Given Anna van der Breggen’s long list of career wins and podiums, it seems strange that the 25-year-old Dutchwoman wasn’t more well known heading into the 2015 season. That’s what happens when you ride on the same Rabo-Liv team as Marianne Vos and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot.
But with injury knocking Vos out for almost the entire 2015 season, van der Breggen seized the opportunity to lead.
First up was a win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February. But it was her victory at La Flèche Wallonne Féminine that really signaled she was on a different level in 2015. She attacked late on the Mur de Hey, outriding a field that included then-world champion Ferrand-Prévot, to claim the first World Cup win of her career.
After proving herself to be among the best one-day racers in the sport, she then turned her attention to the most important stage race in women’s professional cycling, the Giro Rosa. After a tactical first week, van der Breggen took control of the race in the eighth-stage time trial. She held off a final assault by featherweight climber Mara Abbott in stage 9, the last mountain stage of the tour, to secure the pink jersey.
“In the beginning of the year you make a list of goals,” van der Breggen said after winning the Giro Rosa. “The biggest one was the Giro, of course, but I had never won a World Cup, so that was also on my list. I didn’t write down which World Cup, but winning Flèche for me is the best one.”
Having checked off those goals, van der Breggen then set her sights on the world championships, where she had three legitimate chances to stand on the top step of the podium, and where she hoped to extinguish memories of her 2014 world championships, where a horrific crash in the team time trial left her crumpled on the side of the road with a broken pelvis.
There would be no repeat in 2015, as Rabo-Liv opened worlds with a bronze in the TTT.
Van der Breggen inched closer to a gold medal in the individual time trial, taking silver behind Kiwi Linda Villumsen by two seconds. Her hopes for gold were dashed again when she was outsprinted by Great Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead in the road race. She was visibly disappointed on the awards podium. “At the moment, it feels like losing gold [instead of winning silver],” she said. “I could smell the jersey.”
Still, she medaled in all three elite women’s races at worlds and proved from February to September that she’s capable of being in the mix in any race, on any terrain.