At the World Championships last year, Liane Lippert looked like the strongest rider in the race, but she didn’t win. The 25-year-old instigated ruthless attacks on the streets of Wollongong, she worked tirelessly on the front, and, as she admits, tried valiantly to get the other riders she was in the breakaway with to cooperate with her. In the end, despite all of this, Lippert finished in fourth place. No medal, no glory for her work. It’s a race she replays in her head, questioning what could have been if things had gone differently, dreaming of when she’ll get her next shot at rainbows.
“After the World Championships, there’s something that has been opened. It's the race I want to win in my career,” Lippert says, assertively. She’s speaking from a hotel in Mallorca during her off-season, midway through a training camp with the German national team and she seems relaxed, propped up against a pillow. When we start to talk about that day’s racing in Australia, Lippert quickly becomes more animated.
“If I was not frustrated after the Worlds I think I would be strange. If I look back, I can not understand the other riders. I can only say that I had a really good day and I think it’s the World Championships and it should be all in for the medal,” Lippert says.
“I tried to motivate the others and tell them that the Dutch riders were not with us, so they would chase us, but it was not really a cooperation. I can’t understand why because some of them had even beaten me in the sprint a few weeks before. For some I can understand it; Elisa [Longo-Borghini] had somebody behind for example, but I think everybody else should ride, even if they get a podium, it's really nice. Now, we all have nothing.”
Despite her frustrations, Lippert says she looks back on the race with no regrets from a personal perspective. “I don't know if it would have made a difference if I waited one climb longer and then went really hard, because maybe then they still wouldn’t have worked with me,” she says.
“I don't have to change my tactics, but I hope the others change their mindset after this race and that we have, in women's cycling in general, a bit more cooperation. Sometimes riders think too much. In men’s cycling it is a bit different. If they have a chance to go for a medal at Worlds, they ride. Maybe a few wouldn’t, but in general they do.”
Lippert in her 2023 Movistar team kit (Image: Movistar Team / Cxcling Creative Agency)
The World Championships Road Race was eventually won by Annemiek van Vleuten, who will be Lippert’s team-mate in 2023 as the German rider has transferred from Team DSM to Movistar for the season ahead. Lippert’s admiration for Van Vleuten was only exacerbated after the World Championships when the older rider made her all-or-nothing attack in the final throes of the race to take victory.
“That’s why I have respect for Annemiek. She's taking responsibility to make the race, so I have respect that somebody's doing that,” Lippert says.
Working with Tour de France Femmes winner and world champion Van Vleuten was one of the key factors that drew Lippert to Movistar. She explains that the Dutch rider has been extremely generous with her advice and has advised Lippert on altitude camps and how to structure her training.
“I was sure that I wanted a change to a different team last year,” Lippert says. “I just wanted to see something else after six years on DSM, and also wanted to have a bit more opportunity to make my own decisions in races. I can decide when I want to attack and I don't have to ask or I get in trouble if I do so.”
Lippert doesn’t say it explicitly, but she hints at struggles with Team DSM about getting her opportunities in races, arguing she was often pigeon-holed into a Classics rider, but she believes she has chances in stage races too. “Team DSM always really put me in the category of a Classics rider for the hilly Classics but I think I'm also able to do really long climbs,” she explains.
“With Movistar, I talked with them super early already and everything just fit together. I liked the long term plan. They were just being really honest about what they wanted to do with me. They see a lot of potential in me and gave me so much more confidence in myself again. That was what I was missing. For example, they asked why I’m not riding well on a time trial bike and why nobody is putting energy into it. They want to help me get better at this. They also asked me why I'm not doing altitude. These are all small percentages that can still make me so much better.”
Lippert explains that Movistar has a very different culture to Team DSM, something that she’s found herself getting used to over the two camps she has done with the team so far this winter. “It’s a really different culture, it's all way more friendly, also the staff members, it's more like a family compared to what I'm used to. Everything is a bit smaller too. I’ve already started to learn Spanish.”
Lippert at the 2023 UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)
I wonder if Lippert worries about getting her own opportunities at Movistar, considering Van Vleuten is part of the team. The world champion rarely seems to utilise team tactics, preferring to go solo on impressive breakaways or attacks. “I think it will work well, we can only be beneficial for each other,” Lippert says. “In one-day races, we can play both cards, for example, she will do the harder, longer climbs and I'm more punchy, or I can do a better sprint. I think we can really be beneficial for each other.”
When it comes to the stage races, Lippert says she understands that she will play a support role for Van Vleuten, something that she is happy with for now. “I wouldn't have asked to be the leader in the Tour or the Giro, because I don't think I'm ready for that yet,” she says. “I'm sure that I will get my chances in races that really suit me, like an uphill finish.”
And what about when Annemiek van Vleuten retires at the end of 2024? Many have touted Lippert as a potential successor for the Dutch woman, but this is a significant role to fill.
“I really can’t take it seriously that I'm the next Annemiek van Vleuten. I'm not and nobody else is, she’s something else,” Lippert says.
“People ask if I'm taking over the role of Annemiek but I always say no, because I'm not an Annemiek. Nobody else in this world will ever be like her, there's only one. I will take over the leader role, hopefully, but it's also not alone. Floortje [Mackaij] is also there and then maybe some other strong girls come. It's also not enough to only have one leader with how women’s cycling is getting bigger.”
As for the more immediate future in 2023, Lippert is hoping to kick off her season successfully at the inaugural women’s UAE Tour, before fully targeting the Ardennes Classics as her main goal for the season. So many near misses, especially in the World Championships last year when Lippert was so close to victory, have made the German rider more motivated than ever.
“The Ardennes Classics, it's not a secret that I want to be in top shape for them,” she says. “They are the first real highlight of my season. It would be amazing to win there, especially in the Amstel [Gold Race] or Flèche [Wallonne]. They are races I dream of.”
Cover image: Alex Broadway/SWpix