Marianne Vos celebrating her eighth cyclocross world title earlier this year.

Marianne Vos: ‘I am still determined to get the best out of myself’

In more than 15 years spent dominating the sport, Vos's perspective on cycling and on life has changed.

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Marianne Vos needs no introduction. This first paragraph would become the entire article if I were to sum up all her achievements. But here’s a small selection: two Olympic gold medals, 13 elite world titles (track, road and cyclocross), 30 Giro d’Italia stages plus three overall titles, five Flèche Wallonnes, four Trofeo Bindas, a Tour of Flanders and many, many more wins besides. She is, quite simply, the greatest of all time which was emphasized by her eighth cyclocross world title last month in Fayetteville, Arkansas, 16 years after her first.

Vos, being the humble champion she is, is a bit unsure about her new title as GOAT.

“What do I feel about that? It’s a bit funny,” Vos says from a Jumbo-Visma training camp in Tenerife. “The GOAT thing has suddenly appeared. It’s not something that goes through my mind. It’s a lot of honor and it says something about the length of my career, I think. I feel honored but maybe it’s too much honor. You can’t compare these things. I do my best and I am happy I have been able to do this for a long time.

“It has been a bit harder with the championships in recent years so it gave me huge satisfaction that I succeeded in getting a title again. Being the greatest of all time is not something I reflect on. I also feel it’s very Dutch to not stick your head too high above the ground. I like that. Everyone has their talents. Some are good in maths, others are excellent plumbers, and others excel in sports,” she says with her trademark humility. 

After Vos’s eighth cyclocross world title a remarkable video went viral on the internet. It showed how an 18-year-old Vos back in 2006 sprinted to victory exactly the same way as 34-year-old Vos 16 years later. 

“I haven’t changed at all when I see those images,” she says with a smile. “My finish is exactly the same and it shows how your nature doesn’t change. I follow my instinct and Hanka [Kupernagel in 2006] and Lucinda [Brand in 2022] react the same. The emotion is also almost the same.” 

Vos has had a long career that started with a junior world road title in 2004 and spans many years with many wins. In 2013 she was dominant with five out of seven Road World Cup wins. She won over half of the races she started that season and she also became world champion.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the Dutch rider though. In 2015 she was out for a year with a condition known as overreaching. It changed her perspective on life and sport.

“I don’t think the way I race has changed a lot but the way I approach the sport has,” she says. “I am more relaxed than I was back then. Cycling was everything and it also in a way determined my self-esteem. Through time I learned that [my] sport is great but it’s not who I am.

“It’s been a process to see the place cycling has in my life change. You learn from the highlights and the lowlights as well. That period when I was out has opened my eyes. Some people said that I should stop but I said no. I realized in that year that this is what I love doing and that I wanted to continue. I was confident I would get back but also knew that if I didn’t, it would not have been the end of the world either.”

In Vos’s career there have been as many second places as wins, with her six silver medals at the Road World Championships standing out. Her Christian faith and life experience has taught her to put things in perspective.

“There are worse things in the world. Of course, I am not happy but even after a world championship like last year there is always another Monday morning,” she says with a smile. “If I tried my best every day and try to get better and it makes me happy it’s OK.

“In hindsight I could have done things differently [at the 2021 World Championships] but the world just moves on. There is a race, there are rivals, and in a split second you make a decision. When some decisions weren’t the right ones, can you blame anybody? I don’t think so. Until 10 meters before the line I was in a good position so I only blamed myself I didn’t sprint hard enough.” 

Vos’s emotions after winning the Dutch cyclocross championships in 2021 showed how much the sport still means to her and what it feels like winning a title after a long period of being unsuccessful.

Vos isn’t putting on an act with her humble and down-to-earth manners. It’s just who she is, how she was raised by her parents. She is the biggest champion in the sport but she is fully grounded. 

“It’s good the way it is,” she says. “Winning doesn’t mean everything but when things work out, I do enjoy it a bit more before I move on to the next day and goal. In the moment that last lap or last kilometer is the most important in my life but there is more than that alone.”  

In 2021, Vos changed teams for the first time since 2012 when she signed with Team Jumbo-Visma.

“It was an exciting step to go to Jumbo-Visma,” she says about the move. “It was a new environment and that brings something fresh. I knew that I joined an organization that already firmly stands and the enthusiasm from their side made me feel home instantly. It says something that you sign a three-year deal straight away when you don’t really know each other yet.

“The team is really working for each individual; you are never a number. The personal coaching allows each individual to blossom and I am still determined to get the best out of myself.”

Coryn Labecki (née Rivera) is a new addition to the team. Both riders have similar skill sets with wins in, for example, the Trofeo Binda and Tour of Flanders. They both have a strong sprint after a hard race. 

“Coryn is a great addition to the team,” Vos says. “There are many strong teams now in the peloton. There will be races where we can support each other and can play different cards as a team. I don’t think we are the same riders. There are also so many races now that we can’t do them all so having multiple captains is a really good thing.

“It shows the professionalization of the sport that I have to make choices which races I ride and that also means that I have to skip some great races too. Learning to say no is also important and something the team helps me with.” 

Marianne Vos at her first world title back in 2004 when she won the junior race in Veneto, Italy.

Jumbo-Visma also signed some young talents like Swiss rider Noemi Rüegg and European junior champion Linda Riedmann from Germany. Vos likes to share her own experiences but is also very much aware each rider has to go through their own individual process. 

“I can teach the younger riders a lot because I made mistakes in my career,” she says. “You can share all your own experiences but, in the end, everyone needs to experience things themselves too. I can tell them what to do but I think the most important thing is for them to have fun. There will be pressure from the team, the people around you and yourself but then think about the reason you are in this team.

“There is so much happening when you are young and so many people want things from you. I hope they find the motivation inside themselves and not feel that outside pressure too much. You do this for yourself and not for someone else – [that’s] something I would like them to know.” 

When it comes to Vos’s own goals, she doesn’t have a set program yet. Her season starts in Strade Bianche this weekend and then she rides a Classics season. The first Tour de France Femmes and the Road World Championships in Wollongong are also important goals.

“I feel fit after the cyclocross season and used my time on Tenerife here to build up,” she says. “The level in women’s cycling has gone up. That is not an issue for me because I like competition. It’s a challenge to step up to the mark.”

Vos on her way to second place in the inaugural edition of Paris-Roubaix.

It’s sometimes hard to remember that winning races is not an easy thing for Vos. She kindly reminds me of that fact with a big smile on her face when I ask her if she is going to win Roubaix this year after a second place last year.

“There are many great races and I am not working on ticking off boxes when it comes to winning races,” she says. “I am really happy with the 2021 season. Winning a big race means that everything fell into place at that moment. Especially in races like Strade Bianche and Paris-Roubaix where luck or bad luck are also factors. My job is to prepare as best as I can and so do the team staff. In the race I need to let go and just race.” 

And while she is not ticking off boxes, I wonder how many boxes there are actually left to tick. Meanwhile, Vos still considers herself a ‘full-time hobby cyclist’ as her Twitter bio states. 

“Today I thought again it was a privilege to ride in the sun and to call it my job,” she says. “That still happens a lot. Maybe not so much when there is snow or rain but even then, when I sit on the couch after a hot shower, I have that sense of fulfilment. When I don’t have that anymore it might be the natural moment to stop. For now, that’s not the case.

“Who could have thought in 2006 that I would still be here in 2022? Nothing much has changed. I try to find more balance in life now but some goals are still the same. That rainbow jersey is still a magical thing for me. That’s still the same ambition I had back in 2006.”  

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