After a seventh consecutive victory in La Flèche Wallonne, Anna van der Breggen’s decision to retire at the end of this year begins to raise more and more questions.
Is she wise to leave the sport at this point, when she is still capable of monstering the entire field of a WorldTour race? She seemed totally unbothered by the riders around her as she ground her way up the Mur de Huy this morning, with only Kasia Niewadoma – who, by the way, is beginning to look more and more like a fitting successor to Raymond Poulidor’s title of ‘the eternal second’ – able to hold her wheel.
What would she do if she were to enter and win Worlds again this year? She wouldn’t simply walk away and leave the rainbow jersey unworn on a dusty UCI shelf for the whole of 2022, would she? Has van der Breggen truly done all she can in this sport, or does her desire to win still burn as strongly as when she began her pro career over a decade ago? If Annemiek van Vleuten can win Flanders aged 37, why can’t the 31-year-old Anna van der Breggen keep on trucking for another five years? And don’t even start on the comparisons to Alejandro Valverde, who only won Flèche a paltry four years on the bounce.
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Van der Breggen’s plan is to move out of the saddle and into the seat of a team car at the end of this year’s racing, but as her current form demonstrates, she is still in the prime of her racing life.
Van der Breggen has spoken when she announced her retirement of wanting to start a family, and while it’s true that there is an element of ‘timing’ to this, there are other mothers who have returned to the peloton and still delivered results, Lizzie Deignan being the most obvious example of this.
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Nevertheless, there is something quite beguiling about walking out on a high, suggests Eurosport writer, Kit Nicholson.
“We all know she could, nay would, go on and win dozens more races but she is taking the unusual decision to step away from racing while at her very peak. If nothing else you have to admire the bravery and sense of drama that comes from retiring while wearing the rainbow bands.”
Anna van der Breggen's absence will be keenly felt, says Eurosport's women's cycling expert, Niamh Lewis.
"In part, it feels like a loss to miss such a dominant rider who has been part of a developmental era of cycling we know and love today, and part of group of riders who have made women's racing a more exciting sport to follow. A seventh La Fleche Wallone domination while wearing the rainbow stripes shows the Dutchwoman still has the ability to continue a long racing career should she want it, but being capable of winning doesn't necessarily match up with the want to win if a rider has already decided to pursue something else.
"Retiring in peak form could mean one of two things: pondering unfinished business later on, or leaving on a high knowing they achieved what they set out to do. Ultimately it comes down to how much a rider wants something. Eight, nine or 10 La Fleche Wallonne victories is unlikely to add more value to VDB's already impressive career, and nobody wants to be the person who stayed at the party for too long."
Ultimately, it is van der Breggen’s decision to make, but on the strength of a performance like today one does wonder if a little voice in the back of her head saying ‘one more year’ might be getting that little bit louder.
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