We are approaching very exciting weeks in women’s cycling. For the first time ever, we have the Ardennes Classics trilogy on the programme. The Flèche Wallonne has existed for years, but the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège have been added this season. Marianne Vos: “This gives an enormous boost to our sport.”
The Ardennes Classics trilogy. Who would have thought a couple of years ago…
“Indeed. Women have had an opportunity to ride the Flèche Wallonne for years. It has a fixed spot on the calendar and is much loved by riders and fans. After the road race of the Olympic Games, I was told that the Amstel Gold Race was added for the first time. Women’s road cycling is continuously growing, the Olympic Games being testimony of this. The organisers and sponsors of the Amstel Gold Race were present in Rio and witnessed the success which convinced them to build on it. Much to my surprise, Liège-Bastogne-Liège was also added to the calendar. The lobbying for Paris-Roubaix has been going on for much longer, so I had expected that race to be added first.”
Is there a lot of lobbying from within the women’s peloton?
“The Amstel Gold Race actually started after the Olympic Games in 2012. The group riders at the time had several contacts with the organisers whom were exciting but concerned about the logistical challenges to coordinate and manage everything in one day as the Amstel Gold Race is played out in a rather limited area. We have maintained contact throughout the years and two years ago, Leo van Vliet came back to us with the positive reply: ‘I see the potential’.”
What does it mean for a Dutch cyclist to ride the Amstel Gold Race?
“For Dutch sports fans, there is only one big classic: the Amstel Gold Race. I have been following the race on television ever since I was a child. It is one of those days where you like to sit in front of the television as a huge fan. It is ever so special to be able to ride it now myself, especially with the huge home crowds cheering on from the side.”
What is the added value?
“Those who are truly passionate about women’s cycling also recognise the beauty of the less renowned races. However, the Amstel Gold Race, the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège are well known. The history of these races appeal to the imagination of all sports fans. The fact that we get to ride all of them, brings additional attention to our sport. The intention of the organisers is sincere, and the riders are not seen as an addition, but as an added value.”
What is the added value from a sportive point of view?
“We have been having an appealing and broad Flemish programme for many years which is now being complemented with a Walloon part. What we have seen in the past, is that there none or hardly any specialists in the peloton. The riders who perform well on the Flemish hills, are equally strong in the Ardennes classics. With the addition of more typical climbing classics, we could expect more specialised riders since they now have other races than the Flèche Wallonne and the stage races in the Bira and Giro Rosa to concentrate on. And, of course, La Course should not be forgotten. Climbers could get their chances now that La Course has moved to Izoard.”
Would you like more races?
“At the moment, women’s cycling has a well-balanced calendar with attractive races. Personally, I do not think the calendar should get too heavy. It would be a shame to add appealing races at the expense of those who have been supportive to women’s racing for years. As the calendar thins out in the weeks following the world championships, one possibility would be to add, for instance, Paris-Tours and the Tour of Lombardy during that time of the season. They would for sure be a nice complement. On the other hand, we need to be cautious and not wanting too much as our team selections are on average not very broad. We need to find the right balance between competitive racing and relaxation. Sustainable progress is what we aim for: one step at the time.”
What about Paris-Roubaix?
“Paris-Roubaix surely may be added. I, as many many riders, cannot wait to ride this race. I have in the past raced near the velodrome in Roubaix in a cyclo-cross worldcup, and washed up afterwards in the famous showers. This was something I have always wanted to do, and if it were up to me, I would like to go there again, but after having taken on the cobbled sections.”
What are your ambitions for the Amstel Gold Race?
I have completed a couple of races this season, but I am not yet satisfied with my current condition. That is why I decided not to force myself during races, but to replace them with a training period. I have been training, amongst other places, in Limburg and did a recon of the most important parts of the Amstel Gold Race. The route does not hold any secrets for me. I can ride the final blindfolded as it is identical to the world championships in 2012. It remains to be seen how Sunday will be played out. I have in any case a more supporting role within the team. We will see how far I can carry that role in the race.”