Sign up for our newsletter


Cyclist’s 31 Inspirational Women No14: Anna van der Breggen

The reigning Road Race and Time-Trial World Champ, and the current Olympic champion

Maria David Sponsored
14 Mar 2021

Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women

To celebrate International Women's Month, we have partnered with Zwift to tell the stories of 31 inspirational women across 31 days

Words: Maria David Photo: Bettini Photo

One of the most consistent female professional road cyclists, Anna van der Breggen has regularly featured on the podium throughout her career, clinching no fewer than 53 victories since 2012.

Last year the Dutch SD Worx rider became only the second woman in history (after Jeannie Longo in 1985) to win the UCI Road Race and Time-Trial World Championships in the same year.

And in 2021 she has simply picked up where she left off by winning the season-opening Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Added to that, she is a nominee for a Laureus World Sports award – an accolade previously won by the likes of Serena Williams and Simone Biles.

However, this year promises to be special for the 30-year-old for another reason: it will be Anna’s last as a pro rider before she steps off the bike to become sports director with her current team.

‘I really want to enjoy my races this year,’ Anna says. ‘Also, when I did my last training camp in Spain, I realised these are the last training rides I will do here.

‘I had been going there for six years and I know those roads as well as I know the ones at my home.’

It would be good to see more female sports directors but it doesn’t really matter if the sports director is male or female. What matters is what you are saying to your riders and how good you are at doing the job

Reflecting on her career, which includes a previous World Road Race title in 2018 and a host of stage race and one-day Classics wins to go with her double Worlds win last year and Olympic success in Rio, Anna puts her success down to a number of factors.

‘You need to have some talent for sure, and it’s important to race on a course that suits you. Also, I’ve learned in the past years that mindset is also really important. You cannot win races if you think you cannot win them! You need to trust yourself.’

For Anna, winning some races has almost become second nature, and watching her ride is like poetry in motion. Even on tough climbs she maintains a very smooth riding style while keeping a cool face that wouldn’t let butter melt in her mouth.

The three-time Giro Rosa winner believes that this comes from competing in races and on courses that really suit her racing style.

‘One particular race that suits me is Flèche-Wallonne, which I have won six times. I really like that final part of route, as the climbs are the best sort of climbs for me. Also getting a win there gives me the confidence to believe I can win more races.’

One big objective for Anna is the postponed Tokyo Olympics in which she will try to defend her road race title and give the time-trial her best shot, with compatriot Annemiek van Vleuten likely to be one of her toughest competitors.

But Anna is no stranger to tough competition. She demonstrated this when she won the gruelling Cape Epic Mountain Bike race in 2018 after being invited by World XC Mountain Bike Champion Annika Langvad to partner with her.

‘At first, I said no way am doing it, but Annika convinced me, and in fact it was one of the most beautiful things I have done on a bike.

‘But it was the hardest – I suffered a lot and I was really out of my comfort zone. It was harder than a tough Giro Rosa. Over the eight days we did five-hour rides, some even longer than that.

‘In a road race, sometimes nothing happens in the first two hours and you are just in the peloton without pedalling hard. But in the Cape Epic we were just going 100% from the start.

Find the rest of Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women here

‘You use way more muscles in your body than on the road, including on the downhills. Straight after the race I said I will never do it again, but now I say “never say never!”’

Anna is looking forward to her switch of objectives at the end of the year when she will leave active competition behind and look to share her skills and experience with others in her role as sports director within her current team, SD Worx.

There is currently a lack of female sports directors in both the women’s and men’s professional pelotons, but Anna doesn’t necessarily see that as an issue.

‘For me, becoming a sports director feels like a natural step. I did not really think about how many women are doing it. The team asked me, and I wanted to do it.

‘I am already in the team so I know how everything goes, which is a big advantage. It feels quite nice to have this opportunity, and maybe in the future there will be more cyclists who can do this.

‘It would be good to see more female sports directors but it doesn’t really matter if the sports director is male or female. What matters is what you are saying to your riders and how good you are at doing the job.

‘I always need an objective to motivate me to do well. After winning many races, you feel you need a new motivation. So I feel ready to move into management, as that will be a new objective for me.

‘But I will miss those good days, like in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad where all the team was pulling together in the race and giving it their all. We were feeling good and were able to control the race and get the win. That’s the best feeling.’

For more from Zwift this International Women's Month, visit here.