it was really fun to do, something different, something new. Of course, you need to learn in such a process, but it was excellent.
It was really nice having you – you won the race last year, so no one can have more experience than that, but there was something very nice about having a real rider there to say what those stages are like, I think it added a lot
That’s what I hoped, of course. I raced last year, I knew what the stages are like, I all the riders, I know the teams, so I think that can add some value to the report. I’m not a real journalist, of course, but being an insider, that can make a difference, and I hope people liked it.
Well, for the first two days I was in the team car, and of course it was nice to be in the race, and to see the race from that perspective, and to be in the car with our DS Koos Moerenhout, and with our mechanic Sem Versteeg, but after two days I have to admit I got a bit bored in the car, and I said maybe I’d just ride from the start to the finish, of course taking a short cut, because the bunch is way, way faster. But I did some training, and as I didn’t know the roads, I tried to get some navigators with me, and luckily there were some people who wanted to ride with me and show me the way. On Stage 3, 4 and 5 I had some company, especially the fourth stage I rode with Laura Trott‘s dad, he showed me around, and the last stage it was Brianna Walle, who dropped out of the race because of illness, and we had a lot of fun together.
That 17 year old girl you rode with, Stassi, I’d met her at the start and told her and her dad that they should to go down to the car park and say hello to riders, and she said she wasn’t sure she should have worn her Wiggle Honda jersey or not, she said she was a bit embarrassed, and then afterwards on twitter, I said “so, that was the right decision”, because you’d come up to her and asked her.
Yes! I was still on my own, because I hadn’t found someone to ride with me, and I was a bit nervous because I wanted to get to the finish on time to see the riders and do the TV work. And then I saw Stassi and her dad, and I thought they would know the roads, so I just asked, “Any interest in riding with me to Hemel Hempsted? And another question, I don’t know the roads, so it would be nice if you know directions!” And that was the case, so we rode together. We had a nice bunch, the boyfriend of Lieselot Decroix came with us, so we had a small group.
One of my highlights was watching the tv in the same hotel as you, when you were watching Stage 4, with the really technical finish, and you saying it was more scary to watch it than it was to ride it.
I always get nervous watching cycling, because it looks so scary and dangerous, and it looks so fast. When you’re in the bunch yourself, of course it can be dangerous, but then you know what you can do, and it’s in your own control, but watching it, I got nervous. It’s always nice to watch it, I like watching cycling, especially as I missed all the racing, I only saw the start and finish, so it was good to have the whole race recap in the evening.
Are you watching the Giro highlights this week?
I’m trying to follow it a little bit. I haven’t watched the whole thing, but it has been really good racing so far – different winners, different teams up there, different nationalities, and that makes it really exciting. So far it has been very unpredictable, and we’ve had really good winners.
Yeah. Of course she is an excellent rider, and she knows how it works, and I have to say, the team is doing really well, and that makes it better and easier to play a game, but you still have to do it. It was very, very exciting to see if she’d hold it to the line, and then winning by only a couple of metres, in the rainbow jersey, in the Giro d’Italia must have been really special for her. I was in contact with her on Whatsapp, and she was really really happy.
Have you been giving her and the team any advice about racing it?
Of course we have contact, and I’ve tried to give some advice, but she knows what to do as well, so I don’t need to give my advice constantly – but it’s nice to share some experiences, and of course I have some experience in different races, and I try to add some value to the team if possible in this way.
The other person I was super-happy to see win a stage was Lucinda Brand, especially after she had two second places. For her to win a stage, after all the work she’s done for you and other riders in the past, that was a beautiful win too.
I have to say, Lucinda made a huge step, and she’s such an all-round rider. She’s a good sprinter, she has done really well in the time trials, and her bike handling skills – she’s the best in the bunch! It’s really, really good to see her winning. She’s been close – even last year there was a stage where there were three of us with Shelley Olds on the line, and after the stage she said “I didn’t even think I had a chance”. And now she just takes the opportunity and she goes for it. And after taking the National Championships back again after 2013, she’s flying.
It’s really nice to see riders take a step up and develop, especially when you’ve watched them for a few years.
And she’s really developed. She’s taken that step herself, and now she knows what she’s capable of as well, she’s definitely a rider to watch from now on.
So, who’s going to win the Giro, Marianne?
[laughs] It’s going to be interesting! It’s been a good race so far, and we’re going to have some hard stages coming up, especially the last time trial, and the hill finish will make it tough until the end, so I have to say I can’t say who will win. Because I’m not racing myself, I don’t really feel how everybody is, and how strong the riders are. Of course the pink jersey at the moment, Megan Guarnier, is doing really well, but looking at the stages to come, Anna van der Breggen has a really good chance to win with the time trial and the uphill finish,
With Anna and Pauline, they can both climb, they can both descend, so Rabo has to be my favourite to win.
Well yeah, of course, Rabo-Liv, we went with Anna van der Breggen as the rider for the GC, but Pauline of course is a very good all-round rider as well. Normally Anna’s time trial is a bit better, but we’ll have to see, and there are still different cards to play, but it’s not only Rabo-Liv who’s racing, there’s still a lot of hard work to do.
It’s no secret that this has been a hard year for you. You’ve been injured for most of it, and you haven’t been racing – how have you been coping with that?
At the beginning of the season I had some problems accepting it, because I just wanted to race, and try to get back as soon as possible. After my hamstring injury I came back quite fast, I had some troubles but I was still at 70-80%, racing, and then I broke my rib in a mountain bike race in April. Again, I wanted to get back as fast as possible, and that went quite well. After two weeks, I was racing again, but that took a lot of energy from me, and my body just said “stop, that’s enough”. I didn’t recover from the injury, from the races, from training, and I knew I had to take longer off to let my body rest and recover fully, and then build up properly to be 100% fit again for racing. So I knew I had to accept it, and just give it time.
That must be very, very hard.
Yeah, it’s hard, but on the other hand it gives me time to look from an outside perspective, and it’s good to feel the motivation is really high, and I just miss it so much, that I know I still love cycling very much. And I have been lucky… I don’t know if you can call it luck, but since 2004 and the junior categories, I’ve been racing at the highest international level, and so far I haven’t had any major injury. So I think I knew that at the highest level of sports, something can happen, and this might be the year, and this might be my injury that I have to cope with. It’s OK. I’ll be back.
Do you have any idea when you’ll be racing again?
No, but actually I’m feeling better, and the build up in the last couple of weeks is going quite well, but still low intensity, so it will take more time to get back into racing. I don’t know yet if I will be racing this season. Of course that would be nice, but on the other hand I just want to be 100% fit, and then and only then go back to racing, and not too soon.
That makes so much sense. I imagine the temptation is as soon as you feel a bit better, to try again, but especially with Rio next year, I think your fans would rather see you take this year off the bike and come back stronger.
That’s the thing that I really know myself as well. I just want to give it the time I need. To rush the training and build up now, that would be not so smart.
Do you think you’ll still carry on riding cyclocross and road and mountain bike once you come back? Or do you think you’re going to cut back some of that programme?
The Mountain bike was one thing I wanted to add to my programme. That’s something new, but it’s going to be tight, so that’s the first thing that’s a little bit in doubt. First I will return to the things I normally do, cyclocross and road racing, and that’s a combination I’m pretty sure I can make. The combination with mountain bike is something I can only do when I’m over 100%, and that’s not the case at the moment.
I have always loved that you ride both road and cyclocross, and it feels like cyclocross is your favourite. Is that true, or am I making that up?
Wellll… I really like it, because it’s short, it’s explosive, it’s different races – sometimes it’s sand, or mud, and I love it very much. It’s an honest sport, if you’re good you’ll be upfront, if you don’t have any mechanical problems… but I have to say, I love mountain bike as well, and road racing with the tactics, racing with the team, that makes it always really interesting and exciting, so for me, it’s not easy to say what I like most, but to miss a cyclocross season would be hard for me.
The cyclocross season is so different, everything from Koksijde on the sand through to the mud races, to Koppenberg… which is your favourite cyclocross race?
Erm… Here as well I like the differences every week – one week you’re racing in the mud, and then the sand. But I have to admit I’m better in the faster laps, I’m not the most powerful rider, so with more mud I have problems, but I like it! The more technical courses, with short uphills – these are my favourites. A course like Zolder is a race that really suits me.
And who’s your favourite rider to race against in cyclocross?
Oooh. I always loved to race with Daphny van den Brand, because she was really clever and hard to beat, but also Katie Compton, she’s so strong, we have different capabilities. She’s really powerful, and I’m a bit faster, maybe a bit more technical, but when she’s on fire, she’s really hard to beat. So I hope she will be back fit and 100% healthy this year, because she struggled during the last season.
Of course, Katerina Nash is a really good rider, especially when it is uphill, she’s difficult to beat. And then you have our World Champion, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, she’s good in nearly everything. If she gives her mind to some race, you know she’ll be there.
When she first started, everyone was calling her “the new Marianne Vos” – is that a strange thing, when the real Marianne Vos is still around?
Yeah, maybe! But I saw her racing in juniors, and when she came over to elite, with the French national team in Luxembourg, and she was riding so well, and not afraid just to go, and attack, and try to go for the win. So yeah, I liked her spirit, and I’m really happy she’s in our team and I’ve been riding with her, and it’s an honour to race with her in Rabo-Liv. She’s definitely a very good all-rounder, winning mountain bike World Cups last year, being the World Champion in road and cyclocross, having a good time trial and a sprint as well – there’s not much more you can ask for!
On the road, if you were out in a break, which of your rivals would you enjoy being out in a break with most, to try to beat to the finish?
Looking back, I would still love to be in a break with Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, and have a sprint with her, but that never happened, and that won’t happen, and I regret that a little bit. I always like to be in a break with Elisa Longo Borghini, she always wants to race and go for it. She’s a rider who always wants to make a race, and make it really exciting, and interesting – and hard! But of course it’s always good to be in front with the best riders, and try to fight for the win.
One of the things people have been asking about is if you’d ever go for The Hour record, but that’s not the thing I think about when I think of you. Is that something you’d ever try, or would you rather be in the races where it’s all about strategy?
That’s the thing, I love the competition, and I love the tactics, and to try to win races. An Hour record isn’t something that really suits me, I’ve never really thought about doing this. But of course it’s a fantastic thing, and it would be something that maybe I’d try at the end of my career, but I’m not thinking about it at the moment. If somebody is saying it, they’ve made it up themselves – it’s not my goal at the moment.
Who do you think will be the first woman to break Leontien van Moorsel‘s record?
I’m pretty sure that if Ellen van Dijk would focus on it and train for it, she would be capable of coming close to the record. Of course it’s a fantastic record that Leontien put up, and it’s not easy to break the record. We all know that Sarah Storey tried to break it, she came close but didn’t make it, only by 500-600m metres, and she’s a hell of a rider, so it’s not easy to break, but Ellen would be the name. If she’s 100% and focuses on it, she can do it, especially with the new rules. But you have to focus on it and base your training around it, and it doesn’t fit with any of the races, and with World Championships and the Olympics coming up, I doubt if she’s thinking about it now.
One last question: thinking about where women’s cycling is, and where it was at the start of your career, what do you think of the state of the sport? What do you thinking about where we are now.
This is not a question you can answer in a minute. Women’s cycling has changed, and I’m happy to see these changes. A lot of big races have been added to the calendar, teams have got more structure, the depth of the field is way, way better, so that makes it more interesting to race, and to watch the races, and sponsors see the value of the sport. I hope this progress will continue in the coming years.
I know the UCI is working on the structure, to make a world league, to get a more balanced calendar. There is still a lot of things to change, and steps to take, like differences between races – some really high-level races, and some that are, well, a bit less structured. You have some very, very good teams, with good logistics, staff at races, and everything is well-organised, and then there are also teams on the same UCI level that are less organised. This shouldn’t be the case, and these are difficult steps to take, but I know the UCI’s working on it, so we should try to develop and hopefully in the next 4-5 years, we’ll be even further.
That’s really exciting – any little Marianne, a future World Champion, sitting at home, 8 years old, she’ll have a much different sport to come in to.
Sure, and if I look back to the first year I came into the elite peloton in 2006, yeah, there has been a lot of changes. Of course, sometimes we still, well, moan a little bit about equality, and the less money there is in women’s cycling, but I think we can also be proud of how far we have come, and try to keep the fight and continue this.
Make sure you’re following Marianne on her twitter, instagram, facebook and youtube, and find out more about her on her website – and you can follow her team, Rabo-Liv on their website, twitter and facebook.
We spoke after Stage 6 of the 2015 Giro Rosa – to see how Lucinda Brand and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot won the stages we talked about, click the links on their names, and to see if Vos’ predictions came true, check out the rest of my daily Giro Rosa video collections!