Pay attention, because we’re in the presence of greatness.
We’re in the era of Marianne Vos. The Dutch wonder is the current world champion on the road and in cyclocross, for the second consecutive year. And no one is even surprised.
Vos is cannibal-like in her abilities on pavement and in mud. She’s the closest thing the cycling world has seen to Eddy Merckx since, well, Eddy Merckx, and in no way is that hyperbole. This season, she won 27 races. She’s a world champion, the best classics rider of the year, the overall winner of the UCI women’s road World Cup, winner of three stages at the Giro Rosa… and so on.
It is perhaps the greatest commentary on her excellence that these results are somewhat expected now, that anything less than interdisciplinary dominance is something of a letdown for the 26-year-old rider, who once even toyed with racing in the men’s field.
Physically, Vos’ abilities are well known. She’s a lethal sprinter, strong enough to strike out on her own and stick moves in the closing kilometers. But the strongest riders don’t always win races. With Vos, she’s almost always in the right place at the right time — impossible to drop on all but the longest climbs, and very, very hard to out-sprint.
Look no further than her latest road title for an example. Vos said she was suffering late, but attacked on the final climb, in Fiesole, knowing it was her last chance for separation. She flew under the red kite in time trial mode. By the time she hit the line, in Florence, she had put 15 seconds into her chasers.
It marked her third world road title, but didn’t satiate her appetite.
“I still want to improve myself. I work for that every day. I like winning, and I can’t stand losing. If that happens, I start to work even harder,” Vos said.
In the classics, she was a study of power and tactical efficiency, winning both the Tour of Flanders and La Flèche Wallonne. At Flanders, in the withering Belgian cold, she shut down late moves firing away from a select group, and uncoiled her sprint 250 meters from the finish for the win. At Flèche, Vos stayed near the front, catlike as usual, then attacked up the Mur de Huy climb with 150 meters to go and took a leg-gobbling sprint. It was her fifth win atop the Mur since 2007.
When a rider is so good, so methodical, it’s easy to imagine her as something of a machine, a robot programmed to destroy every other woman on the bike, at all times. Not so with Vos, according to American Mara Abbott, who had the rare pleasure of handing Vos defeat at the women’s Giro d’Italia.
“She’s incredibly talented and she’s a great person. She’s someone who’s genuinely caring and is someone I really respect on and off the bike. I’m really excited to see all the success that she’s had,” Abbott told Velo. “She’s the kind of person who deserves to have that kind of good stuff in her life … she’s awesome.”
Vos has flummoxed no one like she has American Katie Compton. Vos has won five straight world cyclocross titles; Compton has finished on the podium four times in the past seven years. Vos is in the troposphere when it comes to cyclocross, so much so that one would think it’s oppressive and maddening to race against her. And it has to be, though no one says it.
Compton told Velo this fall that she felt lucky to be riding in the same era as Vos, and that it made her race harder.
“It’s the way it goes. I’m just lucky enough to be in the same generation as Marianne. It’s unfortunate that I can do everything I can and I get second, a lot. But it’s bike racing, and there’s always somebody faster,” Compton said.
“It ups my game. It makes me work harder. I love that competition. She’s doing everything she can to be fast, and it kind of keeps me on my toes. And I like that.
“If I get second — I obviously race for first — but it’s like, if I get second to Marianne Vos, that’s pretty damn good. Because not too many people get to beat her.”
Hardly anyone, in fact.