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Anna van der Breggen: The next chapter begins now

Netherlands Anna van der Breggen celebrates as she crosses the finish line to win the Womens Elite Road Race a 143kilometer route around Imola EmiliaRomagna Italy on September 26 2020 as part of the UCI 2020 Road World Championships Photo by Marco BERTORELLO AFP Photo by MARCO BERTORELLOAFP via Getty Images
Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) after winning the World Championships road race in 2020 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Anna van der Breggen waved a final goodbye to her stellar pro racing career at the UCI Road World Championships and will say hello to her new role as a sports director, which could be as soon as the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes held on October 2 in France. 

In an interview with Cyclingnews, Van der Breggen said she was happy to have put an official retirement date to what has been an exceptional decade-long career as she's ready to start the next chapter of her life.

"It's been nice to finish my season in this way, without pressure and without goals to reach. It was just about enjoying my last race. I enjoyed riding with my [Dutch] teammates and just being there and making myself useful. It's been a nice period for me to accept that I am changing jobs. I've had time to realise that this career is ending, and a new career is starting," Van der Breggen told Cyclingnews.

"Mentally, it's been nice to have the last race in this way, not just for myself, but for my husband, family, parents, and friends. They have followed me to all my races, and so it's been their last race, too. They also needed time to realise that this was the last race and that things are changing now. It was nice to pick a moment, the last race, and then say goodbye and now it's finished for me and for the people around me."

Van der Breggen, 31, announced her retirement from professional cycling in May last year. She started the year as the double world champion after winning the time trial and road race at Imola Worlds, and it's been a whirlwind final season. She won a record seventh consecutive Flèche Wallonne, a fourth overall title at the Giro d'Italia Donne and the bronze medal in the individual time trial at the Olympic Games.

"The only plan was to get to the Olympics, but from then on, I didn't have a plan on exactly when to retire. I felt like I didn't want to quit after the Olympics, though, because it felt too sudden. I still wanted to race, but the pressure to be good, and to show that you are the strongest, was different for me," Van der Breggen said.

After the Olympic Games, a drop in performance meant that Van der Breggen pulled herself from the national team selection for the European Championships. She also opted not to defend her title in the individual time trial or compete in the team time trial mixed relay at the World Championships. 

Throughout her impeccable career, Van der Breggen has shown that she is not only a leader but that she has been willing to sacrifice herself for her teammates. This season, for example, she helped SD Worx teammate Demi Vollering to victories at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and La Course. 

She was, therefore, determined to support her compatriots; Ellen van Dijk, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, Marianne Vos, Annemiek van Vleuten, Amy Pieters, Lucinda Brand and Demi Vollering in the elite women's road race at the World Championships.

"That is how I approached Worlds, as my last race, to try to help the girls," Van der Breggen said. "After so many years where the girls have helped me at the World Championships, that's been my main goal; to be there and be useful for the girls to try and make a good result. To have my last race with this team was very special because I have known them my whole career, and at times we have worked for one another on either the trade teams or the national team."

Dutch Anna van der Breggen pictured in action during the women elite road race on the seventh day of the UCI World Championships Road Cycling Flanders 2021 15770km from Antwerp to Leuven on Saturday 25 September 2021 The Worlds take place from 19 to 26 September 2021 in several cities in Flanders Belgium BELGA PHOTO POOL KRISTOF RAMON Photo by POOL KRISTOF RAMONBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images

From champion to domestique: collecting as many bottles as she can fit for her teammates during her farewell race (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Few athletes in cycling are as accomplished as Van der Breggen. She built a successful career on her versatility as a rider with an impressive palmares, and her list of achievements is endless.

  • 1x gold medal in the road race 2016 Olympic Games
  • 2x bronze medals in the time trail at the 2016 Olympic Games and 2020 Olympic Games
  • 2x road race world champion 2018 Innsbruck and 2020 Imola
  • 1x individual time trial world champion in 2020 Imola
  • 4x overall winner of the Giro d’Italia Donne (2015, 2017, 2020 and 2021)
  • 7x consecutive wins at Flèche Wallonne (2015-2021)
  • 2x winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège (2017 and 2018)
  • 1x winner of Amstel Gold Race (2017)
  • 1x winner of Tour of Flanders (2018),
  • 3x Dutch Champion (2015 and 2021 ITT, 2020 RR)
  • 2x European Champion (2016 RR, 2020 ITT)

A great champion, a great person

Marianne Vos, 34, spoke of her compatriot's retirement following the road race at the World Championships on Saturday, where she secured the silver medal. She said it felt strange to say farewell to a rider she watched turn professional back in 2009.

"She's a great champion but also a great person. It's weird to speak in the retrospective, but she was always very dedicated and also relaxed, and that's a fine balance. She had to be who she is and never really acted as the queen of cycling, even though she was over the last years," Vos said. "Anna was always still Anna and she will stay Anna. We've had a great champion and a great role model for cycling."

Van Vleuten told Cyclingnews that she would miss Van der Breggen, her compatriot and teammate on the Dutch national team and arch-rival in the women's trade team peloton. 

The two riders have gone head-to-head in some of the biggest bike races, and none more memorable than the 2018 La Course by Le Tour de France, which ended in a high-speed and hair-raising chase into Le Grand Bornand. 

"She's one of my biggest rivals, and I am not happy that she is stopping because I love the battles. She's a super big contender. I respect her, and I think she made a really good decision [for herself] to stop, but I will miss her next year. We have been fighting each other for a long time," Van Vleuten said.

"It's sad that she's stopping. 

"It's nice that she said she wanted to ride for the team at the World Championships. Anna always showed great leadership in this way. She's a nice person who is always giving and doesn't always want to have the pressure. A lot of time, the other riders are working for us, and so sometimes, it's time to help them."

HUY BELGIUM APRIL 24 Sprint Arrival Anna van der Breggen of The Netherlands and Boels Dolmans Cycling Team Annemiek van Vleuten of The Netherlands and Team MitcheltonScott Annika Langvad of Denmark and Boels Dolmans Cycling Team during the 22nd La Fleche Wallonne 2019 Women Elite a 1185km race from Huy to Mur de Huy 204m TF FlecheWallonne flechewallonne on April 24 2019 in Huy Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

One race where no rival could challenge Van der Breggen, not even Van Vleuten, was Flèche Wallonne. Here, winning, in 2019 as Van Vleuten continues to battle on in second. (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

'I am totally ready to change to a new chapter'

Van der Breggen officially begins her role as a sports director at SD Worx in 2022. However, she directed the team from the car for one stage at the Simac Ladies Tour. She will also attend the first edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes.

"Next week, I'll be there for Paris-Roubaix. I don't know if I'll be in the team car or not, but I'm sure it's a race where I can learn a lot," she said.

"I joined Danny Stam in the car at Simac Ladies Tour in Zwolle. I know every road there because it's my training area, so I drove the car, and that was a nice experience."

Van der Breggen confirmed that she is currently taking a master of coaching course and that she will also be enrolling in the sports director's course offered by cycling's governing body in November. She said that she views her new role as a sports director as a long-term career and looks forward to developing at her new job.

"It's the same as being a cyclist. It's not like you start, and you are good right away. I will need to gain experience, and that is a nice experience to learn new things. There are many things, as a cyclist, that you don't think about when you go to a race, and that will be new for me. I like this new challenge," she said.

Asked if there was anything that made her particularly anxious about leaving her athletic career behind and starting a new job as a director, van der Breggen said: "To be honest, at the moment, no."

"I am looking forward to it. I'm happy to have gotten to ride with our younger riders this year. I've already been moving toward that sports director role, and when I think about the future, I can't wait until I begin. 

"Mentally, I am totally ready to change to a new chapter."

Van der Breggen said that there were also other aspects of being a professional athlete that she will be happy to say goodbye to. 

"Physically not training anymore, not always being in shape, and in combination with not having to plan, so taking that pressure off is nice," Van der Breggen said. "I'm looking forward to changing the focus away from myself and to just being normal. I will still ride but without pressure. If it's cold outside and raining, I won't go out, and I won't have a voice in my head that says, 'you need to train inside'."

DENIA SPAIN JANUARY 06 Anna Van Der Breggen of The Netherlands and Demi Vollering of The Netherlands during the Team SD Worx 2021 Training Camp on Denia teamsdworx on January 06 2021 in Denia Spain Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Anna van der Breggen and Demi Vollering riding together at team training camp (Image credit: Getty Images)

 This season, SD Worx has a team of younger talent that includes Demi Vollering, Lonneke Uneken, Nikola Noskova, Anna Shackley, Niamh Fisher-Black and Kata Blanka Vas, and next year the team will include Lotte Kopecky. Van der Breggen said that she is most looking forward to working with the younger riders on the team and helping them develop and learn as they compete among the elite women's peloton.

"We have a lot of young riders on our team, and we cannot say yet who will be the strongest of them over the next few years. I also don't want them to have that kind of pressure to be the star of the team. It's nice that there are more of them, and we need to grow in the future. It's nice to get to know them and help them learn how to be good riders," she said.

"They all try to be good already, and that's something interesting about this young generation, they are doing so much already. It's our job to tell them that they are still young, they have time and they should enjoy it, to slow them down. We have a good group of young riders and hopefully when we are gone they are strong enough to take over but they don't need to do it too quickly."

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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.