‘A girl who just likes riding her bike’

Joy (joi) noun – A feeling of great pleasure and happiness / a thing that causes joy

Recently reading some articles about Marianne Vos I was struck by two things that seem perhaps unconnected. The first; the fact that if she was a man she would be cast as the heir to Eddy Merckx, arguably the greatest ever cyclist. She is the consummate racer, a world and Olympic champion, winning across any two wheeled discipline she chooses. This in itself is noteworthy, one feels she should be celebrated more. Her profile should be higher than it undoubtedly is while she is still in her 20’s.

The greater impact is felt from the pictures in the two articles which were in the kind of magazines that probably see articles more as essays. In one photo, taken in winter sunshine so bright you can imagine the cold air, Vos is at a Cyclocross meeting. She beams from the page. Maybe from the satisfaction of a race won or someone who is naturally at ease having her picture taken. Perhaps her smile is because Marianne Vos enjoys riding her bike, any bike in any discipline, for ridings sake.

Happy - Marianne Vos
Happy – Marianne Vos

It’s natural here in the UK to seek to cast someone in the role of pantomime villain (only we actually know what a pantomime villain is after all) when one of our own is competing. After the best laid plans of the men’s road race at London 2012 were unpicked, the following day Lizzie Armitstead understood what every billboard was imploring; ‘Take the Stage’. As rain swept the Mall and the crowd yelled for a happy ending there was Marianne Vos to break the nations hearts and take the gold.

Armitstead, more understanding of her situation than the majority of those watching knew that the result was not some cruel twist in the GB Olympic fairytale. In the natural scheme of things finishing runner up to Vos was not as much of a disappointment as failing to jump Vos in the sprint, besides ‘..she is faster than most girls.. so I am chuffed with silver’.

In reality (read as among cycling fans) Vos was the clear favourite going into London and her palmares for 2012 as a whole is incredible, including road race and cyclo cross world championships and national cyclo cross and track titles. Added to the rainbow and national jerseys she also successfully defended her Giro Donne Maglia Rosa from 2011.

She was winning national championships within ten years of first riding a bike as a six year old and became a world champion while still a teenager, an achievement in itself until you realise this was across two disciplines. Endurance is an obvious need for any cyclist but the way Vos manages to sustain not just a level of competitiveness, but superiority from cross through road to the track is remarkable.

Motivation stems from becoming a ‘..more complete rider’ rather than the financial rewards despite being the most bankable rider in the female peloton. What comes across in her interviews is the joy that she takes from just riding her bike. Its ‘..a great feeling” to race, she describes road racing as ‘beautiful’.

It sums up the much lower profile of women’s racing in comparison to the men’s world tour however that it has taken victories in the few races that can be associated with the men for people to recognise Vos’ success, such as the Giro. She wants to see the sport grow, yet appears quite selfless about how she is instrumental in seeing the profile raised. What comes across is a strong desire to she women’s cycling expand and improve for all of her competitors. Certainly as passionate as Marianne Vos is about winning, she is capable of doing so without the expense of her relationships with the likes of Emma Pooley who she beat at 2011 Giro.

She describes cycling as a full time hobby, enjoying being out on her bike and in competition. One feels for her comparisons with Merckx are not important. For Marianne Vos perhaps being the worlds happiest cyclist is the greatest accolade that could be bestowed on her.

Postscript

Since writing this post over a year ago Marianne Vos has claimed further world championships in cyclocross (2014) and road racing. She won the women’s Tour of Flanders for the first time and in the last month the inaugral Women’s Tour in Britain. 

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