Movistar Team Women are riding a wave of success after signing Annemiek van Vleuten and winning the Tour of Flanders – their biggest-ever victory – which has seen the team rocket to the upper echelons of the world ranking. Their success isn’t all because of Van Vleuten, however, with a very large part of it also coming from their team cohesion, motivation and the talented 21-year-old Danish sprinter Emma Norsgaard.
"It feels awesome and everyone is so excited about our success," Norsgaard told Cyclingnews in an interview over Zoom following her overall victory at the Festival Elsy Jacobs.
"Everything this year has been super nice and our success motivates me every day. When I think about how we work together and what we have done so far this year - it’s amazing."
Norsgaard is still relatively new to the top-tier of cycling and only just began racing with the now-folded Bigla programme in 2018. She signed with the Movistar outfit on a two-year deal through 2022 and she has big ambitions to compete at both the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer and in Paris in 2024. She’s a powerful sprinter, well-suited to the Spring Classics and punchy stage races but she's also a strong time triallist, which says a lot about her versatility.
At Movistar, Norsgaard has quickly become a team leader and often starts races with the support of her teammates for the finals of the biggest races. She said it’s a role she has become comfortable with and that it’s important to limit the feelings of pressure that can often come with leadership on a team.
"I feel like I fit right in and nothing changed too much for me," Norsgaard said. "There’s a bit more pressure but I try to relax in the role and I feel good. I feel like the riders around me are supportive. I’m the same as the domestiques, too, and we are awesome as a team. I try not to feel the pressure and just let the legs talk."
She has certainly let her legs do the talking during the Spring Classics where she placed second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Le Samyn des Dames, Classic Brugge-De Panne and Scheldeprijs. Asked if those runner-up performances were frustrating or motivating, she said, "they were a huge motivation".
"To place second, they were really nice results. I always hope for the win but I was never disappointed with my second places and they gave me motivation to want more," she said.
Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) won Omoop Het Nieuwsblad and Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) won Classic Brugge-De Panne, where Norsgaard placed second at both events by winning the reduced group sprint.
"The times where I came second but won the sprint, that felt like a victory. It helped me believe that I could win. If one rider had not been in the breakaway, it could have been me on top of the podium," Norsgaard said. "It’s been such a nice start and I have not been disappointed in any of my results, even though there were a lot of seconds."
It didn’t take long for Norsgaard to take that inevitable step onto the top step of the podium. She won two stages and the overall title at the Festival Elsy Jacobs, a feat she said was celebrated to the full extent at Movistar.
"It was awesome. My teammates are so good at celebrating and they are super happy for the victory," Norsgaard said. "It’s a team effort and not only me who is working, and they go full gas for me the whole season, and finally I could give them a victory. It was special. We are good at celebrating second, too, but this time it was special. I could feel how happy the whole team was for me."
The Annemiek Van Vleuten effect
Norsgaard said a big factor in the team’s and her own success, along with her ability to get comfortable in a leadership role, comes from spending time with her teammate Annemiek van Vleuten.
Van Vleuten is the reigning European Champion and a former three-time world champion and two-time Giro Rosa winner. She also joined Movistar on a two-year contract after spending five seasons with Mitchelton-Scott.
"Having a rider like Annemiek in the team, a true champion, affects everyone on our team. When a rider like her comes to the training camp, we all want to be better, and we all want to be like Annemiek. I think this has a great deal to do with our success. She is not just a good rider, she’s the best rider in the world, and has won everything," Norsgaard said.
"I can say that she inspires me a lot. Just looking at her and just being with her inspires me to be better. I want to win just as much as she does. She also inspires a good atmosphere on the team and she's good at giving advice for whatever we need. The team is rising all the time because the taste of success is nice, and Annemiek is a big part of that success."
Movistar won just two races last year; Sheyla Gutiérrez won La Périgord Ladies and Katrine Aalerud won the Norwegian national time trial title. They ranked 16th in the world ranking and 14th in the Women's WorldTour, but those rankings don't always tell the full story. They have come a long way since the team launched in 2018 and acquired a top-tier licence last year. They have always had a strong group or riders, perhaps not capable of winning the biggest races, but they were frequently placing inside the top-10 on the international calendar.
The team are currently placed second in the world ranking behind SD Worx and third in the Women’s WorldTour ranking behind SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo - an incredible accomplishment for the team. Their accumulated points are in large part to Van Vleuten’s and Norsgaard’s numerous podium performances this spring, but even those were a team effort.
"When I signed with the team, I made some big goals for myself and I had some achievements that I really wanted to go after this year," Norsgaard said. "Movistar believed so much in me. I don’t know if I was meant to be the leader, perhaps it comes with the results, but I feel like they support me 100 per cent and they believe in me more than I believe in myself. It feels nice. Annemiek is the leader in every race, but the level of our team is rising all the time, and yes, a lot of the riders on our team can win."
Norsgaard said that Van Vleuten’s victory at the Tour of Flanders was an amazing experience for the team as a whole and that all of the riders celebrated that win as if it was their own.
"It was so crazy. When I crossed the finish line, I felt like I was the person who won the race. It was a party," Norsgaard said. "Everyone was so happy and proud of one another. We celebrated that victory as a team and that is what made the victory great. We are so good with one another and we are willing to sacrifice for each other and this is what makes a victory feel special."
Norsgaard will spend the next two weeks at an altitude training camp to prepare for her next block of racing that includes the Thüringen Ladies Tour, Danish National Championships and the Tokyo Olympic Games, where she hopes to compete in the road race and the time trial.
"I am 100 per cent focused on the Olympics," she said. "We have not selected the team yet but I am crossing my fingers that I get a spot. We have two spots for the road race and one for the time trial, and I want to race both events. The time trial is a big goal for me and I just want to do a nice performance in Tokyo."
Norsgaard is also looking further ahead to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, which is expected to include a flatter course well-suited to punchy sprinters.
"Even though I don’t feel it, I’m still young, and I have a lot of racing left. I want to focus on Paris, go after it, and I hope it will be a course that suits me better than Tokyo."
Norsgaard isn’t the only professional cyclist in her family. Her brother, Mathias, is also under contract with Movistar and the siblings live in the same apartment in Spain.
"It’s special. I cherish it a lot because we get to share a lot of things together," Norsgaard said. "During Flanders Classics we were at the same hotel the entire time, and so I could celebrate a lot of that early-season success with him. It was awesome. It’s great to be able to share these memories."
Norsgaard said that they are nothing alike – in cycling nor in personality – but that they are close, and that's something their parents are thankful for now that both adult children are living aboard and taking the same career paths in sport.
"The are super supportive and they have been our entire childhood. My mom is the reason we got into cycling because her friend was the first female cyclist that was professional in Denmark. My dad is always on the bike, too," she said.
"They're happy that we are on the same team and that we live together in Spain. We share the cycling life together and they are super proud of us."
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