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World number one Lorena Wiebes comes of age after stellar 2019

Lorena Wiebes repeats one word when asked about 2019 – “crazy”.

Whether it’s beating Marianne Vos to become Dutch national champion at the tender age of 20, or amassing 19 wins, her rise to the very top of women’s cycling has been nothing short of sensational this season. Eight of those 19 wins were in World Tour races, with a further three podiums to add, in high profile races such as Ride London, Gent Wevelgem (second), the Boels Ladies Tour and Tour of Chongming Island.

And Wiebes readily admits her sprinting prowess came as a shock, even to her: “I am really grateful with how the year went and so grateful for my teammates who helped me as much as possible. From 2018 to 2019, I wanted to make a step up, but this? This was a big step! It’s crazy and I really didn’t expect it.

“Nationals was my best win – the whole team were on the start line and they did everything to help me win, it was a team effort. The European Games were also special.”

In both victories, Wiebes beat Vos – one of the best riders in history – who was back to her very best in 2019 with 19 wins and the World Tour title.

“I have always looked up to her,” Wiebes continued. “She is the biggest woman in cycling, even still now. In the moment at Nationals, I didn’t realise what I had achieved. You are so focused on winning the race and to finish the teamwork off. Then it hits you.”

At World Tour level, Wiebes claimed a clean sweep of three stage wins and the overall title at the Tour of Chongming Island, as well as victories in Ride London, two stages of the Boels Ladies Tour and one stage in the Ladies Tour of Norway. And she has more races on her hit list for next season too.

She explained: “I want to win more World Tour races but also be better in races like Amstel Gold. That’s a long-term goal – to be better at more punchy races. Gent Wevelgem, Drieedaagse de Panne and Omloop het Nieuwsblad are targets next year. But the biggest goal of all is to be the best sprinter in the world.”

But before we get in to all that, the off-season stretches in front of us and Wiebes could be forgiven for sitting back and basking in glory at the end of a stellar 2019. And after a holiday to Aruba with friends, sunbathing and island-hopping, she was suitably relaxed. But since it has been hectic and we aren’t just talking about her kickboxing lessons, national cyclocross races and high intensity training.

She is also dealing with the realities of the sport of cycling and life as a professional rider. Wiebes signed a three-year deal with Parkhotel Valkenburg in 2018, after one season with the team now ranked seventh in the world.

Her contract is due to end in 2020, but she is currently in negotiations to break free to join another team. She is in high demand – and rightly so. Five World Tour outfits are currently showing interest – with CCC Liv, Trek Segafredo and Team Sunweb already named in the media – as her stock has well and truly risen.

I want to make a step on to a higher, more professional team,” she explained. “I signed with Parkhotel two seasons ago, and have grown a lot as a rider in that time. And Parkhotel have done a really good job to help me grow too. But now I think I need another step. But it’s very complicated and the negotiations are hard. I hope to get it sorted soon but at the moment, I don’t know which team I will be riding within 2020.

It’s really difficult to make this decision and I have been thinking about it a lot. They are such a nice group of girls too. Kickboxing is a good way to smash all of that stress out of your head!” She laughed.

To add to a complicated contract situation, in which she does not want to sour relations with her current team, it was announced on 26th November her teammate and friend Sofie de Vuyst has been suspended after a positive out-of-competition doping test on 18th September, pending the result of the B sample. De Vuyst maintains her innocence.

The news pains Wiebes, who said: “I didn’t know the situation and it’s a big surprise. I still believe in her and we are waiting for other results. I just don’t think she is a person who would do this, it is really confusing. She was really important for me this season, in the finale of races, and a really lovely person. I don’t believe it. I sent her a message when the news broke, it is really hard for her. I didn’t know what I should do, when I got news like that. I hope the other test is negative.”

The world of doping and contracts is a far cry from how Wiebes started out in this sport, in the cycling-mad Netherlands, who are truly the powerhouse nation in women’s cycling. She began riding on her BMX at just eight years old, doing cyclocross on Sunday mornings, alongside acrobatic gymnastics and football. Before long, gym was replaced by football, and eventually football replaced by cycling, inspired in part by her brother, who plays football, and her father, who once did triathlons and knew his way around a bike.

Wiebes admits at first she was not the biggest fan of road cycling: “I started racing cyclocross nationally at 13 years old, and started riding on the road too but honestly I didn’t like it and much preferred cyclocross! But at under-17 level I became more competitive on the road and by the age of 16 I realised I had a good sprint and wanted to be a national champion that year. It didn’t work out.

But at 17, I won. I was Dutch junior national champion and also won the Junior Healthy Ageing Tour a year later too. I knew then a professional career was coming. Team Sunweb were interested, and so were Parkhotel, and I signed with them.”

It is a “crazy” story, with much still to be written. And you have the feeling there is plenty more to come for the young sprinting sensation whatever colours she is racing in next season.

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