Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) has been the best rider in the world for well over a decade, a 12-time world champion, two-time Olympic gold medallist and secured hundreds of other victories. As she looks toward her season's target at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, it's almost refreshing to learn that she still gets nervous ahead of big bike races.
"Yes, I do. My nervousness doesn't block me, but I certainly get nervous. It's good to get excited and to get ready for the race," Vos told Cyclingnews in a phone interview on Wednesday.
"I've done my preparation, training and put in a lot of effort into the Tour of Flanders, and so I want it to all come together, and it's not easy to make that happen. I know that different things can happen during the race, but I have also learned that when you've done everything right, then you have to let go of nervousness at the start line and rely on your preparation, intuition and luck."
Vos won the Tour of Flanders in 2013 after beating her rivals Ellen van Dijk, Emma Johansson, and Elisa Longo Borghini in a breakaway sprint. That type of scenario could play out again on the streets of Oudenaarde this weekend, but Vos has versatility on her side as a strong climber, smart, aggressive rider, and a fast sprinter.
She showed her versatility, yet again, after winning Gent-Wevelgem in last weekend's round of the Women's WorldTour. She opted to skip the mid-week events at Brugge-De Panne, won by Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange), and yesterday's Dwars door Vlaanderen, won by Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), to be fresh at the Tour of Flanders.
"I feel great, and watching [Dwars door Vlaanderen], I felt the tingling and excitement ahead of Tour of Flanders," Vos said. "The win from Gent-Wevelgem gives me extra vibes and motivation. It also takes some pressure off because we got a big win. It's exciting to feel that we are there with the team and that we can go for it again at Tour of Flanders."
The peloton has shown a high level of collective strength this year, particularly with some other Continental teams like Ceratizit-WNT, TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank and Valcar Travel&Service. At Gent-Wevelgem, Jumbo-Visma showed that they could support Vos to a victory, her first win of the season, and the team's first-ever win, which made the result an even bigger celebration.
Anna Henderson, 22, played a crucial role in setting up Vos' win with a late-race attack that forced many other top teams to chase, absolving Vos of having to spend any unnecessary energy. Post-race images of the team and riders celebrating showed just how much of a team effort that victory was in Wevelgem.
"The most important thing in our team is that we work for each other and want to give more than 100 per cent to our goals," Vos said. "You can feel that kind of enthusiasm, and every single person in the team is 100 per cent prepared. Sometimes you have the advantage of being experienced, but it's also nice that our younger and less experienced riders can go for it and give their all.
"It's a nice atmosphere on the team and we have good feelings. It was important to have the team around at Gent-Wevelgem, and when you can see that everyone is giving their best, you want to give an extra push more."
A woman-to-woman battle in Flanders
Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) and Amanda Spratt (Team BikeExchange) will add to the select group of high-profile contenders on the start line at the Tour of Flanders, alongside the Trek-Segafredo duo of Lizzie Diegnan and Longo Borghini, as well as Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), to name a few.
Vos said that she is prepared to race against a strong field with a lot of depth, and she feels that she will be part of the contest for the win in Oudenaarde.
"I've prepared, for the last few weeks, for the final of Tour of Flanders. At Gent-Wevelgem, there were very strong attacks from Elisa Longo Borghini, who is at a very high level, and Kasia Niewiadoma, Annemiek van Vleuten are very strong, and also Anna van der Breggen will be at the top of her game. It's not only those names because there are so many strong riders who can force different scenarios," said Vos.
She said she anticipates the main battle to take place during the final ascents of the Kruisberg-Hotond, Oude Kwaremont, and then lastly, the Paterberg before the run-in to Oudenaarde.
"I don't expect a waiting game. I expect a big battlefield," Vos said. "There is a lot to battle on course and a lot of strength and depth in the field, so teams are going to open up early, and it will be a very tough race. Once we are in the final 20 kilometres, I think it will be a woman-to-woman fight because it's such a difficult finale."
Vos will line up with a team that includes Anna Henderson, Romy Kasper, Anouska Koster, Riejanne Markus, and Nancy van der Burg. Asked if she will give her team a kind of motivational speech ahead of the Tour of Flanders, Vos said, "yes," but she only expects her teammates to do their best, and that is all that she can ask for them.
"We do a team meeting ahead of the race, and our coaches and directors are doing their job, very inspirational," Vos said. "My talking there, it's just about being there; I don't expect more than what I do myself; try my best and focus on the right moments. I'm sure that every rider on the team will do the same."
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