Gold at the end of the Rainbow

After becoming by far the youngest ever World Cyclo-cross Champion in 2006, at the age of just 18,...

An interview with Marianne Vos, 29 March 2008

Marianne Vos is one of the most exciting talents in women's cycling. Still short of her 21st birthday, she has already been World Champion in two different disciplines and is at the World Track championships in a bid to add a third. Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins caught up with the young Dutch superstar to talk about her reasons for being there, and her aims for the rest of the season.

After becoming by far the youngest ever World Cyclo-cross Champion in 2006, at the age of just 18, Marianne Vos followed this up with victory in the World Championship Road Race as a nineteen year-old. This week in Manchester, at the World Track championships, still aged just 20, she will bid to add a World Points Race championship to those other two and become the first ever woman to have a rainbow jersey from all three disciplines.

The main motivating factor behind Vos' presence in Manchester is not the lure of another jersey, but the longer-term goal of reaching the Beijing Olympic Games in August. "Well, I want to do the Points race in Beijing," she explained. "Of course also the road race, that's my main goal, but I tried this year for the first time, the Points race and my first World Cup I won, so that was great for me and I saw an opportunity for the Olympics. Now I try to qualify myself."

With the unpredictable nature of bunch racing in the track, it's harder for Vos to confidently predict victory as she seems to be able to do on the road. "It's difficult, the Points race is always a bit of gambling of course," she said. "I don't know, I think I have a chance but maybe I'll get 10th, or 12th, or 15th."

"Everyone wants to be 100 percent in August." -Marianne Vos is hungry for Olympic glory

This season's results would indicate a better predicted result for the young Dutchwoman thought: "The first World Cup I won, and the second I was sixth, and the third I was 11th, and I wasn't in good shape all three times, so that was not the point but you can see it's difficult," she said.

In Manchester, with better form though, she may be even harder to beat.

Success on the track, and the chance to compete in the discipline at the Olympic Games, has tuned out to be an unexpected goal. Her few short years at the elite level of the sport are already littered with more victories than many riders have in their entire career, so it's hardly surprising that success on the track would seemingly come so naturally to her.

"Well, it wasn't the goal for me," she said modestly. "The reason to start on the track was because I thought it would be good for training, for some speed for the road. But it went different, and I did some races and it went quite well."

An understatement, if ever there was one.

But what of the road? Marianne Vos is the reigning World Cup champion buy virtue of her final round victory in the Rund um die Nürnberger Altstadt last September, where double points overhauled her big rival Nicole Cooke's season long lead. There have been two rounds of the 2008 World Cup so far, Geelong World Cup and Trofeo Alfedo Binda, and Vos has been missing from the start of both of them, indicating that the defence of that title is not a priority for this season.

"Of course the Olympics are the main goal and then the World championships," she explained. "And the other World Cups I'm going to do, I'll do my best, but it's not a goal. I won it last year and it was great for me, I won it on the last day, and this year is not so good on the plan for me to also do the World Cups - to be in good shape for every race, from the beginning of the season until the end, with the Olympics that's not so good."

The next race on the 2008 women's World Cup calendar is the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, on the Sunday following the World Track Championships. In last year's race – won by Cooke, when she herself was third – Vos was demonstrably upset at having misjudged things, thinking Cooke and Zoufila Zabirova's winning move not to be the decisive one. In normal circumstances then, one would expect a morale restoring victory would be a very high priority. These though, are not normal circumstances.

Vos will be on the list to start in Oudenaarde, but after a few months concentrating on riding in the velodrome she is unsure whether or not she will be capable of being competitive. "Well, I don't know," she shrugged. "I'm going to try. It's difficult to be in the World Championship on the track one week, and the next week on the cobblestones in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen.

"I'm going to do my best, I don't know," she added. "I've had a good winter, so I don't know."

With Vos taking a long-term view of the season, aiming to find her best form at the Olympic Games in China, and archrival Cooke basing her entire season around tapering for the very same race, Vos assumes that there must be other riders doing things in a similar way. "More, I think, because everyone wants to be 100 percent in August," she explained. "Then it's not normal to be at your top level in March or April, so I think that more women will do that. But if you have a good winter them you have a base level in March or April."

The likelihood of Vos successfully defending the overall World Cup is always a possibility then, but more as a bonus; not a deliberate target. "It's not the main goal to be competitive all the year, I want to be good in the big races, this year especially of course," she said.

Looking ahead five months to that Olympic road race, the course is reputed to be hillier than in previous years, even to one of the leading riders of the women's peloton. The busy nature of the Chinese capital's roads though has prevented a full examination so far though. "It's not so good for training because it's all highways, but I've seen it and I think it's difficult," said Vos. "The last two laps in the final, it's pretty hard for a women's race."

Despite being one of the fastest sprinters in women's cycling, that is by no means the sole dimension to her talents. Last season's win at the Fleche Wallone involved climbing the Mur de Huy faster than three-time winner Cooke - something many thought impossible - proving there are many sides to Vos' talent.

Still being so young also works in Vos' favour, as she is more easily able to adapt herself to the demands of different types of race through different approaches in training. The hilly course in Beijing is therefore what she will aim to fit her talents to over the coming months. "I'm going train for that," she said. "I'm working hard so that circuit is fitting me, I'll try to do my best."

And when Marianne Vos does her best, it's usually good enough.

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