Katarzyna Niewiadoma, 23, has spent her short but hugely successful professional cycling career under the guidance of Marianne Vos and Anna van der Breggen, during her tenure with the renowned Dutch team Rabobank. But times are changing for the Polish phenom, who is just days away from toeing the start line with a fresh new look with Canyon-SRAM at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana.
"I've been very excited ever since I signed my contract with Canyon-SRAM," Niewiadoma told Cyclingnews. "I couldn't wait for 2018 to put on my new kit and join the team. It's been great."
In 2013, at just 18 years old, Rabobank-Liv Woman Cycling identified Niewiadoma as an up-and-coming talent in women's cycling. She spent the next five years learning from team leaders Vos and Van der Breggen and lived up to all expectations during her time with that programme.
In her first season, which began as a trainee in August 2013, she won the youth classification and placed 10th overall at the Boels Ladies Tour. During the next four seasons she won overall titles at the Euskal Emakumeed Bira, Giro del Trentino, Festival Elsy Jacobs and OVO Energy Women's Tour, along with numerous other podium placings.
She stayed loyal to Vos' team as it went through sponsorship changes and was renamed WM3 Energie in 2017, which was arguably her most successful season. But instead of renewing with the Dutch team for 2018, which changed title sponsorship again and is now called Waowdeals Pro Cycling Team, she signed a three-year deal with Canyon-SRAM, taking her through 2020.
Vos said Niewiadoma would be tough to replace.
"I have no regrets," Niewiadoma said of her time on Vos' team. "I spent a great five years there. I felt like now was time to take another step into a new environment and be surrounded by professional people."
Niewiadoma pointed to Van der Breggen, who has since moved to Boels-Dolmans, as her biggest mentor and role model during her earlier years at Rabobank. She sees herself developing into a rider like Van der Breggen, an all-rounder who has won the Giro Rosa twice, the Ardennes Classics triple crown, and the gold medal in the road race and bronze medal in the time trial at the 2016 Olympic Games.
"She is an amazing person and my role model," Niewiadoma said. "She is a person that I always try to be like, the same kind of rider; Anna is good at everything she does. Despite all of her success, she is still a kind person. She is a humble, thoughtful and an open person. She is a really good role model to follow."
A more relaxed start
Picking up Niewiadoma, with her Vos-Van der Breggen textbook knowledge of bike racing, was a boon for Canyon-SRAM, and it's no wonder they signed her up for three seasons. They aren't all new faces for Niewiadoma at her new post; the line-up includes her former Rabo teammate Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. She hasn't raced on the same team as other riders like Tiffany Cromwell, Hannah Barnes or Trixi Worrack, but knows them through competing on the same circuit.
She joined her new teammates at two training camps this winter and said they made her feel at home.
"I quickly felt like I was a part of the family," she said. "Everyone was super welcoming. I see a lot of motivation, and everyone knows what they want to achieve, but at the same time, it's more relaxed. I don't feel any pressure or tension, and there are no nerves within this team. That's made me motivated to train hard and prepare well for the start of the season.
"I've been racing against these women for two years, and I know their strengths and strong points, but at the same time, I know what they can improve on. They know what I can improve on. With this knowledge, together, we can create a great team and fill in the gaps."
Niewiadoma will get her season underway at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana (UCI 2.2) in Spain, from February 22-25, where she hopes to show her strengths on the climbs.
The four-day race will start in Rotova and end in Gandia with a 118km stage that will feature Alto de Barxeta (6.2km at 3.1 per cent) and the Alto de Barx (6km at 5.6 per cent). Stage 2 will start in Castello and finish in Vila-Real, and climb the Desert of Les Palmes (7.5km at 5.1 per cent). Stage 3, from Sagunt to Valencia, will be 137km with a climb to L'Oronet (5.5km at 5 per cent). The final stage in Benidorm will offer three laps of a circuit that includes the climb over Alto Finestrat (7km at 4.7 per cent), for 118km in total.
"It will be different because normally I start with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, which is a very nervous race. Starting with a stage race will be much more relaxing," said Niewiadoma.
"We are going to race with a strong team with Pauline and Hannah. I think we will have a lot of cards to play. I have huge faith in this team, and I think we will work together. I'm excited to see how well we will work inside of a race together."
Niewiadoma will also target some of the spring Classics but would like to race particularly well at the Women's WorldTour opener Strade Bianche on March 3 and then at the Ardennes Classic triple - Amstel Gold Race (April 15), La Flèche Wallonne (April 18) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (April 22).
"Those are my goal races for the spring," she said. "I hope to be in the greatest shape. I want to prepare myself to the highest level for that part of the year."
Like Van der Breggen, Niewiadoma is the type of rider who can do well in the Classics and mountainous stage races. One of her career goals is to one-day win the Giro Rosa. She placed 11th in 2014, fifth and won the youth classification in 2015, seventh and defended the youth classification title in 2016, and she was sixth overall last year.
Knowing that she still has time to develop, and with a bright future in the sport, she has decided to avoid putting too much pressure on herself when it comes to winning the Giro.
"I need to be patient. Everything will come in its own time. I know that there are still plenty of years where I can race and achieve results."
Niewiadoma has also shown the maturity level of her older and more seasoned mentor Van der Breggen by understanding that winning bike races isn't the only important part about being a world-class athlete.
"My bigger goal is to make progress," she said. "I want to improve, learn and be better, not just as a cyclist but as a person. I want to do well in my training and racing, keep good people around me and try to help others."