In photos: Anna van der Breggen’s rise to dominance

by Abby Mickey

photography by Getty Images, Cor Vos

As we near the end of 2021, we will start to say goodbye to a handful of incredible women who have made their mark on the sport through years of dedication – and none more so than Anna van der Breggen. Of course, Van der Breggen isn’t going anywhere. The G.O.A.T. will stick around as a director for her former team SD Worx and thank goodness for that. The women’s peloton desperately needs former racers to slot into management roles in the peloton.

Even though the very first Paris-Roubaix is right around the corner, Van der Breggen announced that her final race would be the World Championship road race. And she’s not looking to win it. Prior to the World Championship time trial, Van der Breggen took to her Instagram to say that she would not compete in the timed event but would still start the road race in a support role. What other top rider with a palmares like Van Der Breggen’s would set aside ambition for her teammates?

She’s been an inspiration for years. Soft-spoken, yet vocal about important topics in women’s cycling. Always ready to work for others, even when she’s on the top of her game. Van der Breggen has been an inspiration to women in the peloton and fans of the sport for the last nine years…

Anna van der Breggen was happy to place fifth in the World Championship road race in 2012.
2012 Van der Breggen proves we all have to start our time trialling journey with a less than aero position.

While riding for the UCI Sengers Ladies Cycling Team in 2012, Van der Breggen won three out of the four stages of the Tour de Bretagne Féminin and the overall, youth, and points classifications. She also won the European Championship U23 individual time trial.

In 2013 Van der Breggen went one better in the World Championship road race, she finished fourth just 18 seconds off the podium.

In 2014 Rabobank-Liv swept the general classification podium at the Ladies Tour of Norway with Van der Breggen winning the leader’s jersey, Marianne Vos taking second, and Katarzyna Kasia Niewiadoma third.

Van der Breggen was picked up by the powerhouse Rabobank-Liv team in 2014. Her teammates were the stuff of legends, Kasia Niewiadoma, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, Iris Slappendel, Lucinda Brand, Annemiek van Vleuten and of course Marianne Vos. They were the truly dominant team before Boels-Dolmans started to challenge them in 2015/2016.

With her new team, Van der Breggen started her winning ways. She took wins at the Ladies Tour of Norway, Festival Luxembourgeois (aka Festival Elsy Jacobs), Dwars door de Westhoek, and the Lotto Belisol Belgium Tour. In 2014 she also finished third overall at the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile, the Giro Rosa.

In 2015 and 2016 Van der Breggen became one of the best bike racers in the peloton. She won her season opener Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2015 and continued to frequent the podium for the rest of the season. She won the Giro Rosa, the Dutch national time trial, La Course by the Tour de France, and was second in the World Championship road race and time trial.

Anna van der Breggen wins her first Giro Rosa in 2015.
La Course by the Tour de France in 2015 was a wet one, and slightly treturous because of the cobbles.
Anna van der Breggen wins the 2015 edition of La Course by the Tour de France on the Champs Elysees.
Richmond World Championship road race won by Lizzie Armitstead with Anna van der Breggen in second and Megan Guarnier third.

One of her career biggest achievements came in 2016 when she won the Olympic road race in Rio de Janeiro. The following year Van der Breggen joined the team that would be her home even after her career comes to a close, Boels-Dolmans.

Van der Breggen wins the 2016 Olympic road race
The win was one of her career-best

In her first year at Boels-Dolmans, the Olympic champion won all three Ardennes events – the Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège – the overall at the Tour of California and pink at the Giro Rosa. It was the start of four years of dominance.

Amstel Gold Race 2017, with Van der Breggen Boels-Dolmans became the most powerful team in the women’s peloton.
Van der Breggen winning her third straight La Flèche Wallonne. She would go on to win four more.
Van der Breggen won the inaugural Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2017.

Van der Breggen won the World Championship road race in Innsbruck in 2018, another Tour of California in 2019, with a handful of other victories in those two years. In her penultimate year, she won both the road race and time trial at the World Championships in Imola, the Giro Rosa. She announced in May of 2020 that she would race one more season before stepping off the racing bike.

Van der Breggen on the attack in Innsbruck.
The final winner of the Tour of California before the race went on hiatus
What a difference eight years makes.
Van der Breggen after winning the World Championship road race in 2020.

Even with the light at the end of the tunnel, Van der Breggen didn’t break her stride in her final season. She started off by winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, then her seventh consecutive La Flèche Wallonne, the Vuelta a Burgos, and then one last Giro Donne overall title. She went to the Olympics a favorite to double up on the road race but walked away with only a third in the time trial.

Anyone else may have been disappointed, but Van der Breggen is well known for having an upbeat attitude. Teammates will rave about how down to earth she is, how she never changed from that girl with the slightly questionable time trial position, even after all the victories.

Anna van der Breggen with her SD Worx teammates after winning the final stage and overall of the Vuelta a Burgos.
The relationship between Van der Breggen and her young teammate Demi Vollering has been particularly fascinating to watch. Vollering was new to SD Worx at the start of the season but quickly proved she has what it takes to be the next Dutch superstar.
Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, Van der Breggen, and Demi Vollering on the podium of the Giro Donne.

Before she’d even stopped racing, Van der Breggen had already started to shift into a leadership role on SD Worx. Ashleigh Moolman Pasio told Freewheeling earlier this year that she got the chance to room with Van der Breggen at the first team camp. Right away Van der Breggen was talking to Moolman Pasio about how she could improve, giving her tips and examples of ways to up her game.

The fact that Van der Breggen will be staying in the sport, in management, is an undisputed win for women’s cycling. As if SD Worx wasn’t already the top team in the peloton, Van der Breggen’s presence in the car will do great things. She’s shown time and time again she has a level head on her shoulders. Passing on racing and fitness expertise to young riders is a small part of what good she will do. Her approach to being a professional athlete, dealing with success at a young age, and growing as the sport changes is something that everyone should take note of.

As a fan, former athlete, and someone just trying to make women’s cycling a better place, I have to thank Van der Breggen for what she has given to the sport, and what she is still to give.

She has solidified her place in the cycling hall of fame, and we will miss her insanely smooth riding style.

So, this one final time, good luck Anna! And we can’t wait to see you in the car next year!

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