Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) is renowned for being one of the most versatile winners among the professional women's peloton. She can climb, time trial and sprint, and she's pretty much won it all: an Olympic gold medal, the Giro Rosa (twice) and the Ardennes Classics triple crown. But for a woman who has an almost-never-ending list of victories, there is still one accomplishment, surprisingly, missing – a world title.
"Of course a world title is missing on my list," Van der Breggen told Cyclingnews. "I was very close to it a couple of times, and because of that I would like to try to be world champion once in my career."
Last fall, the UCI revealed a mountainous parcours for the 2018 Road World Championships, held from September 23 to 30 in Innsbruck-Tirol, Austria.
The elite women's road race will start in Kufstein and head west to finish in Innsbruck-Rennweg. They will race a total of 156.7km, as listed on the official event website; the route includes a 90km loop followed by three shorter circuits of 23.9km each. The course has 2,413 metres of elevation gain.
On the big loop, riders will climb over Gnadenwald, 2.6km and an average grade of 10 per cent with sections as steep as 14 per cent. On the each of the three finish circuits there is the Igls climb, 7.9km but a shallower average grade at 5.7 per cent with sections as steep as 10 per cent.
The time trial is routed along a 28.5km course from Hall-Wattens to Innsbruck with 262 metres of elevation gain. The first half of the course is relatively flat while there are two long hills during the second segment, followed by a downhill and flatter section on route to the finish line.
Van der Breggen, who won the gold medal in the road race and the bronze in the time trial at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016, likes both courses, and she knows she will be one of the top contenders to win the world title in both events.
"Of course, this particular World Championships could be my year [to win] because it's being held on a hard course," Van der Breggen said.
"Worlds is always difficult to win, always a strange race and different than the rest of the season. If I compare the circuits to the other years, Austria will be one of the most beautiful courses for me. Because of that, it's looking good."
'It's a big goal, I will go for it'
During her career, Van der Breggen placed inside the top 10 in the Worlds road race and the time trial on numerous occasions. In 2015 in Richmond, she secured the silver medal in both events. She lost the time trial by three seconds to Linda Villumsen. It was even harder for her to hide her disappointment after losing the small group sprint to Lizzie Deignan in the road race.
Last year in Bergen, the Dutch national selection had one of the best showings in recent years. Chantal Blaak won the road race and Annemiek van Vleuten won the time trail. Van der Breggen was eighth in the road race and again took the silver medal in the time trial. Her Dutch teammates' success made her losses more bearable than they were in Richmond.
Van der Breggen is starting her second season with Boels-Dolmans, which has kept the world title on their roster for three seasons: Lizzie Deignan (2015), Amalie Dideriksen (2016) and Blaak (2017). The team won the team time trial world title in 2016, but lost it to Sunweb last year in Bergen. Winning the title again in Austria is a stated goal for Boels-Dolmans.
She said she's learning a lot from her teammates about what it means to be a world champion on a trade team, and in what ways having the rainbow jersey can change an athlete's life.
"I was really proud of our national team in Bergen," Van der Breggen said. "Chantal became world champion and she is on Boels-Dolmans, and I know what that title means to her.
"Amalie was the world champion the year before. It's nice to have the world champion on your team because you can see how important the jersey is within the team. That motivates me to go for that goal."
In addition to winning the elite women's road race and time trial in Bergen, the Dutch national team also won the elite men's time trial with Tom Dumoulin. Van der Breggen says she hopes the Dutch will once again have a strong team selection for this year's championships in Austria.
"I think it's nice to go to a World Championships like Bergen with a strong team as we had," she said. "It gave us confidence, and it will again, especially on a hilly circuit like in Austria because it seems like there are more and more strong climbers now."
Last year, Van der Breggen took five victories on the Women's WorldTour, and won the overall classification for that series, amassing 1,016 points, ahead of compatriot Van Vleuten on 989 points and Katarzyna Niewiadoma, who had 856 points in third place. She also placed second behind Van Vleuten in the UCI world ranking.
She will start her 2018 season at Strade Bianche and again compete in a full Classics season, and then return to the Giro Rosa to defend her title.
Some believe that it's only a matter of time before she secures the rainbow jersey, perhaps as soon as this September in Austria. She said that winning the world title is a career goal. She is also quick to point out that it is not the only goal she has left in cycling.
"The world title is not the only thing left for me in cycling," Van der Breggen said. "If I never become a world champion, I would still love the sport. I have achieved a lot already.
"And if I ever do become a world champion that doesn't mean that my career is finished.
"I like to have the world title as a goal. Of course, it's a big goal, and I will go for it. It motivates me. But it is not the only thing that is left for me in cycling."