March 15/13 11:47 am - Interview with Marianne Vos: Is there anything she has not won?
Posted by Editoress on 03/15/13
Marianne Vos of the Netherlands quite possibly the most versatile rider in cycling. She started out as a mountain biker, but since then has won Olympic gold medals on the road and the track, has won track and road (twice) world titles, is a six time cyclo-cross world champion, and currently holds both the cyclo-cross and road world titles. She announced last fall that she planned on returning to her roots in mountain bike this season, and has already served notice that she will be a force to contend with, handily winning in Cyprus at the season-opening races in recent weeks.
The German writer Erhard Goller, who covers the mountain bike scene extensively, and writes for the website acrossthecountry.net, recently interviewed Vos after her win in Cyprus, and has kindly allowed us to reprint his interview in English:
Marianne, after 10 days on Cyprus, it appears the form is quite good, isn’t it?
I came to Cyprus to learn a lot, to invest in technique. And also to get to know my place in the international field, how I would do. It [the win of Afxentia stage race] was above all my expectations. Actually the team, Leo [van Zeeland, coach and team manager] and the guys, they had some trust in me. They had more confidence in me, than myself.
What was idea for this camp in general, regarding the whole year?
After my cyclo-cross season, I wanted to invest a lot on technical part of mountain biking. My fitness is okay, my endurance, my power. These things are okay, because I train it also for cyclo-cross and road. But the specific aspects of mountain bike, that’s what I have to work for. That’s why I went to Barcelona, working also with Oscar Saiz [former downhill pro] and also why I came to Cyprus. That’s really good for training, nice courses, not too difficult, but still quite demanding. I was here with the whole Giant team and it was also good to be together, to learn about the team, to prepare for the whole season altogether. We also made some movies and pictures, that’s quite nice. Finally it was also good to do the race and get some points.
What is the plan this year with mountain biking?
I will do two mountain bike races in Holland, in Nieuwkijk and in Norg. That will be in between the spring classics on the road. I will do Flanders, Fleche Wallone and some more big road races, all the World Cups. Another mountain bike race will be the Sea Otter Classic. Then I have only two more mountain bike races left. That’s Val di Sole and Vallnord [World Cups]. That’s all fitted in a quite full road program. The results here are extraordinary, but it doesn’t change the plans for this year. I have some confidence and motivation to go on, to continue with this mountain bike challenge for myself. The dream to take part in Rio de Janeiro looks like a dream, can come through. But this year, it’s a learning experience. I am pretty happy, where I am now and it’s great that the team is taking so good care of me.
You did some training on the Afxentia courses
Yes, I did several laps on the course, to check out the lines, the best way for me to stay in control. And I also did the uphill of the point to point race twice and I did the downhill twice. So I knew exactly what was coming. That preparation might have brought me the win.
Where does the idea to race mountain biking come from?
When I was 14, I had a bike sponsor, for my cyclo-cross and my road bike. Then Leo van Zeeland offered an open training for everybody who wanted to start mountain biking. The sponsor said, 'if you want to try, I will give you a bike.' The training went so well that Leo said, 'you should continue with this. I will take you to championships and so on.'
Vos racing as a Junior in Livigno MTB Worlds (2005), where she finished 4th
I was riding four years in the Juniors category. I did Europeans, I did the Worlds. It was quite okay, but I was not extraordinary. I was third at the Europeans in Zurich 2002 [at 15 years!], fourth at the Worlds in Livigno [Italy, 2005]. Then I came into the elite category, I came into a road team and finished my school in that year. I thought that it would bring me further in my own development to focus on road. The races went quite well and at the end of the season I became world champion in road cycling. Actually I continued on the road. I took gold on the track in Beijing and after that the big goal was taking gold on the road.
above: Vos' first road worlds win in Salzburg (2006)
right: Vos on way to winning Points race gold in Beijing
And finally you made it
Yes. After that all my goals were reached. So I looked out for some new challenges. Mountain bike came up again, I liked it very much as a Junior. I knew I would have fun. And for me, you know, it’s the most important thing on the bike, to have fun. Sometimes it’s hard, the training and suffering in the races. But for me, it’s such a great life as an athlete. To travel around, to be able to step on the bike every day. To have a satisfaction of the training, if everything goes by plan, if it works out in the race. These are such happy moments, such a good feeling. That’s what I am searching for. That’s something, I think, I can also find in mountain bike. This week makes me be sure about that, also. It was such a great experience to be here, to do this races, to do this course. To do this ten minute downhill, keep focussed. You see on the left the rocks, you see the valley on the right. It’s great, no doubt about the fun of this sport.
Different to road cycling or cyclo-cross?
Yeah, there is a difference. But it that makes it nice to combine. It’s another world, it’s nice to have other people around. But also the challenge of the race. The uphill is always hard, the descent you have to stay concentrated. And it’s honest. Of course you can have flat tires. This is part of the sport, but not all of it. If you are the best, you are in front and road racing sometimes is like a game. I like that game, of course. If I would do only mountain biking, I would miss the tactical game. But this thrill, that you are on a single track, you have to be concentrated all the time, that freedom and that technical part, that attracts me also.
Road racing is a team sport, mountain biking is an individual sport. Are both part of your character?
I think so, yes. As a Junior on the road, you race as an individual...
... more or less
I got into a professional team. It took me some time to learn how it works, until I knew the tactics. You have to make decisions, you have to communicate in a race. I was a kind of a shy girl. If they want you to win the races and you are the captain of the team, then you have to make the decisions, you have to ask, to delegate and all these things. It took me some years, but I think I learned to be team player and sometimes also to be a team leader. As I said, here in mountain biking, it’s another world. We are here with a team, but you have to do the sport as an individual. In spite of that, the atmosphere in a team is quite important for your individual results. But it’s a different kind of team spirit.
Winning Olympic Road race in 2012
You are in the Giant team with Men. Does that also make a difference?
Yes, it makes a difference. It’s quite nice to be a mixed team, something else to talk about. I looked forward to this trip. When I left home, I said, 'I go for a bike holiday on Cyprus'. [laughes]
You were talking about different worlds. You are known as a road racer, as a cyclo-cross racer. Were you kind of afraid about the reactions from the mountain bike world?
Ah, no. Not about how the world would react. I just wanted to race my bike and I hoped that the mountain bike world would accept that. But I was afraid for myself, because it was such a big challenge, that I didn’t know if I could manage to do good enough. I had some doubts about that. That also gives the motivation to work hard. But actually the mountain bike world, what I heard and also the reactions in social media, they were so enthusiastic about me taking part in mountain bike. I can’t say that surprises me, but it’s really nice if people on the podium, like Adelheid Morath or Blaza Klemencic, say 'Wow, it’s good to meet you, great that you take the step into mountain bike'. I am glad that they see it like that and not like, 'I take over their world or something'.
Adelheid Morath said before the point to point that she was looking forward to have the challenge with you in the race
Yeah, that’s cool. I rode to the doping control with Katrin Leumann and she was also really nice. That might be also more the atmosphere of mountain biking. It’s such an individual sport, that there is never a tension between riders, or not so much as on the road. If you are good, you are good, and it ends up in results. On the road you can be not so good and still win, and the other way round also. Also Sabine Spitz came next to me in the point to point and was talking to me.
When she won her medal in London, I congratulated her. But she was so busy, that she didn’t respond on that. Now she came to say 'Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that'. I said, 'no, you were so busy, I didn’t think that it was arrogant'. It was quite nice from her. I did some cyclo-cross races with her, so I knew her a little bit. But mostly from the results and from television.
Do you always keep an eye on mountain biking?
Ahh, no. It’s hard to follow mountain biking, because it’s not broadcast that well. But I try to follow what’s going on there. Actually, the only thing - because I was so busy - I could see from the London Games in television was Julie Bresset winning gold.
Had you already thought about competing with these Ladies?
Yeah, actually two years ago, I was thinking, 'should I try to qualify?' It’s so hard to do both, I didn’t want to mess up. I decided not to gamble with my chances. As I said, it was my main goal to take gold in the road race. It’s like the Number One result of road cycling. It worked out and I am happy that I decided like this.
Mountain bike is a bit more about the equipment, about the bike. Are you interested in that part of it?
Yes. I have never been into the equipment of mountain biking. In road racing I know exactly what it’s going on, what I need, about the feeling on the bike and so on. But on the mountain bike I don’t know what suits me. When I was a Junior, I rode a 26" [wheel bike] and now I ride a 29" and it’s way more confortable and stable. That’s quite a nice feeling, when starting back after a few years. In the Giant team we have top equipment and I can be sure that everything is going well. About making tire selection I know from cyclo-cross, but mountain biking is different. I want to learn about that.
Did you change some things?
I already went from a small handlebar to a somewhat wider. On the road bike I have a 42 centimetre handlebar and the guys here are riding with a 66. So I went from 58 to 62. They said it’s  way too small and I went to a wider one. Everything is new and I learn every day. I just ask about everything and it’s good to have professional people around.
Does your team manager on the road supports your way into mountain biking?
It’s quite nice that Rabobank has both teams and I can ride on the same equipment and the same clothes. When I came up with the idea to ride mountain bike last year, I went to the team leader and the team manager. They said, 'well, if you want to ride that, we support you. Stay in touch, make a plan and follow that dream'.
It’s really nice, that they have so much trust in me. I don’t want to risk things. I know what I can do in road racing, I know what I can do in cyclo-cross, but I don’t want to ruin my career in a stupid descent in mountain bike. That’s also why I didn’t start at the first Cyprus Sunshine Cup race at Voroklini. We came here on Friday, but then I wouldn’t be sure about my skills. Also the weather was quite bad and I think I couldn’t get the nerve for it.
Leo van Zeeland said that your road team manager Koos Moerenhout will kill him, if you crash seriously on the mountain bike
Yes, he was worried about that. I have already crashed a few times in Barcelona [laughing]. Not on the most difficult parts; more stupid crashes. And here on Cyprus, in training I crashed also. For sure, in road racing there are more people around and if someone crashes in front of you there is no chance. Here it’s how you ride yourself. So, if you are good in how you handle your bike, it’s okay. But for me, it’s still some risk.
Do you think that it will be difficult to switch from road to mountain bike and back this season? For Val di Sole and Vallnord, for example.
Well, I don’t know. I tried to fit in the program, so that I am on time at the races. So that I can do some proper training being there. I will try at home and during the road races, to keep up the feeling with the bike. It’s going to be hard, because we have no mountains at my home, it’s fully flat, no rocks. The Giant team goes to the races with time, so I’d like to join them and train with them. But I don’t know how it will work out. I don’t think it works out to step straight from the road bike to the mountain bike. And also the other way round. From the Juniors I know that I had some problems, needing one race to get back into rhythm. Power and intensity is okay, but the pace in a race, that extra 50k you do not have in a mountain bike race.
For the two World Cups, do you have something in your mind, what goal you want to reach?
No, as I said. This year is not for the results. I won’t be in front at the start, that’s a thing I should have in my mind. The biggest challenge will be to ride the course properly, not to make mistakes and then to be able to use my physical power.
And after the World Cup races, you will decide how to continue?
Yes. As I see it now, I want to continue. This is a year to make the decision and it still is. But as I feel it now, it’s a thing I would like to continue.
Below winning Cross Worlds in Louisville KY in 2013