PARIS (Reuters) - It is hard to make a name for yourself when your Oranje team mate is Marianne Vos, yet Anna van der Breggen has been doing just that in an impressive career.
The Dutchwoman, who turns 30 on Saturday, won the road race gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and followed up with securing the rainbow jersey at the world championships in Innsbruck two years later after a 39-km solo breakaway.
She was already second in 2015 and won silver again last year, adding to a long line of successes, including a record-equalling fifth victory in the Fleche Wallonne, the most prestigious one-day race in the women’s calendar.
It earned the Boels Dolmans rider the nickname ‘Queen of the Ardennes’.
“I didn’t expect all that when I started cycling at the age of seven,” Van Der Breggen said.
“When I was that young I often went along to my brothers’ training riders and races. After having ridden a couple of races myself, I was sold.
“I wanted to cycle. That pleasure I had in cycling at that time never went away.”
Vos, the flagship of Dutch women cycling with 14 Olympic and world titles in road, track cycling an cyclo-cross, has taken the rise of several compatriots in her stride.
“On one of my first races I saw this rider with a weird jersey with stripes, I didn’t know what it was,” Van der Breggen told Reuters.
“Then my dad told me it was the world champion’s (rainbow)jersey!”
Van der Breggen also recalled a few fights with Vos when they were team mates at Rabobank but above all, the best cyclist of her generation has been an “inspiration”.
The competition is now fierce within the Dutch team, who have taken five of the last eight road race world titles and three of the last five Olympic titles.
Van der Breggen contributed to two those eight titles but her consistency on the Fleche Wallonne might be what makes her extra special.
She has won the last five editions of the race, which end at the top of the brutal climb of the Mur de Huy, a feat even Vos failed to achieve as her five wins were spread across seven years.
Van der Breggen has no intention to end her career anytime soon, because she loves very minute of it.
“I’m happy every day I’m on my bike, it’s the key to perform as an athlete,” she said.
Whatever happens, she now has an extra year to wait until she can defend her Olympic title in Tokyo.
“I was feeling great this spring so it’s a disappointment for the road race, although I have started to try new things on the time trial bike so for that event it’s better that it’s been postponed by a year,” she added.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge