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'You need to think for 15 people' – Van der Breggen's hectic first race in the SD Worx car

Anna van der Breggen
Anna van der Breggen in the SD Worx team car (Image credit: Sprint Cycling Agency)

The reigning champion was not racing at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but she still made her presence felt. Anna van der Breggen fastened her seatbelt in the SD Worx car in Gent and settled in for her first race day of her second career as a team director.

Not that she could could really settle in. "Hectic" was how she described the experience to Cyclingnews at the finish. "You need to think for almost 15 people."

After winning almost everything there is to win – often multiple times over – Van der Breggen turned the page at the end of 2021 and, although she has technically been employed as a director since the turn of the year, the Omloop was the first competitive outing – the first goosebumps of 'retirement.'

She has completed the requisite UCI sport directing courses and is undertaking her own studies in coaching but there's perhaps nothing that can prepare you for the chaos of the cobbled classics, even for someone who has won so many of them.

Actually it was cool to do. It's also something, like as a rider, where there's pressure on yourself for the first race and you're wondering how you are. I was happy today was actually finally there," Van der Breggen said.

Despite honing her skills on the go-karting track at a recent team training camp, Van der Breggen was not behind the wheel at the Omloop. That duty fell to her colleague Lars Boom, while she relayed information, offered encouragement, supplied riders with food and clothing, helped deal with mechanicals, and plenty more besides.

The task was made all-the-more difficult by being drawn as car number 21 of the 24 teams, putting them at the back end of the convoy.

"We know what's coming so you try to focus on doing a lot of things, sometimes at same time," she said. "Especially when we had those broken wheels, it was really hectic. It's also easy to forget when you're working there that the girls up front still need information.

"I learned a lot. With the multitasking, the more you do it the more you don't forget you need to do all these things at the same time. It's nice that I didn't have to drive the car today, that I could really focus on it."

Van der Breggen's day didn't just start and end in the car, however, with no shortage of pre and post-race tasks. As a rider, she was perhaps insulated from the flurry of activity that unfolded around her, and she described Saturday as a real eye-opener.

"There are many things… also working with the staff. I don't know everything about preparing bikes, what they need to do, preparing bottles, when do they do it, what needs to be done… it was my first race and you need to think for almost 15 people. So yeah, you forget things, but I think the more you do it the more you know what to do."

In the race itself, Van der Breggen played a key role all the way, as Demi Vollering went clear with Annemiek van Vleuten over the final climb of the Bosberg. Van der Breggen encouraged her young protégée to back herself and not get sucked into cooperating with her more experienced counterpart, given the presence of two teammates in the chase behind.

Ultimately, it wasn't to be, as Vollering came off second best in the two-up sprint.

"Today we didn't win the race but it was a really good final and a good experience to learn to ride a final, because it's one of first times she was in this situation. Sprinting against an experienced Annemiek is not easy," Van der Breggen.

"We discussed the final a bit, the last kilometre, just more mentally, that she should trust herself. Normally she can win the sprint, but it's always different when you're in that situation, with the pressure - it's different to training and to when you feel secure. That's why you can never be sure. Normally she's the faster sprinter and would have won this sprint, but it's about tactics and the mental part. It's good that she could learn but of course it's a pity we didn't win."

As for the race as a whole, it was a day to remember. "The girls did a great job, and it was just cool to be able to help them from the car," Van der Breggen said.

She'll be doing it all over again on Sunday at the Omloop van het Hageland, and this time she'll be behind the wheel.

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Patrick Fletcher
Patrick Fletcher

Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.