In 2020, Dutch riders Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen were the dominant performers of the women's peloton but one rider aimed to disrupt that blockade: Spaniard Mavi García (Alé BTC Ljubljana).
The 37-year-old came out swinging after the 2020 coronavirus lockdowns, attacking from the leading group in the Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa – the first race back – on the final climb.
Although Van Vleuten jumped and won, García held on for second place. Then, in Strade Bianche, García took a page from Van Vleuten's book and attacked with over 40km still to race. She held a lead of over three minutes until Van Vleuten bridged across with six kilometres to go then snatched the victory on the final climb.
García went on to claim both Spanish road titles, two stages and second overall in the Tour de l'Ardèche and a top 10 overall in the Giro Rosa. While García has been steadily on the rise since joining the pro ranks from duathlon in 2015, it was arguably a break-out year for the rider from Mallorca.
In an email exchange with Cyclingnews, García explained how she came out of the lockdown with such sparkling form.
"It came from being in good shape from Sierra Nevada," García said of her pre-season camp after finishing seventh overall in the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana. "Just the day I returned home I couldn't go out anymore. I made up my mind that I didn't want to lose my physical form completely, just go down a bit, that was my goal. My boyfriend likes the bike a lot and with him many days we did a double roller session and that helped me a lot."
As COVID-19 cases surged in Spain, the government prohibited any outdoor activities starting on March 15 and lasting through the first week of May. With no races in sight and the Olympic Games postponed, most riders let their form drop before ramping back up ahead of the end of July re-start.
"I spent [the lockdown] at home in Mallorca and for two and a half months I couldn't go out," García said, adding she kept busy by "always doing roller and many exercises."
When she returned to racing, her strong form was a "pleasant surprise".
"When I finally started racing, I already felt very strong and that made me want to improve my racing even more," García said.
Asked if her age - two and a half years younger than Van Vleuten – gave her an advantage in managing the challenges of lockdown and succeeding in races, García pointed to her newness in pro cycling. "I think it is much more complicated in some aspects, since entering a sport with so many things to learn, which requires technique and experience to be in a peloton and know what to do, has a process.
"Having only been racing on the road for five years, after years competing at a high level in duathlon while working in an office," García said, "this opportunity is valued much more and also age makes you have your feet on the ground."
Looking ahead, García hopes to continue to improve. "In the last two years I have learned many things and I think that this next I will put into practice details that I did not take into account. I think it can be better," and she aimed to "improve, enjoy and fight for the top positions in important races."
Most pro athletes start from a young age, but García took up running relatively late - at age 25 - then added cycling and took on duathlons. When her bike legs became stronger than most, she attracted the attention of the Bizkaia Durango team, who invited her to do a test with the team and attend a training camp.
She continued to mix running and duathlon with cycling until she signed with Movistar in 2017. Just four years later, she is Spain's highest-ranked rider in the world at 14th, and together with Ane Santesteban, Eider Merino, Alicia Gonzalez and Sheyla Gutierrez, has helped move Spain to 10th in the world nations rankings.
This has opened the door for Spain to have two spots for the women's road race in Tokyo and one in the time trial. García hopes she can be one of the two riders selected.
"For me it is something very exciting because I have never been to an Olympics and if I can also have a good race there, much better," she said.
Should she manage to win a medal it would be her country's first for women's road cycling. Whether she can make that happen, she said: "That is a lot of ambition and although I know that it is very difficult, you always have to think big because if not, it will surely not be achieved."
García has only just gotten started in pro cycling and younger riders are already retiring.
"I don't think in the long term... I think that as long as I like what I do I will continue to do it and always try to improve. It's not easy to dedicate your life to doing what you love the most. I always think of giving everything until I lose the illusion."
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