Kata Blanka Vas is one of the most exciting cyclists in the world right now. The 20-year-old from Hungary has already recorded stellar results across multiple disciplines, which now sees her represent one of the leading teams in the women’s peloton: SD Worx.
This weekend, Vas is in Fayetteville to compete in the Cyclo-cross World Championships. Many expect Lucinda Brand and Marianne Vos to duel for the rainbow jersey, but Vas is among the favourites to finish on the podium. The win may not be out of her capabilities — she recorded her first Cyclo-cross World Cup victory in Overijse, October 2021.
Part of Vas' alluring talent is her ability to transcend disciplines with ease beyond her years. She was snapped up by SD Worx in the latter half of 2021, where on the road, she finished in the top ten at the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, before claiming a highly impressive fourth place in the elite women's road race at the World Championships.
All signs are pointing firmly in the direction of Blanka, which she prefers to go by, becoming a star of the sport over the next decade. In late 2021, we had the chance to catch up with her via a zoom call to discuss some of her future plans, her experiences riding alongside role model Anna van der Breggen and her favourite series on Netflix.
Hi Blanka, how are you?
I'm fine, thank you. I arrived home yesterday evening, I am feeling a bit jet-lagged!
How did you get into cycling?
My father was a mountain bike rider. He did marathon mountain bike races and I went with him to the races, and also my brothers are cyclists. My older brother finished his career, but my younger brother is also racing. When I was young we went to a lot of races. And also when we went on holiday we brought our bikes and just went to the hills.
You moved to Belgium in the Winter of 2017 with no local language knowledge. How was that experience for you?
Yes, and also now it’s not so good! It’s improved a lot.
It was really scary. Without my family and everything it was hard. I really enjoyed the races, but when I had to be in Belgium for a long time it was not so good, it was hard. I just travelled to the races then after the race I came home again. And when I was at home I went to school, so I didn't have so much free time. But I really liked to race in Belgium because there are the best riders. It’s really good to race with the best I think. I could improve a lot there.
Attila Valter became the first Hungarian to wear the maglia rosa at the Giro d'Italia 2021. Do you feel Hungarian cycling is on the rise?
Yes, something started here. It’s not the same as in Belgium or in some other countries where cycling is famous. But it’s a lot better, we have a lot of fun I think. But, swimming and these sports are more popular in our country. I hope one day cycling will be the same.
Image credit: Luc Claessen/Getty Images
How did it feel representing your country at Tokyo 2020?
In Tokyo it was a really special feeling. It was really good, because Hungary was really good at the Olympics. I had no pressure at the race and I was just happy I could start at the Olympics. It went very well (Blanka finished fourth in the cross-country event), so it was a big surprise for everybody, for me also! It was a really big experience.
Did you have any role models growing up?
My first role model was a Hungarian rider, Barbara Benko. She’s a mountain bike rider. But, then Mathieu van der Poel, Anna van der Breggen and Marriane Vos — I have a lot of favourites!
You mentioned that Anna van der Breggen is one of your role models. How did it feel to ride with Anna van der Breggen at SD Worx in 2021? What can you learn from her in 2022?
It was just one race at [Ceratizit Challenge by] La Vuelta, and she was my roommate! It was really good, I couldn’t believe it. I was just in a room with Anna van der Breggen and I’m in this team. It was just special. It didn’t feel real.
I think she has a lot of experience. She can give me a lot of tips!
When you joined SD Worx in 2021, you said that they aren’t putting any pressure on you to choose between the three disciplines. Do you think at some point in your career you’ll have to focus on one or two disciplines?
I think I will have to choose mountain bike or road bike, because it is really hard to find a balance. The cyclo-cross is good because it’s just in the winter. But road and mountain bike racing comes at the same time, so I think next year I will do more road races, and maybe I will have a chance to just do road racing for two months, then maybe focusing on the mountain bike for one month, or something like that. I think it’s not good when one weekend you ride your road bike then change to the mountain bike, because it is not the same kind of race. So at one point I think I will have to choose.
Are you looking forward to the first Tour de France Femmes?
Yes, I hope I will be there one time. Not next year, but maybe two years later. We will see how the road season is going for me.
You don’t think you’ll ride it in 2022?
If the team puts me into the selection, maybe. But I think in the team there are a lot of better riders than me!
We have the Tour de France Femmes coming up, we had the first women’s Paris-Roubaix last year. How do you view the landscape of women’s cycling at the moment?
Yes, it’s growing. And I saw in the mountain bike world that it’s also growing because in the U23 category, where there are more and more riders in the women's races. And also there will be more WorldTour teams in 2022.
Image credit: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
What’s your favourite way to relax when you’re not cycling?
I just finished school in May  and I didn’t have so much free time. But in my free time I like to go to some restaurants and watch Netflix. Just these simple things, and just relax.
What’s your favourite Netflix show?
I really like the Formula 1 series, Drive to Survive.
How do you get in the zone to prepare for a race? Do you listen to music?
In the mountain bike or cyclo-cross or road race, it’s always different.
Before the road race I’m with my teammates and just sitting in the bus and doing nothing. It’s not so much stress, but before the mountain bike races and the cyclo-cross races it’s a lot of stress. Before the cyclo-cross races I also do the course recon and the warm-up. During the warm-up I am always listening to music and trying to concentrate.
If you had to describe yourself in a few words, what would you say?
Shy! I don’t know... hard-worker. In school I was lazy... but I'm definitely hard working on the bike.
Cover image: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images