This interview first appeared on my blog, and was made possible by my generous Patreon supporters. This interview also exists in podcast form, so if you want to listen to it rather than read it, head over here.
Lisa Brennauer, who races for
Specialized-lululemon UPDATE! Velocio-SPAM for next year! ended the 2014 season with two golds and a silver from the Road World Championships, making her by far the most successful rider in Ponferrada, to go with her two National Champion's jerseys and a swathe of podium places. We talked about that amazing week in Ponferrada, her journey here from winning the Junior ITT Worlds back in 2005, what her plans are for next year, and much more.
You were obviously amazing at Road World Champs, and I wanted to start off by asking about that. You began by winning the Team Time Trial, which is not that surprising, because Specialized-lululemon have won for all three years.
Lisa: Yeah, it was obviously a big goal for us to win it again, but our competition was not sleeping, they’ve worked really hard at it, so in the end it was a lot of hard work to make it happen, and we were all so happy afterwards.
I’d been impressed at the Open de Suède Vårgårda Team Time Trial World Cup, where I’d thought maybe Rabobank-Liv would beat you – and then you broke the course record, even though the weather was appalling! How do you keep getting better and better every year?
For some of the riders, getting a routine that we work very hard on. We had a great camp in Sweden before the World Cup, and we were used to the course and the weather conditions there, and I think all the little parts play a big role in the end. To be honest, we were surprised as well!
When you win the TTT WC for the third year in a row, does it still feel as exciting?
Yes, definitely. For me, personally, it was the second time – I wasn’t part of the team in Valkenburg. But it’s an event where you go out with the whole team, and everyone has to stick together, you all work towards the same goal, you have to be ready to all do it on the same day, and for me it’s always a very special discipline, it’s so much fun to stand on the podium and have achieved something as a whole team.
Yes, they had, and I did too – we all three went down the day before the World Championships, so I was afraid we would get out of the rhythm – but that was exactly the point when we had to stick together, to find our way back to work the next day, and it all worked very well. For sure they had some pain – I was fine, but they were all on a very, very good level, and I think that made us win.
I was wondering, when you have the Team Time Trial and the Individual Time Trial so close, and you’re an ITT star, are you able to go full gas in the TTT, or do you worry about the ITT coming up?
You actually can’t worry about the ITT. It’s a bit shitty that it’s so close, compared to the guys who have one more day in between, which would be a lot better, but that’s just the case, and if you want to win the team time trial you have to all give everything, not thinking about your ITT. And the past few years have shown that every ITT Champion has taken part in the TTT. It’s probably not the very best, but it’s still good to manage, and you definitely can’t worry abut your ITT.
And Ellen van Dijk won gold and gold last year, and you won gold and gold this year…
When it was your ITT, I was shouting at the television, because you were behind at the third checkpoint, weren’t you?
Yes I was! The key point is not to stress about it, but I had no idea that I was getting closer and closer and closer at the finish, and that the time gap was getting smaller. I had no idea, because the last timecheck I got was when I was still in second place, and that was the last thing I heard, and then I went full gas on the last part, as hard as I could.
It was so beautiful to watch. Obviously you’ve got a lot of fans, and you’re a former Junior ITT World Champion, it felt so good to see you win.
It was my biggest goal of the season, the ITT World Championships, and it’s still unbelievable somehow. I think I will still need some time, and I’m so looking forward to getting my ITT suit, and having this feeling the first time I put it on, and I’ll have this feeling I’m really the World Champion. That is still the thing I’m waiting for, to put the skinsuit on and really be the World Champion.
I guess putting it on and going training in it in winter is really not the same!
No it’s not! And I don’t have it yet, I only have the jersey I got at the ceremony. I’m so happy, but to really realise it completely, that’s the piece that’s missing – putting the skinsuit on to go out and race.
It was so exciting – and with Pauline Ferrand-Prévot winning the road race, you’d both been former Junior World Champions - it felt like a good time to see young riders who’d been so good as juniors develop. You’ve had a strong career ever since, but to develop, and then to come into your own like that – what’s your journey been like?
It’s obvious to everyone that I’ve needed some more time to develop than riders like Marianne Vos or Ellen van Dijk – we’re all almost the same age, and they had their breakthrough a bit earlier than me. It also has to do with the fact that I’ve wanted to be good on the track as well, and got to the Olympic Games.
I’m a person who needs some more time to develop, and to be able to get everything out of her body, and to perform on the highest level, with everything that goes with that – lifestyle as well. To become a World Champion you need a good set-up for your whole life, that plays a really big part.
That has been my journey, always going up and down, but always going slightly uphill, but I needed some more time than maybe others did.
I think we saw that with Pauline as well – it’s very hard coming from juniors into seniors, and unless you’re Marianne Vos, it must be very difficult – and to know you won a lot of things as a junior, to suddenly be at the back of the pack, having to learn all over again. How do you manage that?
It’s definitely hard. I have, let’s call it, a strong character, I was patient enough. Some were not, some stopped on their way to becoming a very good cyclist, but you have to be patient and wait for your time to come, and that for me was 2014. I am very close to my family, and they support me a lot, and that’s important to me to have people around me who also support me in the bad times. If you have that, when the people around you support you in the days that are not so good, then you’re able to be patient enough to wait for your time to come.
There was that moment on a video where you can see where you suddenly knew that you won, and you were jumping up and down. When you finished, and there were still riders like Villumsen and Van Dijk on the road, did you know you had won. or were you just waiting?
I knew that they were so much behind that it would be crazy if they beat me, but I’m still the kind of person who wants to wait until the last one is finished, just to be sure, just to be able to realise it’s the truth, that it’s not something wrong on the television, where I could see the intermediate times. So I wanted to wait, and really be clear that it was true, and that was the moment when Ellen was crossing the finish-line, and I can’t describe it, it was amazing. I still get goosebumps when I think about this moment, because I worked so hard, so when you achieve something, it’s great.
One of the things that was really nice was so many people in the peloton saying how much you’d worked for it, and how much you deserved it. All these riders on different teams and from different countries saying nice things about you.
It’s really great, the feedback I get from other riders. I heard that Ellen was supposed to give an interview to Dutch television while my ceremony was going on, and she said sorry, give me a moment, because she wanted to watch my ceremony first. So she was standing watching my ceremony, and then went on with her interview. When I heard that, I thought was great, showing she has a lot of respect for me.
Ellen said on twitter that if she had to lose her rainbow stripes, she’d rather lose them to you than to anyone else.
She was such a great team-mate to me, and I learned a lot from her last year when we were on the same team. We’re friends, that’s the way you want it, you want someone that you like to win, right?
And then you had the road race, and you nearly won that as well!
To be honest it was very hard after two gold medals to get my mindset back, to realise it’s not over yet, that there’s still competition to come, that you want to give everything for. It took me some days, to be honest, and I didn’t expect the German team to race for me, because I thought that the course was a little bit too hard for me. But when I heard that I was going to be the first choice, I thought "Ok Lisa, get your shit together, go out there and ride a good race."
I didn’t have any pressure from them, or from the Federation, or from anyone but if you have six girls who want to give everything for you to get a good result, you just want to deliver, you want to race well, and I told myself "Lisa, you’d better be good!".
And you had such a strong team. It was a surprising road race, I was expecting the Dutch and the Italians to keep attacking, but it was your team, Trixi Worrack and you and Claudia Lichtenberg and all of the Germans who were attacking and making it an active race.
It’s true – but what did we have to lose? We didn’t have to wait until Emma Johansson or Marianne Vos to attack, or Lizzie Armiststead. And for Trixi, or Claudia or anyone else, it was their chance too to get a good result themselves. It was not that it was all for Lisa, but I was the joker to be there in the end if possible.
People were asking at the time, "who are they riding for?", and that was the wrong question, because it felt like you were riding for anyone who had a chance – if it came to a sprint they had you, and if Trixi had got away, everyone knows what Trixi can do!
But that’s the point. At first no one thought that the German team would be one of the teams to play the biggest role in the race, but in the end, if you look closer, we had a very strong team, with some possible medal winners in there, so what did we have to wait for?
It was the right tactics, and the style of the race really played into our hands, and I think we really made the best out it, and I have to thank them so much for what they did in the race, all those attacks made it so much easier for me in the end, they were a very, very big part of my success.
I was wondering about the course – there was that descent where in every other race there had been huge crashes, and I think the German team were the only one not to have riders down in that enormous crash in your race? How do you ride when you know it’s a course where so many people keep getting taken out?
I think the only one from our team who went down was Trixi, and she didn’t go down too hard. I’m a bit afraid sometimes, so what I do in this case is ride on the front. If you watch the videos, there is probably not one single lap where I started the downhill further back than second position!
It’s also about keeping yourself safe, of course – that’s so easy to say, but you have to do it. There was this horrible crash of course, and I just hope that all the riders are ok, and well recovered, and ready for next year.
I heard that Trixi and the German team didn’t let anyone attack after that big crash, and you guys controlled the pace to let everyone come back. Is that true?
It’s not true that we tried to get everyone back, or tried to keep the pace low, but we didn’t attack. The thing is, what do you do? More than half the peloton went down, and it needed a whole lap for the peloton to get back into racing, because so many people went down, and so many people had to get back and get new bikes and whatever, help from the doctor, so what do you do in that situation? For sure, you don’t attack. We just were looking at what the others would do, and that’s probably the nicest, or most normal way it should be.
It’s one of the reasons I like cycling so much, because there could be a temptation to attack, especially if you have all but one of your riders at the front, but it makes me really happy that you all seem to care about each other a lot, even if you’re on different teams.
I think that’s true. It’s sport, so you can’t always think about the others too much, sometimes things just happen, but I believe in the end we all care about each other, and want to get to the finish safe, so you have to watch out for each other a bit, you can’t do whatever you want.
And then you had the finish – can you describe how it felt, because when that final attack went [Vos, Johansson, Armitstead and Elisa Longo Borghini] did you think it was over?
The attack went, and I obviously couldn’t go with the first four, and then there were two in between, and then me all alone, going into the downhill. In the downhill I caught the two riders in front of me, and I knew that there were still four up there, and I knew that for someone who wants to get back, that’s a very good situation, because you know that with four, one doesn’t get a medal, so they might not be racing well together. That’s the only opportunity you have – if they race together to the finish, you’ll never see them again, but who’s the one not getting a medal then? So there was this chance to get back.
And I’d watched the other races on television on the days before, so I knew that if you get dropped on the last climb, you have a chance to get back on. I tried everything, and then I looked back and saw Claudia coming and she did an amazing job, without her I wouldn’t have made it back to the front four. Claudia did a very, very good lead-out, she did such good work I can’t describe it, but when she was done with her work – and she did a pull of one and a half kilometres, or even more – it was still 300 metres to go, so I knew if I started the sprint, I would come last of the field that came to the finish. So what do you do?
It all went so fast, but I couldn’t start the sprint because it was too far to the finish, so I waited for the others to pass me, which was also not the best thing I did, because I got closed in, and I thought "Oh shit, Lisa, now you don’t get anything". That’s what I actually thought – "OK, it’s over, you don’t get anything in the sprint" until the gap opened, and suddenly, I can’t remember how, or when, or what happened, but the gap opened, and I could just make my way through. I didn’t have to push anyone, I didn’t get in anyone’s way, there was a gap opening and I took it, and I got second in the sprint, and that’s the biggest result we could have hoped for.
It was amazing, watching it on television when you could see the four up front making that decision, and you can imagine what it must feel like, they made the wrong choices – but then Elisa tried, but she has the least good sprint of them.
It was a strange finish, you can’t look into their heads, they will have their reasons for their reactions. It was almost like they were standing still, but in the end only Emma managed to get a medal from those four that were about to sprint for the medals.
You can see them looking at each other and it just lasts that little bit too long.
I don’t know, but I think they were all not so happy with the outcome of the race, but that’s sport, that happens, and that’s what makes it interesting for the spectators, that things happen you can’t foresee.
So that was the road race, and all the girls from the German team were so happy, and they knew and they still know that they played a very big part in my success.
One of the reasons I was so happy for you was you are always such a good team player. I don’t know if it’s a German thing, but it seems both you and Trixi are really happy to work for other people as for yourself. I thought about Thüringen Rundfahrt, where you were leading, and then there was that stage when Evelyn Stevens got away, and immediately you were working for Evie, and it didn’t matter which one of you won.
Maybe that’s my nature, I don’t know if it’s a German thing, but that’s how I learned cycling, how I grew into the sport. I always had to work really hard to achieve certain goals. You all know me as a worker for the others, and suddenly I have my own opportunities, and I try to grab them, to fulfil them, and with every little success I grow a little bit more, and I get more self-assured. And that’s the thing about me. I love to work for the others, and sometimes I can work harder than if I’m working for myself, that’s the funny thing about it. You will still see me back as a hard worker for other people next year!
When I first started watching cycling, Judith Arndt was doing the same thing – when she had her own chances, she went after them 100%, then the next day she was 110% in the sprint train for Ina-Yoko Teutenberg – and Ina’s the same, it just feels like very German to me.
Maybe you’re right, I never thought about it this way – but it’s something I learned from them.
So next year, how are you going to top two gold medals and a silver, and two national champions jerseys?
I’m looking forward to next year, I feel very good in the team, I like our staff and everyone, so I decided that this is going be the surroundings I want to be in. I’m looking forward to it – I want to ride as many TTs as possible of course, to wear my World Champion's skinsuit. For the rest, my biggest goal will still be World Championships and National Championships, and I hope I can still develop.
And then of course there are the Olympics
Of course the year before the Olympics, always a special year, but I’m not worried about it. The Olympic Games is my big, big goal, but I’m not worried about next year, I’m looking forward to it.
So you’ll be with Specialized-lululemon – and I guess with riders like Evie Stevens and Chantal Blaak going, there’ll be more team leader roles for you next year, maybe?
Yes, possibly! I think we are a good team next year, and probably I will have more team leader roles, but you know me, whenever they ask me to work for someone else, I will do it. It’s definitely going to be different than this year, because Evelyn and Chantal are no longer in the team, so things will change. Of course I’m sad about it, I liked working with them a lot, but you have to look forward, and working with new people also brings new excitement and possibilities, so I think we’ll be fine, it will be fun!
And you’ve obviously won a whole load of Track World Cup medals in your time – are you still going to be working towards track at the Olympics.
At the moment I’m not planning on doing that. I can’t tell you that won’t change – but at the moment I’m not planning to.
And I guess having been Ellen’s team-mate, and you and Ellen being really good rivals in the ITT… have you been stealing her secrets?
No, no, no! (laughing) A lot of the knowledge about the TT comes from my team because they have so much experience, from when they were HTC, and from the team background, they had a lot of knowledge in this field, so both Ellen and me learned a lot from them, and so it’s not about stealing each others secrets. Of course we will be big competitors, she wants to have her jersey back, I guess.
And you want to keep it!
I definitely want to keep it! It’s going to be exciting, that’s what sport’s about. I can handle it, she can handle it, so we’ll see!
One last question – what will you be doing of the winter?
I don’t know yet – soon the first training camp will come, and at the moment I’m starting to train again, but I’ve tried to do lots of different things other than cycling, like running, and if the snow comes, I’m going to do cross country skiing too, just to keep the excitement about getting back on my bike. Last week I went back on my bike for the first time since Worlds, and I felt yeah, that’s the time now, I want to get back on my bike, and that’s the feeling I need.