Opinion: Marianne Vos made history last week, let’s shout about it
The Dutch rider has dominated women’s cycling for over a decade, and her 30 stage wins at the Giro Rosa leave a mark in history
The Giro Rosa (now known as the Giro d’Italia Donne) has long been one of the most prestigious races on the women’s cycling calendar, and even with a demotion from a WorldTour race the maglia rosa remains one of the most coveted prizes in women's racing.
Perhaps that's because, unlike most stage races for the female peloton, the race has always offered a range of parcours which test the strengths of each rider. We normally see team time trials, individual time trials, mountain stages, sprint stages and everything in between. Last year, the race even travelled through the white roads of Tuscany in a Strade Bianche style gravel stage.
The range of different types of stages makes the Giro d’Italia Donne one of the most difficult races to perform consistently well in. To get results in multiple stages, or contest the overall, a rider must be well-rounded and adept at adjusting themselves to different conditions. They must ride well in the punchy hills and on the flat, and be able to go solo and finish well from a reduced bunch.
Related: 5 things we've learnt from the Giro Donne
These characteristics make Marianne Vos’s 30 stage wins at the race even more formidable. The Dutch rider has been at the top of women’s cycling for over a decade, winning her first World Championship Road Race title in 2006. This season alone she’s won Amstel Gold Race and Gent Wevelgem, adding to her breathtaking total of 235 career wins across WorldTour and UCI races on the road.
Photo credit: Offside/L'Equipe
On the men’s side of the sport, headlines have been made recently about young prodigies like Tadej Pogacar and Remco Evenepoel taking victories as soon as they entered the professional ranks. Marianne Vos won her first World Road Race Championship in the elite category at the age of just 19. The following year she took 25 professional wins, and, 14 years later, she’s still winning at the very top of the sport.
Similarly, when Wout van Aert took victory at the top of Mont Ventoux this weekend, people began to ask if we’ve ever seen a rider who can excel in so many different disciplines? They asked: how is it possible for the Belgian to finish second in a bunch kick and then win in the mountains less than 24 hours later? Credit should be given for Van Aert’s impressive ride, but his ability to perform across a range of disciplines is certainly not unheard of. Vos has won the World Cyclo-Cross Championships 7 times, the World Road Race 3 times and, to add to her plethora of disciplines, she was a gold medallist in the women’s points race on the track in the 2008 Olympics.
Despite Mark Cavendish’s pleas for the press to not mention Eddy Merckx’s record of most Tour de France stage wins, this has been another hot topic at the Tour. The Manxman has since equalled the record, and, of course, this is a historic achievement. There are 11 fewer stages in the Giro Rosa than at the Tour de France. This means that, as British rider Lizzy Banks pointed out on Twitter, Vos’s 30 Giro stage wins could be seen as equivalent to 69.3 Tour de France stage wins. This statistic helps put the dominance and longevity of Vos’s career into perspective, and it’s something that should be spoken about with the same admiration that many cycling fans have for Cavendish’s assault on Merckx’s record.
Photo credit: Sean Hardy
At a first glance at her rich palmares, it might seem like Vos has had a smooth ride throughout her career. In 2015, though, the Jumbo-Visma rider had to come back from serious illness and it was a slow and difficult return to the top of the sport. Her 2017 season was marred by injury until she exploded back on to the pro scene the following year, winning a stage in the Giro and taking victory in the Ladies Tour of Norway. Her comeback was a sign of her strength in character, one that has been noticed by her fellow colleagues.
In the latest episode of The Run Up, a series dedicated to giving an insight into the female peloton, Lizzie Deignan (former World Champion and rider for Trek Segafredo) spoke about the respect she has for Vos and her attitude to racing. “She wants to win every race she enters,” Deignan said. “Honestly I’m not that rider, I can’t switch it on for every race like she can.”
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“I don’t have the same killer instinct and will to win like she does. I see it in her face, I see it in eyes, I see it in her body language when she’s racing. She is all out for the win every time she races. I admire that about her a lot”
Photo credit: Alex Broadway/SWPix.com
Marianne Vos’s achievements need no comparison to the men’s side of the sport to stand out in the history of the sport. But we need to be talking about them and shouting about them as much as we do about the records being broken in the Tour or as we do about riders like Van Aert winning on such a variety of terrain.
Stories from the women's peloton need to be told better. There’s work to do all round, but the meagre coverage of the Giro d'Italia Donne is likely the best place to start, so fans can witness the phenomenal skill and strength of a rider like Vos, live and direct.
Luckily, the Dutch wonder woman isn’t slowing down any time soon with the Olympics and Paris Roubaix Femmes still to come later this year. Here’s hoping we’ll get to see, hear and read about Vos stepping on the podium even more as the sport progresses.
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For now though, all we can say is congratulations to Marianne Vos on making history at the Giro Donne last week.
Cover image: Getty Images