What better time to pay homage to one of cycling’s greats than in the middle of her final season as a pro? Currently sporting double rainbow jerseys following a stunning triumph at the 2020 World Championships, Anna van der Breggen is as worthy of celebration now as she has been at so many other points throughout her dazzling decade-long career.
Since she’s at the top of her game, she surprised many when she announced last year that she would conclude her racing endeavours with SD Worx in 2021. She is then planning to transition into a sports director role with her current team. So although she will still very much be part of the cycling ecosystem, we’ve only got a few more opportunities to watch her dominate at races. We will dearly miss cheering her on in the peloton, and while we still have a bit more van der Breggen action to look forward to, we thought we’d take the chance to celebrate her career and what she has done for the sport of cycling.
A champion marked by outstanding versatility
Few cyclists boast such a multi-faceted set of talents as van der Breggen. Born into a Dutch cycling family, she started racing at the age of seven and was ranking in the top 10 at the Junior World Championship Road Race by the time she turned 17. She went on to become a regular feature on the podium, with no fewer than 53 victories since she turned professional in 2012.
In a career built on versatility, adaptability, and pure force of will, there’s no arguing with the massively impressive prizes that van der Breggen has managed to accumulate. Just to name a few, her accolades include: a gold medal in the road race and bronze medal in the time trial at the 2016 Olympic Games; road race world champion (2018); three-times the overall winner of the Giro Rosa (2015, 2017 and 2020); a record six-time consecutive winner of Flèche Wallonne (2015-2020); twice winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège (2017-18); and winner of Amstel Gold Race (2017); and the Tour of Flanders (2018); along with Dutch (2015 ITT, 2020 road race) and European Championship (2016 RR, 2020 ITT) titles.
Not to mention her double victories in the time trial and the road race at the 2020 World Championships! Talk about ending on a good note—van der Breggen accomplished something no one had done since Jeannie Longo won both titles in 1995. For giving us this spectacular moment in cycling history, van der Breggen has rightly been nominated for this year’s Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award, alongside other outstanding female athletes, including tennis’ Naomi Osaka, alpine skiing’s Federica Brignone, athletics’ Brigid Kosgei, football’s Wendie Renard, and basketball’s Breanna Stewart.
Continuing her role as an ambassador for women’s cycling
Considering the fact that Anna van der Breggen has just entered her thirties and is clearly in peak form, it is puzzling to some that she would want to quit racing. As mentioned above, though, the sport will still very much be a part of her life, and she’s made it clear that she has personal reasons for the transition.
Like many professional women athletes, van der Breggen found herself confronted with the challenge of balancing competition and having children. Rather than follow in the footsteps of riders like Marta Bastianelli and Lizzie Deignan, who have returned to racing post-motherhood, van der Breggen has decided that her departure from the peloton will coincide with starting a family.
And as she told Cycling News earlier this year, her decision to quit is final. Still, she’s excited to continue playing a dynamic role during this critical point in women’s cycling. She explained, “I have new goals after this year, but it’s not that I’m just leaving cycling.” She further elaborated at the press conference for her Laureus World Sportswoman nomination, going on to say about the overall state of women’s cycling that, “we’ve come a long way, and it’s getting better and better.”
Speaking about the role she’ll play mentoring the next generation of cycling all-stars, van der Breggen expressed enthusiasm. “I think it’s hard for athletes when you still like the sport and for years, you’ve gained so much experience, and then you decide, I’m done,” she said. “For me, it’s a good thing that I can continue in another way. My knowledge is not gone. I can help young girls. That’s something I‘m really looking forward to.”
Going out with a bang
Of course, we aren’t bidding adieu to Anna van der Breggen just yet. She still has her eye on the prize and plans to win more bike races while she has the chance. She finished third place in Siena at the Strade Bianche earlier this month, and will almost certainly make more podium appearances as the season continues. Her biggest target will be at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, where she will line up as the defending champion. We’ll be cheering her on, but it’s safe to say that regardless of what the coming months bring—Anna van der Breggen will go down as a legend in cycling history!