Team leader at 22: Kasia Niewiadoma takes on new role in Marianne Vos’ WM3 Pro Cycling Team
The newly opened headquarters of Shimano Europe at the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven, The Netherlands served as the decor for the team presentation of Marianne Vos’ new team, WM3 Pro Cycling. Outside, the weather was grey and rainy but inside, floor-to-ceiling posters of the team’s recent camp in sunny Spain and the bubbly enthusiasm among the sponsors and riders alike send a clear message: the outlook for this new squad is bright.
Where Rabo-Liv was a team of champions, the WM3 roster sports fewer notable names as riders like Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen, former Dutch champion Lucinda Brand and former cyclocross world champ Thalita de Jong have found homes within other teams. Still, the WM3 team will be one to watch this season.
“For the outside world, some names and choices may seem surprising, but I am convinced that it is a very nice mix,” Marianne Vos told Ella CyclingTips last month. “I expect we’ll be surprising people.”
And while Vos is the obvious team leader, closely at her side stands 22-year-old Kasia Niewiadoma. A star U23 rider who dukes it out with the world’s best whenever roads turn up, Niewiadoma has, for first time in her career, been designated as team leader.
Despite this new role and responsibilities, the Polish champ was her usual, happy-go-lucky self as she spent the afternoon smiling and joking around with teammates and staff.
“This is not a Polish chicken,” Niewiadoma exclaimed as she pointed to her new socks. White with the Polish emblem and “KASIA” printed on them, the custom socks were presented to her by teammate Riejanne Markus, who together with boyfriend Jasper Ockeloen owns the sock company and the team’s official sock sponsor, Sockeloen.
“It’s an eagle, like on my shirt. I’m very proud of it. I can be super happy from small things, like this.”
Niewiadoma is getting used to custom gear flaunting her accomplishments. She won her first elite national Polish road title in 2016, and proudly wore the blue U23 European road champion kit before that. Last season she also got to wear the Women’s WorldTour young rider jersey on multiple occasions as well as several leader’s jerseys at big events like the Festival Elsy Jacobs, Giro del Trentino Alto Adige, Giro Rosa and the Boels Rental Ladies Tour.
It has given her quite some fame in Poland, where cycling is growing.
“She is a star,” said new teammate and compatriot, Anna Plichta, crediting Niewiadoma for making women’s cycling more popular than men’s cycling in Poland at the moment.
“When you’re happy, you can move mountains, they say.”
Plichta is one of five new recruits in the WM3 Pro Cycling team; the other six riders were brought over from the former Rabo-Liv roster. The team’s training camp in Calpe, Spain last month was the team’s first opportunity to ride together and bond.
“There is a nice atmosphere within the team, we’ve had a great team camp,” Niewiadoma shared. “It gave me a lot of confidence and motivation to go after the victory this year. When you’re happy, you can move mountains, they say.”
Niewiadoma is certain that WM3 Pro Cycling will remain a force to be reckoned with, like Rabo-Liv was the last couple of years. “We have strong helpers and we are one big family, one happy team,” she said.
Niewiadoma has been part of this ‘happy family’ since her raw talent was first spotted by Rabo-Liv in 2013. She was invited to guest ride at Holland Ladies Tour and the rest, as they say, is history.
After her impressive progress year-after-year, she has proven herself and WM3 will be looking to her for its victories.
In speaking with Ella CyclingTips, Niewiadoma appeared unfazed by this prospective.
“I don’t feel too much pressure. I try to just enjoy riding bike races and not think of what people expect from me in that particular race,” she commented.
Niewiadoma revealed another method to ease the pressure is to put too much emphasis on so-called “A” races or targeted events.
“I never go for a certain race, because you never know what happens during the season. It’s better to take each race as it comes and look at your shape at that point,” she said.
With that said, there certainly are some races she looks forward to more than others.
“The new races –Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège– as well as the Giro Rosa are all nice races,” she said, adding that the Amstel Gold Race holds a special place in her heart ever since Polish rider Michal Kwiatkowski won the men’s race for Team Sky in 2015.
“I would like to repeat that in the women’s version.”
Yet those two new Women’s WorldTour events, as well as the Giro Rosa, would also suit Vos and she’s put those on her wish list as well. Yet Niewiadoma isn’t worried about that conflict, stating that it will be decided during the race which of them is in the better position to win the race.
“It’s best to be honest. If I don’t feel strong, I’ll say that to the team. I think that’s how it works within the team, we are all honest,” she said.
DS Jeroen Blijlevens, when presented with this predicament gave a rather unconventional reply saying, “It’s a luxury situation, with two strong riders that can win many races. But I honestly hope that when the race day comes, there is a third or fourth rider within the team that will ultimately take up the leadership role.”
So by that statement, we shouldn’t be surprised if a different WM3 rider takes the win in any of the big races this season. Perhaps that is the surprise Vos was alluding to in her above statement? We can’t wait to find out.
On having a Polish teammate
When the new team was put together last year, it was Niewiadoma who suggested the team would take a chance on Plichta, who’d been riding for the Slovenian BTC City Ljubljana team.
Niewiadoma and Plichta have known each other for 10 years. They grew up in the sport, riding together on the national team and even decided to leave Poland together and become roommates in Girona, Spain.
Moving to Girona is a big step for Niewiadoma, who’d been living with her parents in the remote mountain town of Limanowa near the border of Poland and Slovakia.
“Yes, it is different from living with my parents and is a little exciting. But I think I’m at the age where everyone has to deal with these things,” she said. “There is a lot of sun in Girona, and mountains. It’s much better for cyclists.”
Niewiadoma is clearly coming into her own, taking big steps both in her career and personal life. She doesn’t seem to be challenged by it, but enjoys the opportunities she’s being given. This attitude is not only a joy to see, but it will bring her great things. Be sure to watch out for the Polish eagle in the races this year.
WM3 Pro Cycling in 2017:
Rotem Gafinovitz (Israel)
Yara Kastelijn (the Netherlands)
Lauren Kitchen (Australia)
Jeanne Korevaar (the Netherlands)
Anouska Koster (the Netherlands)
Riejanne Markus (the Netherlands)
Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland)
Anna Plichta (Poland)
Valentina Scandolara (Italy)
Moniek Tenniglo (the Netherlands)
Marianne Vos (the Netherlands)