Marianne Vos says it won't be easy to replace Kasia Niewiadoma at WM3 Pro Cycling next season after the Polish rider signed for Canyon-SRAM at the end of last month. Niewiadoma was one of the only top riders to stay put after Rabobank dropped their sponsorship at the end of last season and has been one of the team's most successful riders in 2017 with a stage win and overall victory at the Women's Tour and podium places at all three of the Ardennes Classics.
Vos, the new European champion, says that attitude is the most important factor, and the hunt for a replacement will not be limited to climbers.
"It's not easy to fill it up with someone like Kasia, but we also don't have to fill it with the same quality," Vos told Cyclingnews. "We are racing for each other and racing with fortitude is also important. Our team management is looking for the best line-up for next year. I think it is looking good. Maybe we won't get a climber type like Kasia, but there are a lot of races where we have riders who can be in the final."
Vos and Niewiadoma have been riding together since late 2013 when the latter joined the team as a stagiaire. Still just 22, Niewiadoma has developed into an intrinsic part of the set-up and keeping her for the 2017 season was a big coup. While disappointed to see her go, Vos feels an element of pride at seeing Niewiadoma step up to one of the bigger teams in the peloton and she's ready to take her on as a rival.
"It's sad, we've been racing together for a few years, and she's one of the biggest talents in women's cycling. I think it's also a good next step and I'm happy she found a team for next year,” Vos explained. “For us, we focus on development and bringing the best out of people, so it's great to see Kasia stepping up and being at this level. It would have been fun to continue together for another year, but we also know that she has a good team now and we will be ready to race against her."
For now, Niewiadoma and Vos remain teammates, and both are happy to work for each other. Niewiadoma helped to set up Vos for the sprint finish at the recent Crescent Vargarda race, where she finished second to Lotta Lepisto, and Vos helped Niewiadoma to a top 10 finish at La Course.
Vos has enjoyed a strong run of form over the last month, with two stages and the overall title at the BeNe Ladies Tour and victory in the road race at the European Championships. She had to overcome a broken collarbone after a crash at the Women's Tour, but, she says, it was all about being patient.
"It was a clean fracture. From 2012, I knew that I could be back into training quite fast. In 2012, I had a similar fracture eight weeks before the Olympic Games, and I didn't panic back then," Vos told Cyclingnews. "I knew from then, if I don't panic, then I could start my training after 10 days or two weeks and start some base training again and build up to more intensity. I had a feeling that I could be back to racing in five or six weeks and it turned out to be like that. Of course, you have to get the right feeling.
"I have to say that the BeNe Ladies Tour was only four days, but it was pretty hard because I was out for five weeks and to have this intense racing, I needed to have some recovery after that. I think that the Europeans were at the right time."
After racing in Sweden, Vos will stay in Scandinavia for the Ladies Tour of Norway, followed by the World Championships in Bergen, where she is likely to take up the role of team player with Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten the favourites for the Dutch team. The road season will end after the World Championships. There won't be too much of a break for Vos as she looks towards the cyclo-cross worlds, where she hopes to take back the rainbow stripes.
"I am planning some cyclo-cross. It won't be a full season, but I can't remember the last time that I raced a full season," she explained. "The worlds are in Valkenburg, where of course I have good memories from the World Championships on the road. I will try to get ready in January with the national championships. I hope to do good. There is some cyclo-cross in my schedule."