Anna van der Breggen ran her last race on Saturday in the elite women’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships race between Antwerp and Leuven. Van der Breggen is one of the sports giants with an impressive track record which includes – among many other victories – the Olympic road gold medal in 2016, the road world championships in 2018 and 2020, a record seven consecutive victories in Flèche Wallonne, four overall titles at the Giro d’Italia Donne – the list goes on.
Before the World Championships, it was clear that Van der Breggen, 31, was not in his best form. She did not defend her world title in the individual time trial and opted out of the mixed relay team time trial on Wednesday. In the road race, she worked hard for the team at the start of the race for her Dutch team.
At the end of the race, Van der Breggen walked through the mixed zone with a big smile on his face as he greeted the press after the last competition of a brilliant career.
“That’s it. Just these interviews and then I’m off,” Van der Breggen said with a laugh. When asked if she got to enjoy her last race, she confirmed it was the case. “Yes, I managed to enjoy my run. At first you focused on doing well and it worked well. At one point suddenly I felt like I was running out of gas and I knew I was going to fall anytime; that happened too, “said Van der Breggen.
“Then I ended up riding in a group. At first I was sad to be let go, but then I started to enjoy the ride through Leuven with so many people on the side of the road. So many people were paying homage to me, encouraging me and thanking me, ”she said.
“The girls in the group all came up to me and said nice things to me, thanking me for my time and being an inspiration. I got goosebumps for two rounds. Plus, it’s not often that you think about the effect your performance has on others. It was really special. When we entered the local circuit I knew there was 35km to go and then I told my teammate that it was vacation time soon, also for here.
The other Dutch women did not put on the smile that Van der Breggen showed because the team did not work as well together as expected and Marianne Vos’s lead was not on par with the Italian team, who delivered Elisa Balsamo to victory in Leuven.
“It’s a shame Marianne didn’t win today. I didn’t see what happened in the last laps but it’s sad for these girls. It’s a world championship race that we could have won. It was a difficult race and you have to be able to have a lot of qualities to win here.
“Personally it was a fantastic way to say goodbye. I’m really happy that I was able to do it this way,” said Van der Breggen.
Annemiek van Vleuten underlined that she really wanted to participate in the team relay with her former rival, to join forces rather than to fight. However, Van der Breggen opted out of the event due to a drop in form after the Olympics.
When asked if she had any regrets about it, she made it clear that she was not ready for this feast of suffering.
“I absolutely do not regret the team relay. I had to be honest with myself and that is, I’m not very good at the moment. I wanted to say goodbye in a pleasant way. I really wanted to ride with Annemiek and Ellen instead of rolling against each other. It wouldn’t have been fun at all for me. I just couldn’t do it right now. It was a good choice, ”said Van der Breggen with another big smile on his face.
Van der Breggen will continue in cycling as sports director in his SD Worx team, a role which will officially begin in January 2022.
“Next week, I’ll be there for Paris-Roubaix. I don’t know if I’ll be in the team car or not, but I’m sure it’s a race where I can learn a lot. It’s great to feel that what I do on the bike doesn’t matter from now on. And for now, I’m heading to the UCI Champions Gala where I’ll drink at the expense of the UCI, ”Van der Breggen concluded with another big smile.