Chasing rainbows: Marianne Vos and the World Championships

Marianne Vos
Marianne Vos: serial world champion (Image credit: Getty Images / Luc Claessen)

This article was originally published at the start of 2019, but has been updated to reflect Vos' latest world title at the 2022 Cyclo-cross Worlds.

At the 2022 UCI Cyclo-cross Worlds Championships in Fayetteville, USA, Marianne Vos pulled on the 13th elite rainbow jersey of her storied career

The first came all the way back in 2006, sparking a stunning run that took her to the top of the world on multiple occasions across multiple disciplines, as she dominated the sport. 

That first title came in 'cross as an 18-year-old, and she went on to win it again six times in a row from 2009 to 2014, and now again in 2022 after an eight-year wait. 

Soon after that first one, Vos doubled up with the road world title in 2006, which she won again in 2012 and 2013, along with titles on the track in 2008 and 2011. She endured some difficult years from 2015 onwards but has risen back to the top of her game and now once again wears the jersey she prizes above anything else. 

"I like the concept of a world championship. One race, and you have that rainbow jersey," Vos told Cyclingnews a couple of years ago. 

"To wear that jersey and show you're the world champion through a whole year, that's one of the best things we have in cycling. The rainbow jersey has always been very special during my career. I know the feeling, and it never gets boring."

Vos was speaking during an exclusive interview in which she looked back on her collection of rainbow jerseys, which now has another chapter.

Cyclo-cross

2006 Cyclo-cross Worlds - Zeddam

Vos won her first elite world title as an 18-year-old

Vos won her first elite world title as an 18-year-old (Image credit: Luc Claessen / www.actiefotos.be)

I was 18 but I'd been racing as a junior in the elite category so I wasn't new to the field. I had some experience already. It was a hard frozen circuit that day, and that was good for me. I lacked power, compared to the stronger, older women, but I had the speed, explosivity, and technique.

That day went perfectly for me. I was in a break of three with my big idols, Hanka Kupfernagel and Daphny van den Brand, so one German and one Dutch. The other two were stronger, so the only thing I could do was follow. Then Daphny had a flat tyre. Of course, I was sorry for her, but for me, that was a situation where Hanka had to do all the work. She tried to drop me and tried to keep Daphny behind, so I was in her wheel for like two laps, hanging on. I knew, once we had the bell lap, that I had a chance. If I could stay in the wheel, I knew I could outsprint her. So that was the main focus: keep the wheel.

I still remember, I was very excited, coming out of the last corner, I started my sprint, and I was faster on the line. I was really happy, but then I saw Hanka so heartbroken. My idol, who I'd just beaten. Then of course Daphne was disappointed because she might've been the best that day but she had bad luck. It was an interesting moment, I have to say.

Cyclo-cross Worlds - 2009-2014

Vos wins in Hoogerheide in 2014

The two more in Hoogerheide [2009 and 2014] were very special, racing in front of home crowds. In 2009, I was in a three-up sprint with Hanka again and with Katie Compton. The other one was my last title, in 2014. I have special memories I guess because it was the last one, until now. I hope to repeat that feeling again. That course was slippery and muddy and not exactly how I wanted it but I was still the best that day. When you really have to put every bit of effort in, and it turns out to be your day, that gives a lot of satisfaction.

In Koksijde in 2012, I really had a good season but the sand isn't really my piece of cake so I was curious to see how that would work out. For that reason, taking the world title there was very special. Racing in Louisville [2013] with the American crowds was great. Winning with a big advantage in Tabor [2010] was great. Each was special in its own way.

2022 Cyclo-cross Worlds: Fayetteville

FAYETTEVILLE ARKANSAS JANUARY 29 Marianne Vos of Netherlands celebrates at finish line as race winner ahead of Lucinda Brand of Netherlands during the 73rd UCI CycloCross World Championships Fayetteville 2022 Womens Elite Fayetteville2022 on January 29 2022 in Fayetteville Arkansas Photo by Chris GraythenGetty Images

Marianne Vos wins 8th cyclo-cross world title in Fayetteville 2022 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Cyclingnews was there in Fayetteville to capture Vos' instant reaction to her 13th world title and her first in eight years. 

It feels really special to put it on. It's not the first time but it's been a while. I always hoped and believed that there could still be things like this for me, but when it actually plays out that way, it is fantastic. 

You can take nothing for granted in sports. In that respect, this season was very beautiful and I enjoyed it and now that I can wear this one I will certainly enjoy it again.

I certainly don’t think age is a very important thing in sport or in cyclo-cross. You see very young riders coming up early and doing very well and then you see us [herself and Lucinda Brand -ed] in our mid-thirties. You can do well at 18 and you can do well at 34. And I hope even a bit older. Perhaps experience might help if you’re older and being fresh and explosive helps when you’re younger, but it's a sport that, at different ages, you can do very well.

Road

2006 Road Worlds - Salzburg

I was a co-leader in the Dutch team with Chantal Beltman. We were both in a break of 17 that day, and I ended up twice in a break with three, with Nicole Brandli and Nicole Cooke. At one point during the race, Chantal comes to me and says 'you're the fastest from this group - you know that right?' And I said 'errr…well…errr…well, yes… I guess so.' I was in the moment so wasn't thinking about the sprint but once she said it, it sounds stupid but I felt 'yeah, there's a chance'. Also, during the season I won some races and it may sound arrogant at 19 but from that group I knew I was fast so if they didn't drop me I had a chance.

Then we made a tactic to see who attacked. I would wait, and if Chantal didn't get away, she would ride for me in the last part. It was a good tactic, then it was a perfect sprint. It was one of those moments where you don't think - you just handle it by instinct - and it worked out fantastically.

That was the second world title that year, and of course a road title is even bigger. I didn't realise what it would do to me. You get all this attention, people expect things from you, you get sponsor and media stuff. That all happened to me when I was 18 and still in school. For a shy girl, I didn't know how to handle all the attention.

2012 Road Worlds - Valkenburg

Marianne Vos wins the Valkenburg World Championships 2012

Vos wins on home soil in 2021 (Image credit: Getty Images)

This was a home Worlds, and what made it even more special was that, after 2006, I had been second five years in a row. Second is still a good result, I know, but being second and not wearing the rainbow jersey anymore, you really feel you lost it. Over the years there were different kinds of second places. Looking back now, I'm pretty proud of the less top results but in that moment, especially the fifth one in Copenhagen, I was so angry with myself. I started my sprint too late and got boxed in. Losing to Giorgia Bronzini was no shame, but the Dutch team was riding for me and I really felt I let them down. But I knew after the fifth, it was 2011, and I thought 'OK, next year it's 12 and everything will be all right. And I don't know why, but it happened.

After I won the Olympics… the pressure was fully on the Olympics and, when that happens, the pressure is off the Worlds. I still remember I had to really switch to race mode again after the Olympics. The week before I felt really bad, I was maybe in bed a whole week, but I felt so good that day. We had a plan with the team, and everything worked out as we wanted. We wanted to have one of our riders in the break, to keep the gap at 30 seconds, then for me to jump on the Cauberg. On the top, I was there and Anna van der Breggen was the one in the break and she pulled when I came across.

I went solo to the line, and it wasn't really relief, it was… the Olympics was more relief, because the pressure was on and the opportunity only comes once in four years. The road Worlds was just one big celebration, so I felt relaxed, I didn't make any mistakes, everyone was cheering, I had goosebumps going up the Cauberg making the decisive attack. It was a very special feeling, totally different to the Olympics.

2013 Road Worlds - Florence

Florence was totally different again. I wasn't at my best, but the course suited me well. Once again, I was in a break with Anna. That title is totally on her, actually, because she was so strong that day but I think she didn't really feel it. I have to say, for those three road world titles, of course you still have to ride, but the Dutch team played a big role.

We had the same sort of tactic that she'd attack on the longer hill and, if she didn't make that, we'd continue and I'd attack on the steeper part. I just hung in when she attacked then made my move on the final climb. I was so exhausted.

In Valkenburg, I was in control of everything, but Florence… in Dutch we have a saying that translates as 'walking on your toes', when you do so much you can't handle it. I was really, really exhausted crossing the line. The satisfaction was maybe even bigger because I had to put more effort in. I really had to put everything in.

Track

2008 Track Worlds (Points Race) - Manchester

Manchester was pretty special. It was my first season on track. My coach back then wanted me to improve my cadence and speed and instead of doing a full cyclo-cross season, he wanted me to train on the track. I love competing, and Beijing would be the Olympics, so we said 'OK, we're going to do the Beijing round of the Track World Cup to do a recon of the road course and race on the track.' I was doing a lot of my training on the track but I didn't expect to win. I did Scratch Race and Points Race and won both. Then I qualified for the next World Cups, and if I did well I might qualify for the Olympics, but I totally screwed up the next World Cups. The only other option to qualify for the Olympcis was to win at Manchester Worlds. It was a big task, but I qualified for Worlds, then went there to Manchester and won the points race, and qualified for the Olympics. In Beijing I screwed up the road race but won the points race. That whole journey, in just a few months, was very exciting.

2011 Track Worlds (Scratch Race) - Apeldoorn

It was back home in Apeldoorn, which was very cool. After the Olympic programme there were changes to the omnium which didn't suit me that well. I tried but Kirsten Wild was much faster in the sprints so I decided to focus on the road for London 2012, but for Worlds in Apeldoorn I wanted to race there. I got the opportunity to race scratch and points. Points had always suited me best because of the intervals and it's longer. Points was first and I didn't do well, I spent the whole race behind, never in the right moves and never in the right sprints. It was the same as in Beijing, I just let go – one more chance and just give everything. That scratch race was pretty cool and I can still feel the crowds following me around the track.

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