When they talk about cycling for women, in the Netherlands they talk about zoology, crocodiles and gazelles. They talk about the two best cyclists in the world, Annemiek van Vleuten and Demi Vollering, about their mentality and their hunger, their head and their transformation. This is how they talk about the two stars who, it is believed, will dominate all the debates in the first women’s Tour of Spain, which begins on Monday, May 1, in Torrevieja (Alacant), with a team time trial, and ends on Sunday the 7th. at the top of the Covadonga Lakes, in Asturias. Hollandese sauce.
The fable of the ambitious young woman, Vollering, 26, and the old champion, Van Vleuten, 40, was written not long ago by Thijs Zonneveld, a Dutch cyclist and journalist: “A female crocodile measuring about two meters in the water pretends to be a tree stump She waits hours. A heron skips by, but she lets it run. A duck flies by, but she lets it fly. She waits and waits and waits some more. Until a tender and unsuspecting gazelle approaches to drink a sip of water… The crocodile jumps, bites, swallows.
Van Vleuten, the veteran, who won everything in 2022, won the World Cup, the Giro, the Tour, the Liège and what was called the Vuelta, was the devouring crocodile; the tender Vollering, the gazelle devoured in the Vosges of the Tour de France.
Vollering grew up in the shadow of Anna van der Breggen, another champion from the Netherlands, the country where they are all born, and a great rival of Van Vleuten. With her as a protector, pitcher and assistant, Vollering won without worries, without feeling responsible, without feeling pressure. In 2021 she signed up for Liege and the Women’s Tour. When she removed the cloak from her, Vollering carried the world on her shoulders, and ran into the same wall again and again, one with a blue suit and an M for Movistar on her chest, Van Vleuten. Like Vollering, the entire peloton felt defeated. Many cyclists would panic, train even harder, try to eat even less. Vollering worked on herself, not only physically, but also mentally. She already spoke openly about it last winter, and even more so after her victory in the Walloon Arrow. “I was afraid of losing,” says the runner, who lives and trains in Switzerland, the mountains, nature, and moves around the world in a motorhome with her dog. Flo, and does yoga. “Yoga or meditation are tools that make your life easier. You learn to deal with your thoughts, to understand yourself better. If your body and mind are in shape, everything is easier”.
With Van Vleuten, his nemesis, Vollering does not have a good relationship. Nor with the majority of Dutch runners who, in 2021, after the Tokyo Games and the Leuven World Cup, blamed her for the selfishness of running thinking only of her. After this winter and all the psychological work, she is another runner. Much more confidence. She is not scared.
In 2023, the fable is the same, and the moral too, but the roles have been reversed. The crocodile is now wearing a pink-violet-yellow outfit. Vollering runs lying down, hidden in the peloton, waiting for her opportunity. In eight days, Sunday, Wednesday, Sunday, she won Amstel, Flecha, Liège, the triptych of the Ardennes with which Tadej Pogacar could not among the men. Van der Breggen, the last winner of the triptych, no longer drives her from her bicycle, but from the director’s car of her team, SD Worx, and also trains her. In previous years, Vollering would have attacked at the wrong time, he would have fought with one and the other, he would have closed gaps to no avail. “It would have been the gazelle, jumping, jumping, running from one side to the other, until it had grown thirsty and would have looked for a trough to drink a sip of water,” writes the fabulist Zonneveld, whose cerebellum still seethes the fantastic dream of build an artificial mountain in the Netherlands for cyclists to enjoy.
Vollering has dared to lose and has become invincible. The proof of his courage and change will come in the Vuelta. El Mirador de Riaza, Lagos, the mountains that Van Vleuten loves so much, a lover of training in Colombia, capable of massacring the peloton in the last Tour to win the yellow jersey attacking in Alsace, and finished it off in the Planche des Belles Filles -and there she took more than three minutes from Vollering, second-, they will give her the opportunity to return to being the crocodile that she always was, to erase from the minds of the fans the suspicion that, always a stubborn champion, the last year of his career will be the year of more.
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