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When Marianne Vos arrived at her Rabo – Liv team camp this past January, she skipped the long, hard training rides, instead spinning to coffee with team soigneurs. The short, easy rides marked Vos’s comeback to cycling, after she sat out most of the 2015 season due to fatigue and injury. After a decade of racing road, cyclocross, mountain bike, and track — with no time off for recovery — Vos’s body had simply shut down.
During her first few weeks back, Vos contemplated retirement. As the months went by, she slowly clawed her way back, first finding success at lower-tier races and then learning to survive at the WorldTour events. Eventually, Vos earned a spot on the Netherlands’s Olympic team before ending her season at the UCI world championships in Qatar.
VeloNews caught up with Vos to talk about her comeback to cycling, and her future plans for racing with her newly-minted Fortitude Pro Cycling team.
VeloNews: How did it feel to come back to racing after such a long time away?
Marianne Vos: Well of course, I was happy to start racing again because I love training, and I love riding my bike. But I knew it was going to be hard. I’m used to be able to race in front and make a difference, and now it was more like, try to hang in and follow. I had to switch my mind to that, as well.
After training camp, the team left for Qatar, and I was just still riding coffee rides. That was the most difficult time. When finally [at] the end of February, I got some more rhythm into the training, I thought, maybe I’m going to make it to the first races in March. I had a better feeling than I expected from the training period. Still during the whole season, I had doubts if I would reach, well, the level I would be able to compete with the best.
VN: How did you mentally set yourself up for the process of returning to racing?
MV: This has been the most difficult thing — not to work hard, but to rest, and to find the balance between rest and training. I’m used to pushing myself. And that’s where it went wrong. And now you have to do the opposite. You lose the faith in your own body.
And, mostly in the last couple of years, I worked my training on my own. Now to get the balance back I had to get somebody who said, ‘Hey, maybe take a rest day today.’ My coach Trudy van den Boom, she helped me very much with this. It’s easy to work harder. It was harder to say sometimes, ‘This is enough.’
VN: How did the new team come about?
MV: The current sponsor Rabobank, they stepped in five years ago into the women’s bunch. And we have been really lucky and happy that they wanted to support us until Rio. And last year in December they came out with the news that the sponsor strategy would change, and cycling wasn’t in that plan any more. So we had some time to work on something new.
VN: Who are some of the sponsors you’re working with? Did you play a role in putting together the sponsorship?
MV: No, no. I’m really pleased with our team manager Eric van der Boom. He works hard to get this all together, to get the structure running. And I knew that especially after what happened last year, I wanted to focus on the sporting side and not the management side.
The thing was, in the past maybe, I didn’t get overtrained by training too much or racing too much, but I got overtrained by not resting enough. So that’s what I definitely didn’t want, that all my free time, was going to get into the new team.
VN: Where do you see women’s racing right now?
MV: Well, it’s growing and you feel that women’s cycling is struggling with its own growth at the moment. Because some teams are really strong and some races are really high quality. But there’s still a big difference between the teams in the UCI Women’s WorldTour and also the differences between the races in the calendar. Prize money in some races is fantastic and prize money in some races is still like nothing. But in a few years, we’ll get some balance back. That will come.
The next step will be that the Women’s WorldTour will really get the highest level racing and then, the layer below, that will be the build-up to the WorldTour. As long as you don’t have such a continental circuit, you can’t really set up the Women’s WorldTour in the most professional way. With the continental layer, you’re going to have better opportunities for U23 riders and for the development of riders.
VN: What do you think about the change in La Course for next year to the mountains?
MV: La Course, three years ago, it was something new, something fresh. I think after three years on the Champs Élysées, it’s good that we have something new now again and also, a race for the climbers to show themselves to the bigger public.
But well, when we talk about the race itself finishing four kilometers below the top and the distance, this has logistical reasons, I assume. I haven’t talked to the ASO or the UCI. But it’s a bit of a shame for us racing, because we like to see a full distance and a real mountaintop finish.
We knew three years ago that it was a three-year pilot from ASO. They could have said after three years, okay we’ve been there, we’ve done this, now let go. But now they do something new and it’s pretty cool to finish on the Izoard.
But it’s still La Course, it’s not a Tour de France. We shouldn’t see it as a Tour de France. It’s just one day, where the media from the Tour de France and all the spectators from the Tour de France are, and for us, it’s a great opportunity to race there and now instead of the sprinters, the climbers will have their chance.
VN: What are you looking forward to most about next season?
MV: I’ve got the calendar, and I was already looking at what should I race. A lot of things have changed since I came into elite cycling — it’s now eleven years ago. We have an extended calendar and with Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Amstel Gold Race next year, again, two big races added the calendar. There’s still a lot for me to do with the new races.
I could have retired. I won what I wanted to win. It’s not that I have to complete my list of honor, not at all. I just want to have fun and well, with fun, get back to my highest level. And I think with this new team, we have a lot of potential and it also encourages me to reach my own highest potential. I think we’re going to have some interesting races and maybe some unexpected results with the team. That’s what I love about cycling. You can play the game and that’s what I’m looking forward to most.