British Champion Pfeiffer Georgi on her big win, 2022 ambitions and the Tour de France Femmes
2021 was a big year for the 21-year-old Team DSM rider, but this is only the start of a journey which she hopes will bring her to the very top of the sport
A lot can change in one year. At the start of 2021, Pfeiffer Georgi was in a neck brace after a bad crash, slowly working towards being able to train again. By the end of it, she was British National Champion, had secured her first ever professional win and is now widely regarded as one of the brightest young talents in the women’s peloton. But Georgi’s resilience didn’t come as a surprise to those who have followed her journey in the sport.
First riding on a velodrome when she was just four years old, the bicycle forms a crucial part of the British rider’s identity, and cycling runs in the Georgi blood. “My first proper race was when I was six at Castle Combe,” she tells me.
“Me and my brother did that every week throughout school and trained together. My mum would do time trials twice a week and my granddad would always ride, so it was just part of our family. We’d go on club runs together and on cafe rides at weekends. It’s something that we've always done. I've only ever grown up knowing cycling.”
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Georgi attributes much of her more recent success to being immersed in the sport from such a young age. Years of experience in a peloton have given her exceptional tactical prowess, and riding a bike is practically second nature for the 21-year-old.
“We used to watch racing all the time so I think that taught me a lot about tactics,” she explains. “When we first started training together, me, my dad and my brother would start racing each other. So it's just the small things you pick up that still benefit me now.”
Portrait by Véronique Rolland
Georgi’s unique ability to read a race hasn’t gone unnoticed by both her coaches and her colleagues. In last year’s World Championships, she was given the role of positioning Great Britain team leader Lizzie Deignan on the narrow climbs of Flanders. It was a job in which she excelled, with Deignan voicing how impressed she was with her younger compatriot after the race. “Lizzie has been my hero growing up, so to do a good job for her, that was something pretty special,” says Georgi.
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Confidence in the bunch hasn’t always come so easily to the Team DSM rider, however. After her potentially career-threatening crash at the end of 2020, which left her with two broken vertebrae, it took months of hard work for Georgi to be in a position to race in the Spring classics at the start of 2021.
“I was in a neck brace for a month and physically it took a while to get back on the bike. Also, because of a lot of stiffness in the neck, I had to have a lot of physio,” she says. “It was learning to first walk and then ride easily on the trainer, then slowly getting back on the road.
“The hardest part of it was the mental side, because I was really terrified of crashing again. I completely lost confidence in the bunch. As soon as it got a bit crazy, then I was just bailing out because I had it in my head that if I crashed it, it would be bad.
“I worked a lot with a mindset coach and found strategies to deal with the anxiety that I had in the first part of the season, but I definitely made improvements over the next months. Now I'm feeling pretty much back to normal with riding in the bunch.”
As she stormed up the famed Michaelgate climb to take the victory in Lincoln at the British National Championships later in the same year, there was no sign of the mental or physical hardships that Georgi had overcome to get to that point. With teeth gritted, she glided over the cobbles with such power she left her competitors in her wake. Using those years of experience, the young rider’s attack was ideally timed, as she positioned herself perfectly at the foot of the climb, without an ounce of residual fear from her crash one year before.
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“I was surprised how good I felt,” Georgi says, looking back on her win. “Actually, I didn't think that I could leave it until the last time up the climb. I tried to attack up it with two laps to go and I got a small gap on my own. That did give me a bit of confidence thinking that if it came to the bottom of the last climb altogether, then I would have a chance.
“I just tried to kind of keep the group rolling. When attacks were going I followed them but tried to be a bit smart with my energy. Then when we hit [the climb] the last time I just went full gas, and I didn't look behind until the line. When I crossed it, then I was like: wow, I've done it. It was a complete shock,” she explains.
Georgi winning the 2021 British National Championships (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)
Team DSM wasted no time in putting Georgi to work in her new red, white and blue national champion jersey after her win. She debuted the British stripes for the first time in her final race of the 2021 season, Ronde van Drenthe. Making the select front group of 7 riders and putting in several blistering attacks, it was an impressive race from the young rider in a stacked WorldTour field. Georgi eventually finished in 6th place after helping her team leader, Lorena Wiebes, to the overall win.
“Drenthe was my last race of the season, it was pretty late at the end of October,” she explains. “It's a time when sometimes motivation is a bit fading, but I think having this jersey gave me so much more motivation and I really felt really good on the day.
“It was so nice because everyone in the peloton was coming up to me and saying well done [for becoming National Champion]. Some of the more senior riders were saying it was a really good ride. That was so cool.”
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Georgi will continue to race in the national jersey with Team DSM sponsor’s scattered across the front for the season to come and beyond, after extending her contract with the team until 2023. It’s an outfit in which Georgi thrives, despite some of the bad press DSM has had in recent years with riders opting to terminate their contracts with the team early.
“I've had such a good experience with them, actually,” Georgi says. “Because I joined them straight out of the junior ranks, they've always had a focus on my development and we are a young team. They're really good at bringing riders up and developing their own leaders.
“For me, they've really looked after me and focused on my development. With injuries I've had, they have helped me come back from them in the time it takes, not rushing anything, but really taking care that I'm not going to be burnt out.”
Portrait by Véronique Rolland
Despite the 2021 season exceeding her and her team’s expectations, Georgi is under no illusions that the hard work is done. Her big ambitions for 2022 and intrinsic motivation means she looks ahead to a winter of knuckling down on some of her weaknesses.
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“I'm going to focus more on the gym and building my strength because the classics are my main focus, the short, punchy climbs,” she explains. “I’m also thinking a bit about time trialling. Hopefully getting to do some wind tunnel testing and refining my position because I think in the future stage races can be something I could target as well.”
Aside from her personal ambition, though, Georgi looks ahead to an exciting future for the whole of the women’s peloton, acknowledging that her career is developing at a pivotal moment for the sport. Races like the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix are ones that, growing up, the young British rider thought she may never get an opportunity to compete in.
“I felt that riding Roubaix was a historic moment. It was great to see the buzz around it and see people enjoying how exciting women's racing is. I think when it is shown, people love to watch it.
“Our races are shorter, but I think that makes them more exciting. I think if you can show the whole race, then people will watch it. Looking back at the race now, I realise that it is pretty cool to ride the first ever women's edition. It’s something I can always say that I was part of.”
As for her 2022 calendar, nothing is set in stone, but Georgi likes the look of the Tour de France Femmes route, be it for her own ambitions or helping her team’s sprinter to take that first yellow jersey on the Champs Elysees. “I think it'd be really special and looking at the course, it's really exciting with short, punchy stages, the gravel stage and also the hardest stage at the end. I think there's something for everyone in it. I don't know the lineup but I definitely have my eye on it,” she says.
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“It is really important that we are having races like the Tour de France because it is such a high profile race. I think having races like this will bring in a lot of sponsors and it's just going to increase the professionalism of women's cycling, having line to line coverage.
“You will actually be able to see the work that riders do, it's not just the results sheet. I think it's a step towards parity with the men. There is no reason why we couldn't have had these races before, but it's exciting that we finally do”
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