Pulling on the world championship jersey is a moment so many cyclists dream of and it’s a title that, once earned, will stay with the rider for the rest of their lives. Many spend their entire careers working toward that iconic rainbow jersey, but only a select few get to wear one. Even rarer are riders like 20-year-old Amalie Dideriksen who get to wear the stripes so early in their career.
In 2016 the battle for the rainbow stripes had an extra edge; this was a rare world championships course that favoured sprinters. The favourites list included the likes of Kirsten Wild, who had a powerful Dutch squad of eight behind her, and Australian Chloe Hosking, who was shouldering the hopes of a nation who has not yet seen one of their riders on the top step of the podium at the women’s world championship road race. Yet, the Qatari race saw a surprise winner: a youngster from a small team of just three riders who no one had even guessed would be in contention, not even the winning cyclist herself.
When Denmark’s Amalie Dideriksen out-sprinted Wild to take the win, it was only her third international victory since joining the senior ranks. But in that one moment, she ensured that she would stand out in the cycling world, not just for the year ahead but for the rest of her career. With those rainbow bands across her chest, she’s gone from being a largely invisible domestique as the youngest member of Boels-Dolmans to world champion in the blink of an eye. What impact will this have on her life, her position in the team and the peloton, along with her goals for the future?
We are pleased to announce that you will soon get answers to all these questions from the world champion herself! Dideriksen invites Ella readers to share the rainbow ride with her this year as she joins Ella CyclingTips as our newest columnist. But first we talked to Dideriksen to set the scene for what’s in store for the year ahead:
Familiar stripes but an unexpected scenario
The rainbow jersey is a familiar sight for Dideriksen, recently because she got to see it on teammate Lizzie Deignan’s (nee Armitstead) back throughout 2016 and before that because she was a two time winner of the women’s junior world championships road race. However, she thought it would be many years before she could even hope to have the road stripes of the senior ranks on her back.
“Yeah it was my goal for the future … I had dreamed of having it now but hadn’t counted on it and all,” Dideriksen told Ella CyclingTips in a phone interview, after coming back from a cold winter training ride where she had donned two sets of shoe covers to try and fight off the chill.
Now Dideriksen, who followed her older brother into the sport, is getting used to being congratulated on the street as she trains in the distinctive kit and to being the rider everyone wants to talk to at cycling events. There is also the realisation that it’s now going to be hard to fly under the radar in the rainbow stripes.
But surprisingly, little else has changed. The winner of the prestigious race is still plugging away to finish school around her bike commitments and sticking to her plans for racing this year. Even before she won the world championship, they were always going to be to pare back track commitments so she could spend some more time on the road with her team, Boels-Dolmans.
The big question though, is what will her role in the world’s top women’s team be. It’s a team full of big names, such as former world champion Deignan, 2016 WorldTour winner Megan Guarnier and Olympic gold medallist Anna van der Breggen.
They all have plenty of experience, plenty of big results and plenty of reasons to argue that they have earned the right to be supported as team leader.
Not surprisingly, in this team Dideriksen had few chances to try for the win in 2016 but the world championships were about racing for her country, not her professional team. So in the team of three Danish cyclists she had her chance and you would have to say she made the most of that opportunity to show what she could achieve.
But now it’s back to Boels-Dolmans for the season ahead, where she’s still the youngest member of her team with only three international senior road wins to her name – even if one of them was the world championships. Does this mean that we are going to spend the year watching the rider with the most revered jersey in the field fetching bottles, or is the jersey a door to more opportunities within a team filled with champions?
“My goal for the next season is still to win one or two races. It’s not like I won the world championships and suddenly I can achieve anything,” Dideriksen stated frankly. “I still think I have a lot to improve on and that’s going to be my focus still.”
“Sure there’s going to be a bit more attention on me but I hope that I can stay the same person and continue working hard to be even better.”
Opportunity, support, both?
It’s not that Dideriksen isn’t interested in taking chances to go for the win. She’s been racing since she was eight and cared about coming in first even as a girl sprinting with her dad for the town signs.
“Of course he was stronger and I always got so mad when he won those sprints, so sometimes he let me win,” recalled Dideriksen. “I don’t know if I realised he let me win, but I was quite happy with it.”
It’s hard not to think that the determination to win even when the odds were stacked against her when she was young is just as strong now, given her unexpected victory against much more experienced opponents at the world championships.
That win, combined with a fifth place at the Rio Olympics on the track, has boosted Dideriksen’s confidence and provided ample proof that when she gets to work for herself, and not others, she can deliver with the best of them.
“Of course I hope I can get more opportunities,” said Dideriksen, who added in a typically understated fashion that she thought she’d now shown her sprint was “pretty good.”
“I know I’m going to help the team a lot in the races when they don’t suit me, but I hope if they end in a sprint and I’m there we can go for me. Otherwise I’m fine helping the other girls still too.”
Dideriksen may find that she would get more chances in another team with less firepower to choose from, but the team which she joined in 2015 has so many potential race winners that even a world champion has to be prepared to sit back and work to help others achieve their ambitions much of the time.
“We have such a such a strong team that you can’t expect everything to change just because of wearing the rainbow bands,” said Dideriksen.
You can learn a lot fetching bottles with this bunch
Being in a team stacked with big hitters may mean fewer chances to go for the win, but it’s also meant that Dideriksen has had the opportunity to work with riders that could show her how to pull off the biggest of victories.
“I’m really happy to be on it [the team].,” said Dideriksen. “I mean even though it’s not going to be me who we are riding for in the race, I like to race for others as well and I think I learned a lot for the future too to be among the strongest girls … and see how everything is done. I think that’s also been a part of the reason why I actually could win the stripes.”
Eyes on Tokyo Olympics, but will it be road or track?
With one big ambition ticked off before she has even thrown herself into cycling full-time, the next logical big goal for Dideriksen is the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Dideriksen put plenty of effort into gaining a place to represent her country on the track at Rio, so spent a considerable amount of time on the boards in 2015/2016. For now though, she is reducing her focus on track – where she won multiple under 23 European titles in 2015 – and dedicating more time to road.
She did fit in the Berlin Six Day track event in January, and took out the overall, but skipped the track world cups. Now, Dideriksen will throw herself fully into the road season earlier as instead of competing at the track world championships like last year, she will be starting with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on February 25th and moving on through to the Spring Classics.
While her focus may be road for now, that doesn’t mean her track ambitions are in the past entirely, as particularly with changes to the Omnium event that she believes will suit her, it may be her best chance for an Olympic medal.
“I have my eyes on Tokyo. Rio was was an amazing experience for me and I fought really hard to get there and to get away with a fifth place was was what I’ve dreamed of,” said Dideriksen.
And the next dream is one of walking away with bronze, silver or perhaps even gold.
“I don’t want to rule out the road race until I’ve seen the course, but right now it’s a dream of the track. But if the road race course is going to be perfect then I think I want to consider which one I want to focus on.”
Whichever direction Dideriksen decides to head, even though she has already reached what most would consider the pinnacle of a career, it seems likely that her best is yet to come.
Stay tuned for Amalie Dideriksen’s first column in the coming weeks!