Shirin van Anrooij lowers her eyes with a shy smile when I list the incredible results she’s had in her young career so far, it’s almost like she is cringing when she hears me say it. While her proud grin gives away that she’s happy about it, it's clear that the Trek-Segafredo rider is not someone who has fully come to terms with her own achievements. The Dutchwoman’s WorldTour win at Trofeo Binda earlier this year sits at the top of Van Anrooij’s palmarès when it comes to her road results and when she talks about it, it’s almost like the 21-year-old still can’t quite believe she secured the victory.
“I didn’t expect it. I knew I was in really good shape, I did feel good the day before when I did some openers, but it was only my second race of the road season,” she says. “I was expecting to be there and to help Elisa [Balsamo] to try and sprint like she did last year but then I saw a really good moment and I just went for it.”
“If you're in that position, you just keep going just because you know that you could win a race. For me, it was really good that I was on my own because at first, when no one joined me, I thought: this is not going anywhere. Then at the same time, if you are solo then no one is just cruising on your wheel. I really did not expect it but I think that made it extra special.”
Van Anrooij’s victory at Trofeo Binda is even more impressive when considering what she did in the winter leading up to it. While, thanks to riders like Marianne Vos, Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, riders having a strong cyclo-cross season and winning on the road too has now become commonplace, this doesn’t detract from the dedication it takes to perform at such a high level in both disciplines. After winning three World Cup rounds and the U23 World Championship title in cyclo-cross last winter, Van Anrooij credits two things to helping her balance both road and ‘cross: the support of her team, Trek-Segafredo, and a pure love for bike racing.
“I really love racing and I also really love training but if I could choose, I would always go for a race. Doing cyclo-cross, it also really helps to be from the Netherlands living so close to Belgium, because almost every cyclocross race is within two hours. I'm getting more tired during the road season, because I am flying to Italy, and then to Spain, and then back to Belgium, it's so much more travelling.”
Van Anrooij during the 2023 Cyclo-cross World Championships (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)
When competing off-road Van Anrooij rides for Trek’s cyclo-cross team, Baloise Trek Lions. “Both teams work together really well and they make sure that I get a break in December and January to be on the road training camp to be able to prepare for the road season,” Van Anrooij explains. “The road team allows me to start a bit later on the road so I can have two weeks off after the ‘cross season, but also the other way around so that I can start in October with cyclo-cross. If they did not communicate and both only thought about themselves instead of about me, I would not be able to do everything and it would get too much. It’s good that the team slows me down a bit.”
Van Anrooij also credits her team for helping her get through some of the tougher periods in her racing career so far. She talks about when she was deciding whether to race the elite or U23 Cyclo-cross World Championships last winter, unsure of which would be the right decision after she was so competitive among the elites through the World Cup season. The Dutch rider eventually opted to go for the U23 event, which she won emphatically, but she notes there was big pressure on her shoulders ahead of that race, something that was something she had to learn to cope with.
“I spoke to a mental coach to learn how to just cope with those feelings, now I can think about it in another way. If you look at it from a different perspective, all those expectations are there because people believe that I can do it. I used to think that people only said I could do it to give me confidence and give me a good feeling, I never really trusted it. Now I’ve started to believe in it more and more,” Van Anrooij explains.
“It is also really helpful to have the team around me in the winter, it's such a family feeling and they know that I sometimes struggle with having confidence. I need pressure to perform and be motivated, but it’s important that it’s not too much.”
Van Anrooij notes that she believes her cyclo-cross season hugely aids her performances on the road, pointing out that the intensity and interval training she gets from cyclo-cross is a huge benefit during the season and that the endurance she gets from road helps her in ‘cross too.
“Cyclo-cross is a lot about having fun. Most of it is in Belgium and the Netherlands and it's like a family. We have these nice cyclocross training days on Wednesdays with the whole team and everyone's there, then we sit and have lunch together,” she says.
“At the end of the cyclo-cross season, I really look forward to the road season and the end of the road season, and I can't wait to be back on the ‘cross bike again. I could never choose between the two, so it's really nice that I get the opportunity to combine both of them. Maybe in the future, it might be hard because I might need to do more endurance training if I want to target a general classification or something like that, but now it works.”
Shirin van Anrooij during the 2023 Tour of Flanders (Image: Getty)
This season, Van Anrooij has her eyes set on the punchy, Ardennes Classics. After her win in Trofeo Binda, the Trek-Segafredo rider finished in the top-10 at both Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of Flanders, and secured a fifth place at Brabantse Pijl.
“These are my favourite races, for sure, because of the fact that they're a bit less stressful, and a bit easier with the positioning.”
Van Anrooij notes that – though it isn’t visible watching her race – she struggles with positioning in some of the more chaotic and hectic parts of races and this is something that she needs to work on in the future.
“I don't really like all the pushing and fighting for your position. If someone is in between me and another rider, I'm going to be the one braking and the other rider is going to go in front of me. I'm improving a lot on it, but I still feel I need to do more. In Flanders on the Koppenberg, I just let everyone push me away a bit too much. I started that climb in 60th position I think,” she says. “That’s something I need to work on. It has nothing to do with not trusting in my own skills but I think I just don’t like the fighting part of it. If you have some variation, like with climbing in the Ardennes, it makes it easier.”
Van Anrooij adds that Trek-Segafredo will come to the Ardennes races with a strong line-up, one she is confident can put up a strong fight to the likes of SD Worx, who have dominated these races in the past.
“We always keep believing in the fact that we can win the race as well,” she says. “It would be nice to have more help from other teams sometimes and see them really believe in it. We see it in the men’s side sometimes, there’s a dominant team with Jumbo-Visma, but they have been beaten now too, so why can’t we beat SD Worx?”
Overall, despite her modesty, Van Anrooij is clearly ready to fight for success in the Ardennes over the next week. With a strong line-up and her personal flying form, it seems like Trek-Segafredo are ready to pose a real challenge to the rest of the peloton.
“I really like climbing and these are super hard classics. At the beginning of the season, it was a goal to be in really good shape in these races. I was in a bit better shape than I expected at the beginning of the season, so I hope that I'm still in really good shape now,” she says. “But we have a strong team too which makes it extra nice and gives us options.”
Cover image: Getty