Road World Championships 2014: Marianne Vos the Dutch destroyer out to defeat Lizzie Armitstead once again

All-conquering rider could face Briton in Saturday's World road race in what will be a reprise of their 2012 Olympic duel

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The Independent Online

It was less a wardrobe malfunction more a fashion faux pas of gargantuan proportions as the Colombian IDRD-Bogota Humana-San Mateo-Solgar team took to the stage for the recent Giro della Toscana.

The outfits worn by the six members of the team made them appear to be partially naked. It whipped up the usual cavalcade of outrage on social media while the UCI president, Brian Cookson, branded it “unacceptable”, but what has been the impact on women’s cycling?

There were those who argued it had put it back, although not the leading rider Marianne Vos, who has an ability to turn most things into a positive. “It’s a shame that it got all the attention it did,” says the Dutchwoman, “and it’s sad as it was designed by one of the riders, all the riders were wearing it and they were laughed at around the world. That’s the shame but hopefully maybe we’ll get some more people watching the World Championships as a result.”

To some degree, she hopes it follows the old adage of all publicity is good publicity. Rightly or wrongly, what it has done is get people talking about women’s cycling.

With what Vos, who shares the same nickname of “The Cannibal” as the great Eddy Merckx, has achieved in  her career, she and her fellow riders deserve greater  platitudes.

She boasts Olympic titles on both the track and the road and is the current cyclo-cross world champion. Vos’s adaptability appears to know no bounds and her palmares for each and every season is lengthy.

On Saturday she looks to defend her road race world title in Ponferrada, Spain, with another potential head-to-head with Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead, whom she pipped to Olympic gold as the rain lashed down on London’s roads two years ago. It remains one of her career-defining wins.

“It’s a thing I will never forget,” she recalls. “I always feel the adrenalin at the end of the race but I’m also usually very relaxed. But this was different. I remember coming to the finish not feeling sure or confident. I was nervous. I didn’t feel that strong or confident that I could beat Lizzie.”

The Briton is a rider Vos is full of admiration for and she has marked her out as arguably her greatest threat in Saturday's 127.4km (80-mile) race. “The British team has a lot of strong riders but I expect Lizzie to be by herself in the front group at the end of the race, and for sure she’s a very big threat,” adds the  27-year-old.

Vos’s insatiable appetite for winning – she argues it is heavily mixed with a hatred of losing – continues unabated this year, much to her surprise. After London 2012, when she added an Olympic road gold to the points race title she had won on the track in Beijing, there was effectively nothing new to achieve in the sport.

“After London, I was worried it would be hard for me,” she says. “It had been a goal for four years and I thought, ‘Maybe that’s it’, but I came back to training and was surprised to find the motivation still there. It wasn’t that I had to do it any more but that I wanted to. That’s the best motivation in the world.”

She professes to still having the same childlike enthusiasm to get on the bike. When she was growing up, she was shy, introverted, by her own admission not one to stand out from the crowd until the moment she climbed into the saddle.

“People finally recognised me as a person,” she says. “Cycling helped me a lot. I loved the freedom of being on the bike but I could also be myself and show myself. As a kid, I was always looking from a distance but cycling was the one thing that made me feel at ease.”

To this day, the passion has never waned, whether it be  on the start line for the Olympic road race or else competing in a low-key criterium in her native Netherlands.

There are some who argue her dominance on the bike can be to the detriment of the sport, the sense that sometimes everyone else is merely vying for second place, the overall result sewn up prior to the start.

Vos sees it differently: “Personally, I never get bored of winning as every win is different, every race is different. And it’s not easy. Women’s cycling is getting harder and harder.

“It’s growing step by step with things like the Tour of Britain, La Course [a day race run on the final stage of the Tour de France] and the Revolution series in England. Organisations are opening their doors to us more and the UCI is also backing us. There are more initiatives to help  us grow.”

As the leading rider, Vos has been integral in taking the sport kicking and screaming into the 21st century, changing it from a sport “watched by one man and his dog,” as Armitstead once put it, to gaining global attention.

Vos loves the idea that she personally may have inspired young girls to take up bike riding and those in Britain will have a chance to see her at the Olympic velodrome when she takes part in the Revolution series against the likes of Laura Trott next month.

At London 2012 Vos could not obtain a ticket to watch the action unfold in the velodrome so, for her, this visit will be a first.

As ever the goal is victory as she plots her latest course of continued dominance. The long-term focal point is Rio de Janeiro in two years’ time. Would gold mean she could or would step away from the sport? Don’t bet on it.

 

Marianne Vos will be competing in round one of the Revolution Series at the Lee Valley VeloPark on 24-25 October. Tickets range from £15 to £45 and are available at  www.cyclingrevolution.com or by calling (0844) 8542016

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