Lisa Brennauer interview: The most successful rider of the 2014 worlds

... while Lisa Brennauer took Germany's second gold for the day ...

by Anne-Marije Rook


It was a world championship campaign that is one of the best in the history of road racing: three races, two wins, one silver medal. Lisa Brennauer returned from Ponferrada with a pair of rainbow bands and a cluster of important memories, as well as a greatly enhanced reputation.

The German was regarded as a respected rider before, but became something much bigger through the manner of her success in Spain. At 26 years of age she has time for further improvement, and will be one of the big guns of Kristy Scyrmgeour’s new-look squad when the 2015 season bursts into life.

Brennauer spoke to CyclingTips recently, talking about her emotions at returning home to Germany and being met in Munich airport by the people from her town plus its brass band. Proud of her achievements, they threw a large party for her and celebrated what she had done. Some media interviews followed and, over time, the magnitude of what she achieved began to sink in.

If it took a while for her to fully register what she has done, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Consider her haul from those races:

Team time trial: Gold
Individual time trial: Gold
Road race: Silver

The latter result was highly impressive; not just because of the outcome, but also because of the manner in which it happened. Brennauer was bumped and barged as the gallop unfolded, and started her sprint from a long way back. She hurtled through the group and closed down rapidly on the rider who would hit the finish first, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot. Had the line been another few meters away, she most likely would have celebrated a clean sweep of world titles.

Considering that overall outcome of three medals, she admits it came as a huge surprise. “We thought that we had a really big chance of winning the team time trial as we were unbeaten for three years,” she said. “Then there was definitely a chance to become world champion in TTT. I knew that if I had a good day and if I could do a very good time trial, the way I did it the whole year, then it would be possible to win a medal.

“But it’s World Championships, so there are always those people popping up who you don’t see the whole year. They just focus on this one event and have their specialty, the time trial. You never know what can happen…there are these people you can’t plan for, you don’t have them on your plan for the result.”

Brennauer points out that the rider who finished second, the Ukrainian Hanna Solovey, only did a couple of races prior to the worlds. That made her an unknown element.

Solovey previously served a two year ban due to a positive test for Drostanolone, but showed strong form prior to the worlds when she won the Chrono Champenois – Trophée Européen on September 14th. She then went on to the worlds time trial, where she led right up until Brennauer thundered into the finish, beating her by 18 seconds.

Given the Ukrainian’s history, Brennauer’s last-gasp upheaval of the leaderboard was welcomed by many fans at the time. They had been concerned that a rider with a ban might end up with the rainbow jersey, and applauded the result.

Speaking weeks afterwards, Brennauer cast her mind back and savoured the moment. “Winning a medal at the World Championships is something very special,” she told CyclingTips. “I knew there was this little chance to win gold but it was a surprise. And it was really a great feeling.”

It was also the second individual gold of her career, following on from the junior title she took back in 2005.

Powerful road race display:

If Brennauer had an inkling that she might be in the medal hunt in the team time trial and the individual race against the clock, her chances were a little more uncertain in the road race. The number of possible winners was higher, riders such as Marianne Vos and Lizzie Armitstead were starting as favourites and she also admits her concentration was off after her two earlier golds.

Brennauer explained that she was inundated with messages after taking TT gold and got caught up in the hullabaloo that came with it. She also slept only one or two hours the night after her triumph, with mental replays of her race keeping her distracted and awake.

Fortunately, she said, there were several days between the time trial and the road race and she gradually got her concentration back. While she pointed out that she wasn’t the definitive leader on the team, she knew that she would be expected to do the least amount of work and so was ready to seize her chance.

“I knew I had to get my stuff together and just do another good race,” she said, explaining her thought process as the days and minutes ticked down towards the drop of the flag.

“I realised that there were six girls going to the start with me, prepared to do lots of work for me,” she said. “I didn’t want to let them down.

“So, that was my thought going into the road-race – will I make it over this climb seven times, will I be able to get to the finish with the first group? I knew if that was going to happen I would have a huge chance to do a good sprint. That was my expectation, that’s how I went into the race.”

Brennauer’s plan looked to be unravelling on the final climb of the worlds when four riders wrested themselves clear. Vos, Armitstead, Emma Johansson (Sweden) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) had a gap going over the summit. Brennauer was several seconds behind, chasing hard alone and trying to get up to a pair of riders ahead of her.

She knew not to panic. “I had seen the other races on television and I knew there was a chance to get back if you were a bit dropped on the summit of the climb,” she explained.

“I gave it all on the downhill and caught the other two riders ahead of me. We were then trying to catch back to the other four. I looked back and saw another German rider coming from behind, who was my teammate Claudia Lichtenberg. She actually closed the gap to the four in front.

“They made a huge mistake by looking at each other, and not knowing what to do, who was going to react first. They was this little moment of hesitation and that was the moment when I could come back to the group of four with a bigger group.”

Explaining how the complicated sprint played out, Brennauer said that Lichtenberg cracked with about 350 metres to go. That put her in a difficult situation.

“She was done and couldn’t go any more, but it was still so far to the finish. I thought, ‘I can’t do a 350 metre sprint with this finish.’ I knew it wasn’t not the point where I should go for the win already. So, I waited until the others passed me. In my opinion that was quite a good idea.”

It might have been in theory but once the riders passed her, she was hemmed in and found herself with big problems. “I thought, ‘f**k, you will get nothing, now you are going to end like eighth or tenth. All the work was for nothing.’ These were my thoughts, then I got clipped by the Italian rider.”

Former champion Giorgia Bronzini was the Italian concerned and when she clashed with Brennauer, the German stayed upright but lost more momentum. She feared all was lost.

“I thought ‘f**k, you are not going to get anything here.’ But suddenly there was a gap opening, because people used the full road – one was going left, another was going right, so suddenly there was this gap opening [in the middle]. I saw it and I took it. Only then I could actually really start my sprint. That is why I had such a high speed in the end and could manage to get the silver medal.”

Brennauer was moving much faster than the other riders inside the final 100 metres, but ran out of time to edge past Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (France).

Still, despite the fact that she was first hemmed in and then clipped by Bronzini, she accepts the result. “I really think the silver medal was the best I could get out of this situation because I had to do so much work coming back after the climb that the others didn’t have to do,” she explained.

“The sprint that we did, was actually… everyone was suffering so bad already, so I think I got the best result that I could in this situation. I’m really happy with it and I don’t think about this and that. I won’t say ‘I could have won this’ – it’s not my character.”
World Championships (Women Elite)
Obvious question – will the near miss make her more determined to go back in future years and take that rainbow jersey?

“Of course it does,” she answered. “But I also know that the thing I did now with winning gold, gold, silver is something that will probably not happen to me again. It’s something very special. Right now, I just want to enjoy that.”

“I’ve got more confidence”

The strong end of season sets Brennauer up for a big year in 2015. The results she got will earn her the right to be given more chances, but she emphasises that she also has an ongoing willingness to help out her team-mates when required.

“I’ve got more confidence now after the worlds,” she confirmed. “In the past I have been a rider who has been doing lots of work for others. I have been the one leading out the sprint for another or closing a gap for another.

“I’ve always been working very, very hard for my team mates. So it was a special thing that happened to me this year when, tactics-wise, we started to race for me sometimes. I could then win, or get second, or whatever. That was something that totally changed for me this year.”

Those greater chances saw her pick up wins in the Ronde van Overijssel, the Rund um Schönaich and two stages plus the overall in the Auensteiner Radsporttage. She also won the German national road race and time trial titles, took two stages plus third overall in the Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen and was part of the team time trial squad which won the Open de Suède Vargarda T.T.T.

Her confidence prior to Ponferrada was further boosted by victory on a stage and second overall in the Boels Rental Ladies’ Tour. Add her worlds results to that and she’s gaining a lot of self-belief.

She remains grounded, though. “It’s not that I expect next year we are only going to race for me. That’s totally not the case,” she said. “I’ll get my chances, but I’m still the one that’s going to do everything for her teammates whenever they need me.”

Still, when the spotlight is on her, she feels more sure that she can deliver. “This year I got different tasks and I was able to fulfil those,” she said. “That gave me lots of confidence.

“It’s not only the World Championships, it’s the whole process that happened this year. Maybe for the first time I was ready to take the opportunity to be the one who’s going to be saved for the end, or whatever.”

World time trial champion Lisa Brennauer speaks about her early career and the 2012 Olympic Games by Cyclingtips on Mixcloud

Brennauer will remain part of the Specialized lululemon team in 2015 or, rather, whatever it will be called after a change in the title sponsors. There are departures such as Evelyn Stevens, but the German rider said that she was keen to stay on board.

“For me, this has been a really great opportunity to develop into the rider I am now,” she said. “I got lots of help from the staff, from the whole team, a lot of support to be able to develop. I am very thankful that I was given the opportunity to join the team and stay in the team, even though in 2012 I didn’t do a lot of road racing. It was all about the track and the Olympics.

“They kind of gave me a second chance then because I wasn’t good on the road in 2012. I’m so happy that back then they gave me a new chance for 2013 to show that I can do better.”

She’s certainly seized that opportunity and has progressed to being one of the most important riders on the squad.

“I am really that this team continues and I can stay with them,” she said, implying she’ll stay put beyond 2015. “I feel that I have found my place there. I think it is the best support I can get for the next two years going into the Olympic Games.

“Whatever direction it goes, I am very confident that I can develop a bit more, make some more steps forward. I think the whole team does a very good job in developing riders, and the atmosphere is also really special. I’m confident this will continue next season.”