“Toyko 2020… I will do my best to prepare and be in the best shape of my life but after the World Championships, it’s hard for me to say it’s my target. Disappointment hurts and I want to protect myself from it.”
Kasia Niewiadoma is speaking from training camp in Spain, a few months after Yorkshire 2019 which ended in heartache and disappointment for her. After that race, she switched off her phone and disconnected from the wider world around her, flying to California, USA to be with her boyfriend Tayler Phinney who had just retired from the sport. The Polish star surrounded herself with friends and family, and removed herself from social media. She needed time out.
“I knew I just needed to forget about Worlds and be grateful for what I have right now,” she said. “I thought that disappointment would stay way longer, but I can’t do anything about it. In the past I would be overthinking it, focusing on moments in the race and my life leading up to it and it would get me down so much. I would hit the bottom and take so long to feel happy and content again.
“I felt so good going into Yorkshire, and I went there with big dreams. But something broke inside me. I know I lost this race not because of my physical state, but my mental state. I was scared of failure and underperforming and I gave up. But it wasn’t like, I didn’t care. I want to really understand what happened to make sure it never happens again in the future. The more I talk about it, the easier it is to understand. It’s like therapy, hearing other people have been through the same. It’s nice to know that you’re never alone.”
The Canyon Sram rider has divided 2019 in two. The bulk of the season saw her feeling satisfied and happy, claiming a “beautiful win” at the iconic Amstel Gold and the TTT in the Giro Rosa with the team. But then, heartbreak at the World Championships. Yet the off-season has given her perspective once more to start 2020 with renewed energy.
“I ate nice food, made some new friends. I didn’t feel like a cyclist, I had put myself in a different environment and I really enjoyed that,” the 27-year-old explained.
“We are also still celebrating Taylor’s retirement! It’s so nice to see him retired. He is very content and brings good atmosphere and vibes in the relationship. Watching him grow and be excited about the little things in life makes me want to be the same in overcoming adversity.
“It was the best move for him at the right time – to step back, step away and focus on him. Right now he’s free, travelling the world. He’s making the most of it!
“I did a Rapha ride in New York too and it was such a nice event. I met so many cool inspiring people and am coming back to Europe wanting to be the greatest cyclist ever. Everyone was so stoked about riding their bikes. I am doing this for a living and it’s a very wonderful thing. I should be grateful, not complaining. It was a real moment of perspective.”
Niewiadoma is never far from the business end of punchy, rolling races. She won the 2017 Women’s Tour, 2018 Trofeo Binda and last season’s Amstel Gold. She has also picked up four podiums at Strade Bianche, including three second places, and finished third in all three Ardennes Classics in 2017.
Her aggressive and passionate riding style has won her fans all over the world and she embraces racing on feeling, not on schedule.
“All my big victories happened unexpectedly, without me thinking about anything,” she explained. “Normally in cycling the smart moves are all calculated but that’s not my riding style. That’s what I love about bike racing. You might be racing a very important race, and the first two hours might be totally shitty and you feel like a piece of crap! You might have bad legs. But suddenly something changes and you have no control over it. Suddenly you feel great and you love it and you want to win this race. At that moment I am ready to attack and give it a go, and push myself to the limit.
“I am stoked there are a group of people – fans – who understand me, my senes of humour and my style of racing. It is super cool when I hear that people get inspired by me. That is my main goal; to be a light that spreads love and energy. If I can help someone, that’s an amazing thing.”
Niewiadoma followed in her father’s footsteps in cycling. A “sport lover” with a passion for riding, before long he had bought his teenage daughter a bike – and an entry into a local race.
“He didn’t ask me! He bought me a little bike and told me to race. I had no choice,” Niewiadoma laughs. “I was always competitive so I agreed and loved it. I won! But at that age you don’t want to be a bike rider. I was a teenager and wanted to meet new people and hang out with friends, chase boys – guys you have a crush on! I wasn’t interested.
“I was doing other sports too, running in school competitions and handball. I was moving a lot and trying something new, but I could never find something that worked for. It wasn’t until I went to Italy for the Europeans Juniors that I fell in love with cycling. I saw it from a different perspective, not just from a Polish perspective. It was suddenly worthwhile. From then on, I wanted to see how far I can push my body. I could see I was capable of suffering more than others so I gave it a go. I found my spark.”
Niewiadoma raced for RaboBank-Liv from 2013, learning the craft and art of racing in the professional peloton in Europe from the likes of Marianne Vos, Pauline Ferrand Prevot, Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen. Her main goal was simply to keep up with riders who have since become rivals and the strongest champions in the peloton.
“I was training so hard, taking care of my body and that helped me to develop rapidly,” she reflects. “I just wanted to get better and learn. Looking up to those riders, especially Vos was very good for my development. I just wanted to be like her and really focused and concentrated on being as strong as her, to fight in the final.
“Annemiek and Anna – they are beatable. But they are insanely strong and there is no tactic in a race that can put them in a difficult situation. I just have to be stronger. That is the only answer I have. Hard work, commitment and sacrifices can lead you there.”
So what of 2020? Another season awaits with her Canyon Sram “family”. After a third place finish in 2017, Flèche Wallonne is a race Niewiadoma is desperate to win and she is fully targeting the Ardennes. And of course, Tokyo 2020.
“The Tokyo course suits me,” she said, “I like it – it is very challenging and anything can happen, especially with such a small peloton and the big teams like the Dutch only having four riders.
“Every athlete dreams of an Olympic medal. And I am one of those people.”