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"Harder races are more beautiful": Annemiek van Vleuten previews the 2014 Ronde van Drenthe World Cup

On Saturday it's the Boels Rental Ronde van Drenthe, the first round of the 2014 Road World Cup. Rabo-Liv rider Annemiek van Vleuten dropped into the Café to tell us all about the race, how she feels now she's racing with both legs again, winning a new floor, and more. And after the interview, we'll tell you how you can watch her race Drenthe.

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PdC: Welcome back to the Café!  Can you start by telling us a bit about the Ronde van Drenthe World Cup – what’s it like to race?

Annemiek: First of all, it depends on the weather, because if the weather’s really bad, like it was last year, you have a totally different race than if it’s nice.  Then, what makes the race really special are the two big obstacles.  The first is the VAM-berg, which is a really steep climb.  It’s made of trash, that hill – we don’t have hills in Holland, so they made one out of trash!

It’s really steep, and they’ve made it a bit longer recently.  It’s hard to really make a difference when we go over it for the first time, but later we climb it again, and that can be decisive, because at the end of the race people get tired, and you have to be really explosive to do something on the VAM-berg.  It’s a climb Marianne really likes, because she can be explosive on that kind of hill, but it can also be something for me, I like the VAM.

What also makes the race special are the cobbled sections that are not exactly cobbles! Some of the roads in the area are very sandy, and so stones have been dropped in to make a hard track – so they’re not cobbles like in Flanders, it’s totally different, they’re not laid carefully, just big round boulders that have been thrown off atruck into the sand. The Belgian cobbles are really nice, compared to Drenthe!  These are rough paths, not organised into a pattern, the heavy stones just lie where they were dropped.  So there’s also a strong chance of getting a flat tyre on these sections.

One of the "cobbled" sections is through the forest, and there always used to be three sections of stones, pretty long ones, up to 3 km per section, so they can really be decisive, but now they have added even more.  They’ve looked for every stone section in the surrounding area and have put them all in the World Cup race.  I really like it – I’m sometimes in contact with the organiser, Femmy van Issum, and I told her we like the race to be really hard.  The men’s race at Drenthe had more cobbled sections than the women’s, so we wanted it to be hard like that too.

We don’t want people to say that they make it easier because we’re women, we want really difficult races, so more cobbled sections make it harder, the kind of race where only the strongest will survive.  That’s what we want, I think, in women’s cycling, to be taken seriously.   We also want a Paris-Roubaix for women, and I hope the organisers there will listen to us too.  But it’s nice that Drenthe make it tougher for us, especially as it’s the World Cup, because harder races are more beautiful races!

PdC: So if any of the peloton are complaining about the extra cobbles, they can blame you?

Annemiek: Yes!  And Marianne too, because she also wanted it!  But I think the stronger riders like it when it’s a harder race.  I don’t think I’ll make a lot of enemies in the peloton through this.  At least I hope not!

PdC: I always remember the Ronde van Drenthe in 2010, when it was you and Loes Gunnewijk on Nederland Bloeit, attacking out of that last group

Annemiek: That was a special year for me, because Loes won there, and I was second.  It was special just coming second, and Loes winning, but I was also 3rd, 2nd and 1st in the three Drenthe races, and I want to do that again!

PdC: Do you like having the three races over four days?  How is that to race?

Annemiek: Sometimes it can be hard, when teams have to travel so far for just one race, so I think it’s really good that there are three races here, and I hope that they will always organise it like this for us.  It is also an advantage because there are a lot of strong riders here – it’s the World Cup on Saturday, so you have a good field racing on Thursday at the Drentse 8 and on Sunday at the Novilon Eurocup as well.  It’s hard to race for three days, but I need a lot of racing to get better, so I like it!

PdC: It’s nice that there are chances for more riders too – so if you have a puncture on Saturday, you still have a chance to win on Sunday, so it’s not all or nothing.

Annemiek: And I can also recommend winning on Sunday, because if you win that race, you get a new floor!  We start the Novilon Eurocup by the Forbo factory, who make a luxury flooring that’s used in a lot of top hotels.  I won in 2010, and I couldn’t use it before, but now I’ve bought a house of my own, and I've got my prize on the first and second floor!  It’s really nice to win that. Marianne has also won a couple of times, and she’s building her own house, so we went to the factory to choose our floors together.

PdC: So apart from you, of course, which riders should we watch out for in the World Cup?

Annemiek: It’s the same riders for all the World Cup races.  Kirsten Wild is really strong, and her Liv-Shimano team-mate Amy Pieters has shown us from the start of the season that she’s in really good shape, so they could ride a really smart race together, with Kirsten as a sprinter, and Amy can profit from that.  Emma Johansson is always good in every World Cup, so she will always be strong.  Elisa Longo Borghini – I’ve seen how she is riding so I expect a lot from her.  She’s always smart in the races, and you need clever racing in Drenthe, not just your legs, you have to use your head.  And Lizzie Armitstead is really on good form, she showed that winning at the weekend.

From my own team, Marianne is not riding, but I’ve seen a lot of progression from all the riders - Roxane Knetemann, Anna van de Breggen, Thalita de Jong is also riding, so we have a really strong team there, all six girls can win, if we work together, so we’ll be one of the strongest there, even without Marianne.

PdC: It must be scary for the other teams – with you and Anna, and everyone capable of winning.

Annemiek: We don’t have a real sprinter, so we have to go for the attacks and I’m fast, Thalita is also fast, but only from a small group, so if there are a lot of riders left at the end, we’ll have to attack.

PdC: What is it like for the team when Marianne’s not there – it feels like she’s always happy to ride for other people, but does it feel different without her?  Is there more or less pressure?

Annemiek: For myself, I feel more pressure, because normally she’s there, so we already have wins.  Our team is without a victory so far this season – we’ve only had Qatar and three races, but we feel the pressure to show we can win without Marianne Vos – but it will also be good for the team to show other riders can win.  Last year it was a pity that only Marianne and I had some victories and other girls did not win any UCI-level races – so for me, this year one of my goals is for other riders from the team to win.  Marianne only starts racing in Flèche Wallonne, and there are a lot of races before then, and I would like to show the world that we are a strong team even without her riding.

PdC: And of course, you’ve just come back from your operation, haven’t you?

Annemiek: I had the operation after the end of last season, on the narrowing of the artery in my leg, and had to rest after that, so I only started training at the end of December.  Now I’ve only had two months of real training, but I’m really satisfied with the level that I’m at.  My leg feels so much better compared with the last two years, and it gives me a really positive feeling.  I’m having a lot more fun training, because my leg feels better, so I’m a happy person, with two legs that aren’t hurting now instead of only one!  I’ve always had problems in that leg, so I’m really glad that it seems to be working out well for now.

PdC: And you’ve had two top tens in three races, on only two months of training – that’s really good going!

Annemiek: That’s true! At first we thought I couldn’t race the Omloop het Nieuwsblad, and that I would hopefully start the season in Drenthe, but maybe even later, so I was very surprised I could start in Het Nieuwsblad.  And in Hageland,  there was the 1 kilometre climb in the lap, and I saw that I’ll have to get a little bit better, because I was dropped on the climb – but it was also really positive that I chased back and I’ve got a lot of power.  It was only those really, really intensive explosive attacks, like Armitstead’s, that I couldn’t follow.  I have to get a little bit more in shape, but I think the races will do that for me!

PdC: That’s the best way to do it!

Annemiek: That’s also why I’m doing all three days of Drenthe!

PdC: Last year you had those problems with your leg, but you still had some great results, despite not being at 100%.  You were second overall in the Boels Ladies Tour, and stage wins at Thüringen Rundfahrt and in the Trophée d’Or – and of course you got silver in the Team Time Trial at Worlds.  So if your problem’s been sorted out, and that’s what you were doing on only one good leg…

Annemiek: I’m a little bit curious about how I’ll be this year, because I know I had a lot of problems in my leg.  Marianne and I sometimes joke about that – she was saying if the operation goes well, I’ll give her a hard time this year!

If you look at my results from last year, I was having problems in the stage races, where the first two days would be ok, and then I’d get worse and worse and worse.  In the Boels Ladies Tour I was ok, and I won the last stage in the Trophée d’Or, but other races, for example in the Giro Rosa, after two days I was really, really bad, and had to pull out – so hopefully that will also improve.  My leg wasn’t getting enough blood, so the muscles in my left leg were not getting enough oxygen, and I had a really hard time, and a real problem with recovery in my left leg, especially in the stage races.  Hopefully that will also be better.  Usually I’ve been able to race right up to the end of all the World Cups, but last year I couldn’t make it to the final moves.  I came 5th in Flanders, but I couldn’t make it to the front group, so this year I hope I’ll be back to where I was in 2011.

PdC: The World Cup is going to be more interesting this year, because they’ve changed the ranking, and added extra competitions like sprint, mountains and Best Young Rider.

Annemiek: I think the Young Rider will be really stimulating, I like that one a lot, because we don’t have a u23 category of races or World Championships, so it will be nice to have the competition for the younger riders.

PdC: Changing the scoring system so there is less of a difference between first, second and third in each race should make the series more competitive too

Annemiek: I’m actually not so focused on the World Cup ranking this year, because winning a single World Cup is far more beautiful than winning the classification – you can come second, third, or fourth in the races, and still win the series without ever winning one of the races.  For me, that’s not so interesting, I’m focused more on the single World Cups.

PdC: That’s interesting, because of course you’ve won both – individual races and the series overall, in 2011.

Annemiek: I did win it once, and that year it was a real goal for me to win the World Cup – but as part of that I did win three World Cup races!  But it’s also really stressful to go for the classification, because you cannot have one single flat tyre or bad luck in the races.

PdC: So what are your goals for this year, riding with two legs?

Annemiek: At the moment I cannot see how it will be – maybe my time trial will be better, and I want to focus a little bit more on that, but most importantly my goal is to improve uphill, because the biggest race is the World Championships in Ponferrada which has a lot of climbing, and I want to improve there, and that’s always hard, because I’m not really a lightweight girl, I’m more of a Classics rider!  I can do uphill, but if it’s really long, that’s really hard for me.  I want to focus more on that because I want to go for a medal in the World Championships.  It’s a hard race, but I know what I have to do.

Other goals – I like all the World Cups races, for example the Tour of Flanders.  I won that in 2011, but I really would like to win another World Cup this year.

PdC: Off the bike, you’ve been doing a lot of blogging, and we’ve really enjoyed your writing and your photos.  Your blog throughout last year was really interesting to read, especially the stories about life on the road – will you be continuing that?

Annemiek: I’ve been having a really busy time, because I just moved to a new house, but it’s nice to know that people like it.  I try to show people how I think about things, and to show a little bit more about what women’s cycling is like, and to give a little bit more insight into my life.


The Ronde van Drenthe will be shown on RTV Drenthe at 14:00 CET on Saturday 15th March (1pm UK; 9am USA EDT; midnight Aus AEDT) - and you can find more information about following the Drenthe races on my blog.  We'll have a live thread here on Podium Café, and you can keep updated with all the Drenthe races, via the race twitter.

Follow Annemiek on her website and twitter, and visit her team profile on the Rabo-Liv website.

Find out how Annemiek got started in cycling in her Podium Café interview from 2011 - part 1 and part 2

There are more previews of the race on Velofocus, and by Amanda Spratt and Jessie Maclean on the ORICA-AIS site.