She’s one of the strongest climbers in the world, but Kasia Niewiadoma isn’t thinking about whether she can win the rainbow jersey in the elite women’s road race at the 2018 UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck on Saturday. The pressure she put on herself this season took its toll, and so she has decided to go into this championship with a more relaxed state of mind.
“It’s time now, and the important thing is that I feel strong and healthy, and I’m happy about how I’ve prepared for Worlds,” Niewiadoma told Cyclingnews in a phone interview on Thursday. “I’m trying to stay calm and take this event day by day.”
It’s been a challenging year for Niewiadoma, who changed teams for the first time in her six-year career, moving from Marianne Vos’ former Rabobank team to Canyon-SRAM on a three-year deal.
She’s been one of the biggest prospects for mountainous races but versatile enough to also be a contender in the Classics. She set the bar high, aiming to win the Giro Rosa – and every other race she entered – to prove her place within the new outfit. In the end, she felt like her season lacked better results because of the amount of pressure she placed on herself.
“A lot of girls this season stepped up, so even though I made improvements, sometimes it’s hard to see them,” said Niewiadoma, who pointed to the Giro Rosa as a place to make some changes for next season.
“I feel like I should have prepared differently for the Giro Rosa, and I should have taken care of smaller details, but it’s a learning process for the future.”
Despite not performing as well as she had hoped at the Giro Rosa, where she finished seventh overall, she consistently finished inside the top 10 at WorldTour races, including second at Strade Bianche and a win at Trofeo Alfredo Binda. She was top 10 at the Tour of Flanders and third overall at the Tour of California, sixth at La Course and fifth at the Tour of Norway.
She recently secured an overall win at the Tour de l’Ardeche, a hilly stage race in France that was scheduled as part of her pre-Worlds programme.
“L’Ardeche was such a beautiful race with a lot of climbing, and it was the perfect preparation for this coming race," Niewiadoma said. "It was nice to be climbing all day long for six days. It’s nice that I managed to win this race with the team, but it’s not that I’m super stoked right now and extra confident about my shape.”
Niewiadoma lines up with a somewhat inexperienced team that includes Malgorzta Jasinska and Anna Plichta, both of whom race on the WorldTour, and younger riders Marta Lach, Aurela Nerlo and Katarzyna Wilkos.
She said her team would be keying off of the stronger teams such as the Dutch, who have the two favourites in Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten. There is also Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa), Katie Hall and Megan Guarnier (both USA), Amanda Spratt (Australia) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy).
“I feel good in my body, and I feel good in my head,” Niewiadoma said. “There are a lot of strong riders, so it’s hard to say that I’m good enough to win this race. There are a lot of riders who could win on Saturday.
“It’s not going to be up to us to make the race hard. We have three riders who have very little experience, and this will be a learning process for them, which is cool," she said.
“It’s up to us to know which movements are the right ones and who to follow. We will need to be patient.”
Niewiadoma previewed critical sections of the women’s 156.2km course on Thursday. They will race 84.7km from Kufstein to Innsbruck, which has a steep 5km climb, and the three shorter circuits that include a climb up to Igls before a descent back toward the Innsbruck finish line. She was expecting more from the climbs but revealed that it isn’t as decisive as she had hoped.
“It’s a hard course, probably the hardest World Championships that I’ve ever done,” she said. “To be honest though, I thought this climb would be harder. It’s super hard, but there are a few places where you can take a little rest and catch your breath. That will give opportunities for more riders to win this race. I think that it’s going to be an interesting race.”
No matter the outcome of the World Championships on Saturday, Niewiadoma is already planning ahead of the 2019 season, when she will once again race with Canyon-SRAM. Her strategy doesn’t revolve around what races she aims to do well at or improvements to her training and equipment. Instead, she will remain focussed on keeping a calmer state of mind.
“I want to stay calm in my head,” she said. “This year I wanted to show that I was extremely valuable. I put too many expectations on myself instead of enjoying riding and racing. I was always thinking that I couldn’t make mistakes and needed to be perfect, and that kind of killed me. I want to be my old version of Kasia and not try to change.”
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