UCI Women's WorldTour
Rio 2016 is over and the hype has died down but the road cycling season continues. After their very different Olympic experiences, Annemiek van Vleuten (the Netherlands) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland) share their impressions.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-AIS)
Rio 2016 road race: DNF
Life isn’t only about gold medals.
Right now I am in Italy and enjoying a holiday (with my bike!) and I can honestly say I am really happy to be here. I am so much better since arriving in Italy, both physically and mentally. I am back riding, taking things day by day and enjoying life.
If everything continues to go well, I would like to race the four-day Lotto Belgium Tour. It starts on September 6th, almost exactly one month after the Rio road race! I don’t have any ambitions for this race. I’m just looking forward to getting back in the peloton and racing without any pressure.
I have had some disappointments in my career. We all do. That is part of being a professional cyclist. But crashing out at the Olympic Games, just a few kilometres from the finish line when in the lead and going for gold… that is the toughest challenge I have ever faced.
I know the crash made a very big impact on lots of people who were watching the race, and the support, messages and good wishes I have received have been overwhelming. I suffered severe concussion and micro-fractures in three vertebrae, but for me, dealing with the disappointment has been far more difficult than recovering physically. The worst was when the doctor told me to take complete rest, with no television, Internet or telephone. I had nothing to do except think about what happened. It was so hard. But in the end, it was just a few bad days and then I started to look forward to what’s coming up next.
I was in the shape of my life in Rio and I totally surprised myself with how strong I felt. During that race I realised I was capable of more than I thought. I always believed I wasn’t a climber. I was usually the one hanging on, disappearing and coming back. But in Rio I climbed like I never had before. I wasn’t even suffering and felt so strong. So now I will target this sort of race more. It’s amazing to think that at 33 years old you can keep improving. I hope this inspires other people to believe in their dreams and go after them.
I wasn’t at all apprehensive getting back on my bike after Rio. I’m not following any training schedule but just riding when I feel like it and not doing any intensities. I’m a little bit more tired than before, but otherwise I feel really good. I think my level must still be quite high even though I’m not doing any specific work. It is also a holiday for me and my mother came for the first week. It was super spending this time with her.
After the Lotto Belgium Tour we will evaluate how I am and decide what’s next. The European Championships mid-September are too early for me but I hope to race the Giro dell'Emilia Internazionale and the Gran Premio Bruno Beghelli Internazionale in Italy at the end of September. However, as Orica-AIS isn’t competing, I’m looking for a mixed team to ride with.
Then the big goal is to be in top shape again at the UCI Road World Championships in October. At the moment I think this is realistic!
Kasia Niewiadoma (Rabo-Liv Women Cycling Team)
Rio 2016 road race: 6th / time trial: 18th
I think almost everybody who finishes an Olympic race without a medal probably feels frustrated. But in the end, it is just a bike race, and I have to take a lesson from that.
To be honest it is still a bit difficult to talk much about the road race in Rio. I feel as though I did not grab the opportunity to get a great result. I know how much work I put into the preparation, how many hard training sessions I did and sacrifices I made for this day and it didn’t work out! I had a hard time and my legs were not as good as I had hoped. The course suited me. It is one of the best I have ever raced on but it was just not my day.
On the other hand, I am also proud to have come 6th at the Olympic Games!
As for the time trial, right from the start this was not a good race for me. Twice I nearly missed a corner because of the rain and slippery roads. I found it difficult to re-focus each time and I was constantly worried about crashing or leaving the road.
Even though the results were not what I might have hoped, I really enjoyed my first Olympic experience. The 2015 European Games in Baku had given me a foretaste of what to expect but of course Rio was something different, with athletes from all over the world. I wish all athletes could experience this at least once in a lifetime. It is great to be surrounded by sportspeople who have already achieved so much, and being one of them was amazing. Living so close and eating in the same dining room really gets you motivated.
It was a pity that I could not stay longer to watch some of the other disciplines, but I flew home the day after the time trial. I had a bit of a rest at home, just relaxing and cleaning my mind of all things cycling…. but not for long. I still have some races so holiday time will be in October.
I raced the GP de Plouay-Bretagne on Saturday August 27th so am back into race rhythm! I came fourth and really enjoyed it. I think I am starting to enjoy cycling even more now that there is no longer the pressure and thoughts about the Olympic Games coming up.
For the rest of the season, I just want to do my very best in every race I enter. There are no more training camps scheduled, and between races I return home to Poland to enjoy time with my family.
Having said that, I am currently in the Netherlands where I am racing the Boels Rental Ladies Tour, a six-day stage race that finishes on September 4th. All good so far!
Probably my biggest goal this month will be the European Championships in France on September 17th. Last year I won the Under-23 title and of course it would be great to repeat that result but it will be more difficult as we are racing with the Elite this year. I will tackle it as I do any race – do my best, ride smart and try not to get excited and go too early!