From growing up in a rural Poland to rising to the upper echelons of professional cycling — a bike has proven to be exactly what Kasia Niewiadoma hoped it would — her ticket to see the world. Now at the top of her game, she has just committed to another four years with Canyon–SRAM and currently has her sights set on an Olympic medal.
As this darling of the cycling world continues to come into her own and captivate fans with her fierce racing and contagious enthusiasm, we talked to her about how much women’s cycling has changed since she started out, what it is like to grow up alongside a team, and the role that positive mental health will play in her goals going forward.
First off, I’d like to get your reaction to the recent announcement that there will be a Women’s Tour de France from 2022?
It is very exciting news that we’ve all been waiting for! I’ve heard so many stories about things that took place when the women’s Tour de France happened in the past, and I’m now thrilled by the opportunity to take part in this iconic race. Everyone has heard of the Tour de France, so it brings women’s cycling that much closer to being on a level playing field with men.
In general, it really feels that women’s cycling is at a critical stage in its development as a sport. After years of fighting for minimum wages and television coverage, the sport is really breaking through. What do you feel have been the most significant milestones that you’ve witnessed over your career?
Well, this is definitely one of them. Basically, it has been the ongoing realization of the women’s editions of the Classics. When I started racing in 2014, I was always dreaming about participating in one of the quintessential routes that the men got to race. So, a women’s Strade Bianche and Ardennes were both really significant moments. This played a huge role in boosting exposure and media coverage.
It has also been exciting to see several high-profile men’s teams start a women’s program. It shows that there is money and support for women’s racing. We are at such a critical point right now, every year big steps are being taken and I’m sure that in a couple of years, women’s cycling will look completely different. Already, you can feel the change in the peloton. The level is much higher, and the competition is more intense. Now that there’s a minimum wage and you can make a living while fully committing to the sport—there are more women just going for it.
We can't wait for @VueltaBurgos to start tomorrow!
Good luck to our team Alice, Hannah, Elise, Mikayla, Kasia and Omer.
— CANYON//SRAM Racing (@WMNcycling) May 19, 2021
Were professional sports something you followed as a girl? Did you dream of going pro?
No, growing up I certainly didn’t dream of becoming a professional cyclist. I’ve always loved sports and competition, but for me—cycling was a way to explore the world, a tool I could use to take a different route in life. I wanted to travel, learn languages, and have experiences that wouldn’t be available if I had chosen to follow a more traditional path. I always loved the freedom of cycling and it felt like a way I could live the life I dreamed of.
When did you realize you wanted to commit seriously to racing?
It wasn’t until I went to Italy for the Europeans Juniors that I really fell in love with racing. It was then that I was able to see it from a different perspective, not just from a Polish perspective. From witnessing the ferocity of the pro teams and feeling the intense energy, it was suddenly worthwhile. From then on, I wanted to see how far I could push my body. I could see I was capable of suffering more than others, so I gave it a go. This was the moment I realized I had found my passion and wanted to pursue it with everything that I had.
What happened next?
Honestly, everything flowed so naturally. I’ve been so lucky to be surrounded by an incredible network of support and have people by my side to provide good advice and keep pushing me to be my best. I just stayed committed and kept working hard.
Now you’ve of course become a huge inspiration to many young women and cyclists. How do you feel in this role, what would you want to say to your younger self?
I mean, it has always been my dream to be in a position where I can share my knowledge and experience with younger riders. I still feel that I’m figuring things out and learning from more experienced riders. As an athlete, it can be really difficult to find balance, and I look up to riders who have achieved that. I would want to remind younger riders that it is important that you have fun and are enjoying what you’re doing. Of course, a lot of hard work goes in, but if you can’t find a balance that makes you happy—then it is time to switch things up.
You extended your contract with Canyon–SRAM recently, was this an easy decision?
When my contract was expiring, it was the first time I really had the opportunity to start considering my options. I will admit that I was curious, but pretty much right away I started to notice that talking to other teams just didn’t feel right. I felt like I was cheating or something. I realized that I needed to listen to my gut. I had to indulge my curiosity a bit, but ultimately realized it is not worth it.
I love my team and they know me so well now. They give me the space to be myself and understand my unique quirks. I can be really outgoing, but I also need a lot of alone time. My team gets this, and I feel at peace amongst them.
You’ve been with them through a pretty transitional period of life. What role do your teammates play in your life?
When you first leave home to join a team—you are so young and still just growing up. Suddenly you are taken away from your family and friends and are spending all of your time with complete strangers. It is a really crazy thing to be thrown together with people from different cultures and backgrounds and expected to just get along. It definitely is not always easy! You do form close bonds quickly, though.
Ready to go racing!
— CANYON//SRAM Racing (@WMNcycling) May 16, 2021
These days, I have learned to embrace our differences. I try to offer as much support and encouragement as possible. I also urge everyone to be open about how they are feeling and speak up if something is bothering them. In a team setting, miscommunications can quickly boil over if people don’t express themselves. This can he hard on morale and everyone’s overall wellbeing.
Wellbeing and mental health are things we’ve been hearing a lot about over the last year. Did the pandemic change how you think about cycling or your relationship to competition?
This last year, and especially the lockdown and quarantine, was actually really helpful in teaching me how to slow down and become conscious of what is going on around me. When you’re always on the go and not getting enough rest, your mind can play tricks on you that contribute to stress and anxiety.
Being at home with my boyfriend allowed me to recentre and focus on what really matters. I enjoyed just being in the present moment, trusting that things will work out in time, and feeling grateful for everything that I have.
Sorry to take you out of the present for a second then, but what are you most looking forward to right now?
Right now, I’ve been enjoying the fact that the stress of the Classics is over and I have lots of time to focus on my next goal—the Olympic Games. I’m satisfied with my season so far and am ready to slowly get back into training hard. It has been nice to have the time I need to rest and take proper care of my body. I’ve had the chance to recalibrate and look forward to what is ahead.
The Tokyo course suits me. I like it—it is very challenging, and anything can happen. Every athlete dreams of an Olympic medal. And I am one of those people. Well, to get an Olympic medal and a win at World Championship. Those are my big goals. Once I’ve accomplished those, I think it might be time to move on to something else. I don’t see the point in repeating successes. Life has so much to offer, and I want to experience it all.