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When Lisa Brennauer finished the final race of her career back at the European championships in August, she did it knowing that there was almost nothing she hadn’t achieved in her career.
The 34-year-old Ceratizit-WNT rider had won world titles in multiple disciplines, tasted gold on the track at the Olympics, and won a whole host of other events. Indeed, the only thing missing from her rich palmarès was a major classic, but that’s a sting that is quickly soothed by her other achievements.
With all of that behind her during a 15-year career, Brennauer was able to call time on her career with confidence that it was the right decision. However, it didn’t make it any easier when the final curtain did fall.
“I felt like I was open for a new step in my life and I started thinking, ‘OK, but this would also mean at the same time that I want to quit cycling.’ But of course, then there were the Olympics, you think in Olympic cycles a lot. I really think that the Olympics and the fact that I won gold there made the decision a bit easier because you I go with a feeling that I have achieved everything I ever wished for in the sport,” Brennauer told VeloNews.
“I’ve won everything I ever dreamt of. And well, not 100 percent because I never won a big classic. They’re some of my favorite races. I’ve been close, many times. But in general, I’ve achieved everything I ever thought I could maybe achieve. I can go with so many positive thoughts, positive feelings, emotions. But still, when I think back to European championships, which were my last races, and I see the pictures and I’m crying. Everybody saw that. It’s still not easy.”
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Though the idea of retirement had already been brewing for some time, the Olympic Games were another nudge toward the end of Brennauer’s career. She and her German teammates dominated the team pursuit competition, breaking the world record in each of their three runs and taking the title by over six seconds to Great Britain in the final.
Brennauer would also go on to take four titles at the worlds a few months later. After such a big year, she had to take stock and see if she had it in her to regroup and go for more targets. There was just enough in the 2022 season for her decide to go at it for one more year.
The first aim was the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift and then the European championships in Munich, not far from where she had grown up. After he family had to miss out on seeing her win gold in Tokyo, the Europeans were the perfect place for her to close her career.
“It was pretty hard anyway to become Olympic champion without having my family there because it has been their plan to come over to Tokyo. But of course, we all know that they weren’t allowed,” she said. “To then have this last event so close to my home seemed to me something that I wanted to share with my family and friends and really make it my last race.
“It was an emotional time in Munich because you’re going through this process over and over again. ‘OK, this is the last time in the team pursuit, and the last time it being in the start machine on the track and that the clock is ticking down.’ I still remember this beep beep of the clock that’s ticking. So I had to go through this over and over again. But on the other hand, I think that this was really good to go through and to have the opportunity to race all those races, all my disciplines that I love most but also to go through all those emotions together with my teammates and family and friends over there, but it was a roller coaster.”
By choosing to call it quits at the end of August, Brennauer was able to enjoy the remainder of the season as a fan and spectator rather than a rider. She was also able to take up some offers that she’d previously been unable to do because she was in the midst of a racing season, and she went on a retreat with a whole host of other German athletes in Italy.
The end of a rider’s career can often be hectic and it can take some time before the realization that what had been a major part of their existence is no longer has set in. When that happens, there is sometimes the pang of missing out, but it can also be an affirming moment when they realize retirement was the right call.
Brennauer has already seen her teammates race on without her and while she does miss being with them, she’s not missing the racing side of things.
“I think that slowly I realized that this change has been made and I’ve been of course there have been big races after I have retired so I have been confronted with the fact that I’m no longer part but more spectator or I’ve been a couple of times at Eurosport being a co-commentator, but it has always been a good feeling,” she told VeloNews. “I never thought well wow, I really would have loved to be part or what a pity it was more like oh my god, it looks so hard if they look at it and get it from outside and how did I ever do this?
“I don’t miss so much the race itself, but everything that comes with it. The people, the atmosphere, the spectators, the whole event around it. I feel like I miss this a bit, not so much racing itself because of course it comes with so much work and sacrifice and pain.”
Brennauer is still working on her plans for her post-racing career but she knows that she would like to remain in the sport.
Like many Germans, she has had a contract with the army throughout her career, which has supported her financially. Initially, she was on a year-to-year deal that would end if she stopped performing or decided to retire, but she now has a lifetime contract with the army — a rare deal for an athlete.
Thanks to that support, Brennauer has time to consider exactly what she would like to do next.
“It’s not yet 100 percent sure,” she said. “I got a lifetime contract with the army, which means I have the opportunity to stay there, like I will work for the army forever and there are several opportunities for me. My wish is to stay as close as I can to sports and there’s also a chance that I can do this, but it’s not yet finalized.
“I tried to move already in a certain way, and I did my license to be a coach. It would be my absolute wish to move forward and give all my knowledge and experience to other athletes. I’m just not 100 percent sure if that is what’s going to happen. I still can’t tell you what will be my job, but I will stay with the army.
“Some people might have also heard me on Eurosport as a co-commentator and I hope that I can do this as well a bit and because I’ve really loved it and enjoy doing this. I just hope in general that I can still be involved in the sport and maybe play a role in cycling in some way.”