Demi Vollering: “I’m getting stronger and stronger every year”

The 26-year-old says she is more motivated than ever ahead of her third season at Team SD Worx.

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In 2021, her first season at SD Worx, Demi Vollering played the role of heir to Anna van der Breggen’s throne; in 2022, she spent the season stepping out of the now-retired Van der Breggen’s shadow. Having proven herself the outright leader of the team, and the nearest competitor to the dominant Annemiek van Vleuten of Movistar, Vollering is hoping that 2023 is the year she takes yet another step forward. 

“Last year was different for me because normally like the year before I was with Anna in the team and they all look at Anna and now it’s already different because they start to look at me now. And this was last year something new for me,” she says, speaking from the SD Worx Team Launch at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. 

“In the beginning. I think it was also a bit [of] searching how could I deal with this. I think I managed it in the end pretty well. But now this coming year I know how to do it and it’s not new anymore for me. So that’s really nice. Also to think about, that you don’t lose energy for that anymore.”

In just a few short years, Vollering has gone from breakout results whilst riding for Parkhotel Valkenburg in 2020, to immediate success after joining Team SD Worx in 2021. She has won Classics, Women’s WorldTour general classifications, and claimed second place and the polka-dot jersey at the Tour de France Femmes. But, she says, she still has plenty to learn. 

“I’m developing a lot and also I feel that I’m getting stronger and stronger every year. So that’s already really helpful, of course, but also tactically I feel like I understand racing more and more every year so that’s nice.” 

Luckily, she has plenty of expertise at her disposal: “It’s only my third year, I can still improve so many things. And every year I’m still learning a lot. So I think this is yeah, something good, I believe because I’m now already on such a good level. And I know that there’s still a big gap or like there’s so many things to improve because, if I see some girls in the team like for example, Christine [Majerus], she is now in her 10th year in the team and I can learn so much from her already, like how to race the races, technically. 

“So I think that’s just really interesting for me to see this happening and also like mentally, every year you become older and you get also a bit wiser I hope at least that this also makes a big difference. I felt like last year I was sometimes a bit doubting maybe and now I feel already a lot more secure already in the team.”

Having her race smarts catch up with her legs is the biggest challenge, Vollering says: “I think what I need to work on mostly for me, is how to race. Like, I need to be smart and think. But also, of course, I don’t need to think too much. So this needs to become really more like a feeling so I really feel like okay, this is the right moment, or this is what I need to do now,” she explains.

The knowledge of how to race, she says, “needs to be something that’s in you, not that you need to think also a lot about so I think this is a big thing I can still learn a lot about.” 

Physiologically, Vollering feels she has more improvements to make, too: “I think like my engine I need to make it just bigger. And that’s training hours, a lot of hours, a lot of efforts. I think that’s also something where I can still grow on every kind of level. I think I can invest a lot in my sprints, a lot in uphill. There are so many parts I can still grow in and I try to grow in every little part that makes me a complete rider.”

The 26-year-old is one of very few riders in the women’s peloton who are able to challenge the dominant Van Vleuten, particularly when the terrain heads uphill. The older Dutchwoman, however, often gets the better of the SD Worx leader. Does Vollering ever feel compelled to emulate Van Vleuten’s gruelling training regime in an effort to close the gap between them?

“Sometimes this goes into my head like ‘do I need to train as much as she does?’” Vollering says. “But then I’m like, I’m so much younger and I am just quite new also in cycling. So if I start to train now as much as her it doesn’t make sense because you skip a few years and for me, I think there’s also my strength that I can also be really good but also with less training hours, because my body needs less.” 

Van Vleuten, she says, “needs to train so much because she’s older and she has so many years of racing already. So every year she needs to give her body a little bit extra of training and for me, if I do like every year a little bit more then it’s good already.”

While Van Vleuten is the one to beat, Vollering says she prefers to focus on her own development rather than emulating the world champion: “If I see my own training, I see that I grow so much every year and also for example, the Tour de France I saw that I have new new records because I was there my best self so I see that I’m getting better and better and better. 

And I believe I’m getting faster better than she does at the moment because yeah, of course she’s a bit older. So for her it’s more difficult to gain so much. I really believe it’s possible to beat her and I try more to focus on my own race and try to get everything out of myself and then I just hope I’m strong enough to beat her of course.”

Vollering does not yet know her full race programme for 2023 but says that her targets are the Ardennes –  of which she has podiumed at all three including winning Liège Bastogne Liège – and the Tour de France Femmes. She also has her eye on the world championships in Glasgow in August which, she says, has contributed to her decision to once again skip the Giro d’Italia Donne. 

“Because if I also do the Tour de France and then after it’s the worlds. So if you do all of them then I think it’s a really big program and then also probably, you’re really empty at worlds and I want to be good at worlds,” she explains. “Instead I would like to do a big block in Spain. Then you have already done a big block and then a training period and then the Tour and then worlds. So I think this is for me the best option.”

Her final race programme may not be certain, but after three years, her position at the top of the women’s peloton very much is.

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