Marianne Vos about Rio 2016 and the course, her recovery from injury and her work with Strongher
Ahead of the Olympic kick off upcoming week and the women's race on Sunday, I talked to Marianne Vos, founder of Strongher. She shares her thoughts Rio 2016 and the course, her recovery from injury and her work with Strongher to build the stage for women’s cycling worldwide.
What comes now in the last week before the games begin?
I focused on little intervals last week ahead of Sunday and now it’s time to rest before we compete. The reality is that there’s nothing you can do to improve at the last minute, you only have to be certain you are fit and totally prepared.
Compared to 2012, it’s highly unlikely to be rain at Rio! What are your thoughts on the course?
I haven’t actually been to Rio to see the course yet, the rest of the team went last October/ November time, but that didn’t fit so well with my recovery – I was totally out at that point. So far, I’ve only seen it from videos and pictures and of course from the profile. It’s going to be really, really hard so it’ll be great to see the course in real life. We’ll get a chance to ride it beforehand too however not the entire route, as not all of it. Certainly it’ll be totally different from London, apart from that it’s an out and back course. Box Hill wasn’t really selective, the weather was what made it tough. In Rio, the climb in the final section is really difficult - like a mountain stage –so it’s going to be interesting! If the finish was on top of the hill, that’d be one thing, but there’s also a technical decent and 20 km on the flat to go. I’m very curious what will happen, we have only 67 girls and small teams. Holland is one of the lucky countries that are sending 4 girls, but it’s not enough to control a race still – it’ll depend on who wants to work together on the day. My teammates are all in great shape, but tactics will also play a role.
*The golden ladies during the Olympics 2012 together with fellow #Sheroes Ellen van Dijk, Loes Gunnewijk and Annemiek van Vleuten. Ellen, Annemiek and Marianne will all start for the dutch team upcoming sunday
Will you get some time to stay and watch the remaining events? What other sports do you like to watch and take inspiration from?
Before the race, all I’ll see is the course, the dining hall, my bike and my bed! I want to keep focused on the race and not see anything else until it’s finished. As I don’t do the time trial, I’ll have 4 days to stay and hopefully see some of the city and soak up the atmosphere of the Olympic Games! I’m not sure what tickets will be available too, but it’d be great to see some events whilst I’m there. It would be a shame to be there and not see anything else, but of course the season continues. The girls on the team are taking part in other events so they won’t be able to do the same – but hopefully I get some time to fit it in, whilst still training in the morning. European and World Championships come around quickly, so we need to keep in shape for that too and stay in the rhythm!
With other sports, I do love to watch them but the thing is if you’re in the Games yourself you don’t actually get to see that much, which is a shame. The same with the Tour de France as I was in training camps and racing myself! I’m addicted to sports and watching them – so I’ll try to follow most of them and my other Dutch teammates from other sports. You know what they’ve put in to get there. There’s not one particular sport but I’d love to get in to the athletic stadium and hockey too, that’s a big Dutch sport – but lets see!
Unfortunately you suffered some setbacks last year with injury – how have you had to approach training this year for the Olympics? What did you do differently regarding training, resting and nutrition?
It has been really difficult, this time last year I was completely out. Doctors told me just to rest and recover and do nothing intensive, in fact not much sport at all. I was allowed only a few short spins or walking – but mostly just relaxing. I find that annoying, as I love to push myself as well as the element of competition. To be out for such a long time is mentally really tough too. I began my training again in the winter, and as you can imagine, not training for 6 months you have to start from less than zero! In the beginning it was going really well, but then in January unfortunately another big setback – so I had to start all over again as the season came closer and closer. In March, I wasn’t sure how I’d be, but April was the month I would have to qualify. I had doubts of course but kept hopeful and thought ‘just try’. Luckily it was all worth it. Nutrition-wise I had to change a little, I didn’t need as much food during my rest, but I did also need extra energy for recovery at the same time.
I’m getting there again for sure and now my training is less quantity and more quality – together with my team we worked out a plan as you can’t change dates, you can’t change any circuits. You just have to deal with it and the 7th of August is the 7th of August and it’s one hell of a circuit! So far, I don’t feel I could have done anything better and feel happy with my improvements and my shape.
Mentally it’s important to keep positive and keep the faith too. First physically I had to recover but it was hard; mentally I wanted it so badly and to get back again but it was important to keep positive. I always had a feeling that there was something in me, that I can still ride a bike and that’s what kept me going. I’ve been in the Elite category too since I was in my teens and I’ve not had any major set backs before last year. I knew that it would come eventually during my career and so I’m just grateful for all the years without major injuries. It’s part of what an athlete goes through.
As well as the physical aspect for recovery, did Strongher provide you with positive inspiration to recover?
Yes, first I had to focus on my own recovery, but when you’re doing nothing you feel a little bit… well what do you stand up for? So it’s great to have something else to focus on and also to get motivation and inspiration back. That was also really important in this period for me, or else the days get really long! It’s great to get feedback and hear from people who’ve been inspired to ride their bikes; it gives you a smile on your face!
*Marianne together with Juliet Elliott, Rebecca Charlton & Siu-Anne during the launch of Strongher
Amid the buzz of the upcoming Olympics and all the positivity surrounding it, there is also much talk about doping – both biological and mechanical – especially for cycling. How does this make you feel ahead of competing?
Well it’s a big topic sure, Russia has banned athletes and the IOC isn’t so strict in the handing of it, neither does WADA take responsibility in this case. However, I know the riders and I know the competition and my feeling is it isn’t really a big issue for women’s cycling.
You’ve been a pioneer for developing women’s cycling and giving it a voice. What level of involvement did you have in the creation of the UCI Women’s Tour? How do you feel the Women’s Commission is changing the sport?
Well it’s always a result of people just working together as you have to start somewhere. Getting into the UCI Women’s Commission and later in the Road Commission was an important step. There weren’t many people aware of what women’s cycling needed to do in order to grow further, so to get into those commissions and be a part of feeding back on what can be done was really interesting. I feel really happy that the people at UCI start to work right away with my ideas about the World Tour. Of course we’re still in a pilot stage, it’s not there yet, but the plan is for it to keep improving. We want the next step yesterday but if you force things then it can harm the sport. In the last 10 years I’ve seen women’s cycling grow so fast but we need to give time to people, teams and organisations to get ready. I have a feeling we are getting there though.
Brian Cookson recently talked about raising the awareness and interest in women’s cycling before the minimum wage comes into play - do you notice more commercial interest in women’s cycling now? Is it becoming more viable for women to be truly professional cyclists?
Already in the 10 years that I’ve been in the bunch the number of professional riders is growing really quickly. Years ago it was only a select few; the rest had to work or study. Now we have a complete bunch that is professional. True though that we don’t yet have any strict rules on wages and there are big differences between teams in the UCI World Tour, so that’s what needs to change a little bit. The idea is that we have the best international teams and only professional riders with professional staff, as well as a minimum wage, with a good biological passport, working with professional events. The media attention is key to this in order to reach a bigger fan base and bring it to the people. Then fans will start to know the riders and teams, which makes it far more exciting, rather than just watching helmets go from A to B. The Tour de France does this brilliantly - you really get into the rider emotions and their struggle. For sponsorship to work women’s cycling also has to be worth something and have value. Brian Cookson is right about this too, it’s not a charity thing and it has to be ready to get that commercial interest.
You’re a 12 times multi discipline world champion– competing at the very top in all disciplines – how do you manage your training to be able to do this?
It’s always an interesting puzzle to combine different disciplines and to get the right focus for the right moment. Of course I have to be grateful for the talent I have, so that makes me want to make the most of it. I love riding my bike, and with the combination of different disciplines, it never gets boring. One thing I have to admit: it can be a bit much. I really need to take care of my rest periods and build-up time. It’s not possible to compete at your highest level all year around. With the right combination of training and some small, specific preparations, I think a combination helps to improve on all aspects of cycling.
Do you have a lucky charm, mantra or routine before you start a race?
Not really, I don’t believe in those kinds of things. Of course our routine time wise is nearly always the same: breakfast (or meal) 3 hours before the race, then some rest (or transport) and after getting dressed a small warm-up. One thing I like to do each time and if possible the evening before the race, is pinning on my numbers.
Strongher has gone from strength to strength – you must be proud to see it grow and inspire so many women onto bikes. What has been your proudest moment so far since launching it in 2015?
Yes, I’m very proud with what Strongher has become in the last few years. After the Olympic Games of 2012 I talked with many people about what we could do to help improve women’s cycling at a professional level, but mostly to share the passion for cycling with other women and try to lower the existing barriers. So far, we’ve reached a big group worldwide and I’ve seen many women who’ve since been inspired by the movement. I can’t say there is a particular moment that makes me most proud, but every time when I see pictures of events, like Road Trip Paris, I feel overwhelmed with joy from the smiling faces. Next to that, I’m very happy that so many pro athletes joined Strongher. They all see the value from Strongher and also want to give something back to the sport they love.
September 4th sees the second year of Strongher’s bike festival – what would you say to women thinking of taking part?
Enjoy it! Actually that’s what I find most important about riding a bike. Just getting to mix with all the other enthusiasts as well as the music, food, fashion and full support during the ride. The festival will be a fantastic experience. You can cycle for your health, to push your limits, to relax, to make friends, to work on your self esteem; whatever… But everything comes back to the freedom of riding your bike. You can sign up for the Strongher Festival here
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About Catriona Sutherland
Catriona is an avid mountain biker from the UK, favouring endurance events. She has competed in various 24 hour, marathon and stage mountain bike races around the world including the Joberg2c, Epic Israel and the Strathpuffer. Currently working as freelance marketing consultant, mountain bike guide and serial adventurer, Catriona is happiest riding her bike, drinking coffee and planning her next trip!
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