Cover stories: Issue 108

The story behind Michael Blann's photo that adorns the cover of our final Issue of 2021

Anna van der Breggen was in London for Rouleur Live. After months of interviewing riders on Zoom, plagued by dodgy WiFi connection and an awkward lag, the thought of having an in depth conversation with a legend of cycling was refreshing, exciting, and a little nerve-wracking.

I’ve watched Van der Breggen race for years. When I was growing up with a pipe dream of becoming a professional cyclist, she inspired me. Her perfect pedalling style, athletic physique, pristine kit and pure strength as she raced was something I dreamt of as I slogged away on my turbo trainer at home. I’m sure I wasn’t the only young cyclist taking note as she stormed up the Mur de Huy and sprinted to Olympic Gold.

So there I was, in London, about to meet Anna, with butterflies in my stomach and clammy palms. While I knew so much about her in a racing sense, I wasn’t sure who she was away from the bike, and the unknown was a little scary. As she casually walked into the hotel lobby, wearing a smile, a hoodie and Nike trainers, and I greeted her, explaining we had a short walk to the studio where the interview and photoshoot would take place. 

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Me and this multiple World and Olympic champion, who I’ve looked up to for almost a decade, walked side by side down the streets of Holborn. For me, it was surreal. For Anna, it was probably just another interview. Openly, she chatted about seeing Covent Garden for the first time the evening before, and how she planned to go to Camden the following day. Immediately, I relaxed. We entered the studio, sat down, and it was the least interview-like interview I’ve ever done. I had a list of questions, but I barely looked at them. The conversation just flowed, thanks to Anna’s candid and generous answers.

So, the cover photo is Anna van der Breggen by Michael Blann. After my chat with the Dutch rider, we spent some time photographing her in the studio. The cover is one of the last shots Michael took, after a long process of outfit changes, a variety of hairstyles and lighting adjustments. We were grateful for Van der Breggen’s patience as we deliberated agonisingly, because the outcome is perfect.

In her World Champion jersey, looking away from the camera, with her hair in the signature bun that she wore to so many victories in her impressive career, the picture is a symbol of Van der Breggen leaving racing. She’s turning away, but still with those World Champion stripes in her armoury, using the knowledge she has built up in all her years of success in her new chapter as a Director Sportif for SD Worx.

When Rouleur’s best selling women’s issue was released in January, we made a promise to improve the way we reported on women’s cycling. To finish the same year with Anna van der Breggen on the cover of the magazine, paying tribute to her breathtaking career, there is no better way to round out 2021. 

While Anna may have turned her back on racing, I like to think she’s looking forward in the photo. Ahead to the Tour de France Femmes, to a future for women’s cycling that is brighter than ever before.

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