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What you do off the bike can sometimes be as important as what you do on it for pro riders.
Physical rest days are a commonly accepted process when training to reach peak fitness, but a mental time-out can be hugely beneficial. For Canyon-SRAM pro Kasia Niewiadoma, properly excluding herself from the cycling world in the off-season is crucial for her.
Niewiadoma is known as one of the most upbeat riders in the bunch and she likes to try and pass that on to her teammates. This winter, after recovering from a racing injury and spending time with family in her native Poland, she headed to Boulder, Colorado with her partner — former professional — Taylor Phinney.
Getting away from it all, says Niewiadoma, gives her a chance to be everything she wants to be when the season rolls out again.
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“I feel like if I don’t get that disconnection moment, it’s hard for me to be who I am in that environment and to be able to give positive energy out, to be able to feel super motivated and to have the energy to give to others and also have some energy myself,” she told VeloNews in a recent phone conversation.
“I feel like in my role within the team, I am considered a leader. That definitely requires extra energy and to have the light within that you have to spread others. Having those breaks or those moments just purely for myself and my people helped me to cultivate more positivity and give to others.”
Niewiadoma is now into her fifth season with the Canyon-SRAM squad after adding another three years to her contract last year. The 27-year-old has only raced with one other team — Rabobank — during her lengthy career as a professional racer.
She says that it’s not just the opportunities that she gets that has kept her in the team, it is also the mutual respect she has with the team’s management that means she wanted to stay put.
“I feel like I’m able to be who I am, truly, I don’t have to pretend to be somebody,” she said. “I feel like I am listened to and fully understood. I feel like they trust me because if I want to communicate something with them, or something is not working, I know that they listen to me and they don’t think that I’m like trying to make up something just so I don’t have to go somewhere or like a specific race.
“It really feels nice to be understood as a grown-up. I feel that quite often in this sport, athletes are somehow perceived as kids. You have to always explain yourself, and you have to fight for your opinion. It always feels like we have to prove something.”
Niewiadoma says that sometimes riders don’t help themselves when it comes to changing perceptions and it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of having others sort your life out for you. With a retired pro for a partner, the contract between rider life and real life has been made much more obvious.
“We behave like that. The truth is, that’s what we do,” she said when asked why riders can be treated like children. “And it’s like, you can continue acting like a kid and then you’re being treated like a kid or you actually make a change. You can do certain things yourself, you know.
“It was interesting for me to see my boyfriend retire in 2019. Especially on the men’s teams, everything has been taken care of for them. Seeing that change from a coming from a team where when you have a little issue with your bike and everything gets arranged for you straightaway. You don’t have to think about anything. Then like you go out of contract, and you have health issues, and then you’re like, oh, actually, I have to make calls. I need to get an appointment. I’m like, ‘you see this is a normal life.’”
Giving it everything
After switching off for the winter, Niewiadoma has had a busy start to the season with a stint in Spain for a training camp, followed by her race debut in Valencia, where she finished sixth overall, and then Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
She is slated to race Strade Bianche this weekend, an event she has finished on the podium of four times. The gravel road race is one of Niewiadoma’s big goals this spring, along with Flèche Wallonne — another race that she has regularly graced the podium.
Whatever the results are this year, Niewiadoma wants to finish it feeling as though she left everything out on the road. Something she says she hasn’t always done in the past.
“Every race I start, I want to know that they did my best,” Niewiadoma told VeloNews.
“I definitely feel like sometimes in the past I would have moments when I finished a race and was like, ‘oh, man, is that it?’ I actually kind of lost the opportunity because I haven’t tried or I didn’t do what I wanted. That’s the mentality that I’m trying to employ into my life right now to always do my best and there are definitely a few races this spring that I want to win.
“Strade Bianche has definitely always been my goal. Ever since I started this race, I always wanted to win it. Looking forward, the whole spring is amazing. I always love spring classics and all the races are beautiful. Moving through the Ardennes classics, I won Amstel before and I don’t feel like I need to do that again, but it would be nice to be able to repeat that success. Mostly, I am focusing on Flèche Wallonne this year. Yeah. To be honest, there are so many beautiful opportunities that we can grab as a team.”
Niewiadoma is known for her aggressive style of racing, but it doesn’t always work out and she says that she has sometimes curbed her instincts to conserve energy. She wants to make sure that this season she doesn’t leave a race feeling as though she could have given more.
“I feel like it’s mostly about like listening to your gut feelings, listening to what your body is telling you instead of like waiting for the perfect moment that usually never happens,” she said. “Quite often in the past, I would be waiting, because looking at the past races, I would think maybe I did something too early, or I attacked too early. So, I would change my mentality to this very conservative riding and try not to spend my energy.
“When you start going like this, and when you feel like you cannot do too much because you might run out of the energy in the final, you just put yourself in this weird zone where you don’t want to do anything because you’re so careful about your energy.”
This isn’t to say that Niewiadoma won’t be saving energy when she needs to and she’s likely to skip this year’s Giro d’Italia in an effort to ensure she’s in full force for the Tour de France Femmes later in July. The Polish rider has often struggled with recovery following a big stage race and she doesn’t want to risk burning herself out before her big summer goal.
After years of having to answer “no” when she’s asked if she’s ridden the Tour de France, Niewiadoma is excited to be able to finally answer in the affirmative.
“I am stoked about it because all the time I talk to people I’ve never met before they ask me about the Tour de France and then I have to explain ‘no actually we don’t have a Tour de France,’” she said. “Then they feel like you’re an amateur and no one is interested anymore. It will be nice to actually be able to like do such an iconic race that everyone knows about.”