The slow but steady return to racing for Marianne Vos

by Anne-Marije Rook


With a 1.2 UCI ranking, the Ronde van Gelderland might be a minor race on the women’s race calendar, but for 12-time world champion Marianne Vos this race was a big one. Sidelined with a hamstring injury since the 2015 Cyclocross World Championships in January, Gelderland marked Vos’ long-awaited return to the peloton.

Prior to Gelderland, Vos pinned on a number for the Rabobank Bikecenter VANTUYL Paasbike mountain bike race. It was a final test of the hamstring and fitness. She won the race with ease.

“Paasbike was a home race on a course I know well with a lot of fans along the sidelines,” explained Vos to Ella CyclingTips. “Of course I wanted to ride well but more importantly, it was a test to see if I could do the entire race pain-free and to ensure it wouldn’t setback my recovery later.”

“It all went well and I was able to recover well in the days that followed,” Vos added. “It confirmed for me that I’m doing well and that the hamstring is completely healed. That was what I was most happy with. The fact that I got to throw my hands up in the air at the end of the race was a bonus.”

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The Ronde van Gelderland was Vos’ first road race since the 2014 Road World Championships Ponferrada, Spain where she lost her rainbow stripes to teammate Pauline Ferrand-Prevot. Vos admitted she was a bit anxious heading into the race.

“Your first race back always takes some adjusting, especially when others have been racing all spring,” she said. “Even if it’s the Tour of Gelderland and not the biggest race around, I do find it pretty exciting to see how it’ll go and where I’m at.”

Vos rode strongly and finished sixth in the bunch sprint. Kristin Wild took the win.

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“It was heartwarming to see how I was received after such a long absence and it was good to be with the team again,” Vos commented afterward. “Secretly, I was hoping for a small victory but I also knew I was lacking enough rhythm. I was able to move up in the bunch sprint but am missing a second acceleration.”

Difficult months

Always the competitor, Vos said being sidelined for the last few months had been difficult for her. Whilst this certainly wasn’t her first injury or break, it had been the longest. The period away was made even more difficult due to the uncertainty in the healing and rebuilding time.

“You know that competition is out there riding all these races. Nowadays with social media you see all the updates and the occasional footage and that’s made me feel very much like I was missing out.  I really want to be back out there and participate,” said Vos.

Unlike a bone break, there was no set return date for Vos to circle on her calendar. No clear healing time. The uncertainty was frustrating.

“I set my goals early,” said Vos. “Sure, you have to tweak it a little here and there but there’s comfort in following a plan according to those goals.”

“Being sidelined, I had to completely let go of that planning,” she continued. “What was particularly difficult about this injury was not knowing how long the healing process would take or how long it would take me to regain my fitness. I haven’t been allowed to plan anything – not since the Cyclocross Worlds. And that’s very difficult for me.”

Difficult but educational, too. Vos said she learned that the injury was a result from years of overtaxing her body and that maybe now, it was time to start listening to her body.

“I recognize that the injury didn’t happen by chance. It was obvious overuse in training and racing and meant that I had to take a step back or it would only get worse,” she said. “Throughout my career, I’ve always wanted and been able to combine a lot of things. I’ve been able to handle a lot and tax my body in training, racing and beyond. It’s allowed me to combine those different disciplines and continue to push my limits. By doing that, however, you forget to listen to your body because until now, I was able to get away with it. In these past months, I have had to re-learn in a way to listen to my body.”

Motivation

With her 12 world titles, two Olympic gold medals and hundreds of other victories, Vos is one of the most decorated cyclists — male or female — of all time. Had she, during her break, decided to call it quits and return to go to school to become a doctor as she had once wanted to be, no one would have blamed her. The old adage “Quit while you’re ahead” exists for a reason.

But this is Vos. She’s a competition junkie driven to be not only HER best but THE best.

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“What motivates me is to push myself to the limit, to take on the chase with others, and the desire to be the best,” said Vos.”It may sounds strange but now, after I have won many small and big races, the status of the race matters less, and for me it’s more about the game itself.”

Thinking back to her first race victory, 20 years go now, Vos said she still remembers the feeling.

“It felt very good. And I think that’s where the addiction started. Winning feels so good and gives such a positive boost. Seeking that feeling has become a real addiction,” she said. “Now that I have been sidelined for a bit, I notice just how much I missed that chase.”

What’s next

On Sunday, Vos will be competing at the Ötztaler Forest Cross in Haiming, Austria. It is her first international mountain bike race of the season.

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Mountain biking will be at the forefront of her racing and training schedule this year in her bid to qualify for the cross country mountain biking event at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

If she qualifies, Vos would become the first athlete — male or female — to compete in three of the four cycling disciplines at the Olympic Games. Vos won the gold medal in the points race on the track at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and in road race at the 2012 London Olympics. Should she race the cross country mountain bike event in Rio, the only Olympic discipline remaining is BMX. Vos said she’s hoping to race until her mid-thirties so who knows what plans she might have for 2020 Olympics?

Growing cycling among women

An ambassador of women’s cycling, both competitive and recreational, Vos is part of two initiatives in the works for this summer: “We Own Yellow, Take the Stage” and Roadtrip to Paris.

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With a goals of getting more women riding bikes for fun and fitness, Vos is partnering with fellow ambassadors Loes Gunnewijk (Orica-AIS), Marijn de Vries (Parkhotel Valkenburg) and Roxane Knetemann (Rabo Liv) and Le Tour Utrecht  to launch  an international program called ‘We Own Yellow, Take The Stage’. The program consists of rides, social nights, events, training programs and a big festival in Utrecht, the Dutch host city of Tour de France Grand Départ.

Two weeks following the first stage of the Tour de France, an all-women peloton will set off from Utrecht on a 550km four day trip to Paris where they’ll arrive in time to watch the second edition of La Course by Le Tour de France. Initiated by Vos, Roadtrip Paris is the biggest international roadtrip of its kind for female cyclists and a testament to the growing momentum of women’s cycling.

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“By no means I am trying to get everyone to race bikes,” explained Vos. “I simply want to encourage them to go feel the freedom and to be in nature and to let yourself go for a bit. Cycling is very social and accessible for people of all ages and abilities.”

“Men quickly get the idea in their heads that they’re the next Bradley Wiggins or Tom Boonen or Bauke Mollema,” she added. “Women are far more hesitant to jump into a new sport. Can I do this? Am I good enough? What if I get a flat? What if I get lost? Do I have to ride on my own? For women there seem to be more obstacles, and I think if you remove those barriers, many women like myself will discover the joys of cycling.”


Connect with Marianne Vos to follow her return to racing or join her “We Own Yellow” movement:

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