It's not easy to switch cycling disciplines, but some riders make it look easier than others. Six-time mountain bike world champion Annika Langvad has thrown herself into road racing this season, and has made the transition look like a simple one.
Langvad has raced just three times on the road this season, finishing third in her first outing at Strade Bianche and fourth at last Sunday's Amstel Gold. On Wednesday, she held her own against some stiff competition to take third at Flèche Wallonne – a race that her Boels Dolmans teammate Anna van der Breggen won for the fifth consecutive time.
"I was just trying to hang in there and secure my second place, but just when the climb flattened out a bit at the end, my legs shut down and Annemiek van Vleuten [Mitchelton-Scott] passed me," Langvad said of the final ascent of the Mur de Huy.
"I thought, ‘Oh, there's nothing I can do', because my legs were done. They had stopped completely, but I was able to hang on for third in what was my very first experience with this race."
Langvad joined Boels Dolmans over the winter after deciding to take the opportunity to add some road racing to her programme. She had raced on the road previously, at one time holding the Danish national titles in the road race and time trial in 2010, but her priority has been the mountain biking, where she holds five world titles in the marathon event and won the 2016 cross-country world title.
Making the switch has been a steep learning curve, but Langvad is loving the opportunity.
"It's a different world to mountain biking – totally. The only thing that is the same is that you move your legs in circles. Of course, having a good fitness, having endurance and having a good punch helps, but it's so different," she explained.
"In mountain biking you also go hard, but you go hard for an hour-and-a-half in one go. Here, you go full gas, and then you sit up, and then you go full gas, and then you sit up, and you have to get used to it.
"I remember at Strade that I was cramping halfway through the race, and I thought that there was no way that I'd get through it, but I've kind of learned it a bit by now. At every single race, I gain so much experience."
Coming from mountain biking, Langvad has the punch for a race such as Flèche Wallonne, but she has had to learn when to use it to her best advantage.
"It's always good to be explosive, and I know that I have a really good punch, but you have to save a lot of energy for when you use your punch," she said. "It's like having some cards in your hand, and knowing which cards you have, but it's really about about being able to use the right ones at the right time.
"It's not easy, but I really love the challenge, and it's really refreshing for my mind. It's a huge motivation and I'm really having a good time."
One rider who knows how Langvad is feeling is her own teammate Van der Breggen, who added mountain bike racing to her programme in recent years. Langvad, who had already won the event three times, asked Van der Breggen to ride Cape Epic with her in March and the pair took the victory by a 30-minute margin. During their ride, Van der Breggen was happy to have the wealth of knowledge that Langvad has and now she is returning the favour on the road.
"Annika knows everything about Cape Epic and so I listen to her when I'm on a mountain bike," Van der Breggen told Cyclingnews earlier this month. "In road cycling, it is the other way around. I know how races develop, when to pay attention and when to be in front, or when it doesn't matter that much.
"This is difficult for Annika because she has no experience in road cycling or WorldTour racing. It was easier for her to stay close to me so that I could talk her through the race, and she could see when I'm focused in front or not. In Strade, she had such good shape and was so good in front. I felt that I was not going to win the race and so decided that we work for Annika, so she could do the final climb. It might have been her first race but she was strong and that is why we decided to work for her.
"It's funny that we have these feelings on the road and then the other way around on the mountain bike. It's really cool that she took the step from mountain bike to road cycling. It's a new challenge and a new experience but it also makes you more of a complete rider."
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