The selfless brilliance of Anna van der Breggen
It’s not a regular sight. The world champion sacrificing a potential result for a rider who has only been part of the women’s professional peloton for three years and a teammate for only four months. It’s about as common as the yellow jersey at the Tour de France leading out their sprinter on the Champs Élysées.
At Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Anna van der Breggen executed a 10 km lead-out for her SD Worx teammate Demi Vollering, who took the victory from Annemiek van Vleuten and Elisa Longo Borghini. Just days ago Vollering rode in support of Van der Breggen at La Flèche Wallonne, in much the same way. In her post-race interview on Wednesday, Van der Breggen thanked Vollering directly for not only her sacrifice but also her split-second decision making. On Sunday Van der Breggen again thanked Vollering, this time by working in support of her 24-year-old teammate.
Vollering, in turn, praised Van der Breggen at the finish saying, “Anna did such a good job, and the whole team. That I could finish it, that’s awesome. I am really grateful that they did it for me, and it is such an amazing team. Thanks to the whole team”.
What is wonderful about this situation is that Van der Breggen has won Liège-Bastogne-Liège twice. She is riding well; well enough that, given the proper tactics, she could have won a third time. Instead, she made the pace too high for the other riders in their five-person move to attack, delivering Vollering to a sprint against a select group of climbers – the perfect situation for Vollering to take her first WorldTour win.
Van der Breggen has been racing since 2009, Vollering since 2019. This was Van der Breggen’s last Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Vollering has another year on her contract with SD Worx, and judging by her improvement over the last two years, a long career ahead of her. Nine times out of 10 it would have been Vollering riding in support of Van der Breggen, regardless of what happened at La Flèche Wallonne. Too often younger riders get shoved into the box of being a domestique and are unable to find their way out of it. Too often up-and-coming riders are denied an opportunity to go for the win, especially in a big race, because they first need to develop.
If the race had played out a different way Van der Breggen could have tried for a solo move. She’s done it before. But it looked like she was working for Vollering from the start and she set a smooth pace on the final climb. Not an attack – just enough speed to distance their main rival in a sprint, Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma).
“It was really hard on the climbs,” Vollering said. “At one moment we were gone with this group, then Vos came back, and it is better to not sprint with her, of course, so I was really happy that it did break again. Anna did a lead-out the last 10 kilometres or something, it was awesome.
“This is a race I really like. Two years ago I was third here in my first pro year, and now already I won. It is a dream coming true”.
This moment, and the decision by Van der Breggen to selflessly devote her strengths to Vollering, is not something we see often, but it is something to take note of. Next year Van der Breggen will be driving the SD Worx team car behind the race, instead of driving the peloton from her bike. It’s clear she is ready to hand the reigns to the next generation, but she isn’t about to stop helping them grow as athletes, even while she remains on two wheels, as world champion.