OVO Energy Women’s Tour: Marianne Vos leaves her mark

The OVO Energy Women’s Tour is a reminder to the cycling community that Marianne Vos is the iconic champion of the 21st century. It’s not only about winning bike races.

Before she won stage 2 of the OVO Energy Women’s Tour in the Kent Cyclopark in such an apparently easy way that runner up Lizzie Deignan couldn’t hold her back wheel, Vos suffered a mechanical that prevented her from competing in an intermediate sprint. However, she managed to take the overall lead in the race of which she won the inaugural edition in 2014, putting the event on the right track thanks to her fame. “I’ve been quite lucky”, she reacted. “If my tyre went flat five seconds later, I would have been dropped and then the Tour was over for me.”

The fact that the very next day, injuries caused by a crash she could not avoid on Wednesday’s stage 3 forced her to leave this year’s race while 9 seconds clear in the leader’s green jersey does nothing to change that.

That reaction after taking the lead was very humble – as always – from the Dutch athlete. The reality was that her display of bike handling skills in a fast pit stop was remarkable and enabled her to quickly make it back to the pack. Most cycling fans probably heard the name ‘Vos’ for the first time in 2006 when she became the UCI World Champion for cyclo-cross in the Elite category at the age of 19. And 13 years later, it’s still obvious in a road race that her agility on the bike comes from off-road racing.

She actually started cycling on the road, at the age of six, following the path of her elder brother who now follows her career and covers the whole female cycling scene as a photographer. She competed for the first time aged just eight. Very young, she combined road cycling, cyclo-cross and speed skating, a highly popular sport in the Netherlands during the freezing winter. Vos hails from ‘s-Hertogenbosch in North Brabant where the 1996 Tour de France kicked off.

She’s regarded as the equivalent of Eddy Merckx in women’s cycling: she has won so much she appears as the all-time greatest. In fact, she inherited the nickname from the great Belgian: The Cannibal.

On the road, she’s an Olympic Champion (London, 2012), triple UCI World Champion (2006, 2012, 2013), double European Champion (2006, 2017), five-time winner of the UCI World Cup (2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013), triple winner of the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile (2011, 2012, 2014), winner of La Course by Le Tour de France (2014) – also on its inaugural edition, acting as an ambassador for the newly created event – and many more besides. A second OVO Energy Women’s Tour looked very much on the cards.

In cyclo-cross, she’s seven-time UCI World Champion, having won the rainbow jersey six times in a row from 2009 to 2014 after her first victory in 2006. She has remained competitive through the ages: she won the overall 2018-2019 Telenet UCI World Cup and claimed bronze at the 2019 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships.

On the track, she’s also an Olympic Champion (in the points race, Beijing, 2008) and UCI World Champion (also in the points race, also in 2008, and in the Scratch race in 2011). In mountain-biking, her list of achievements is mostly on the Dutch scene with several national titles. But being so versatile, she’s the ultimate cycling champion although she interestingly introduces herself as “Fulltime-hobby-cyclist from the Netherlands”.

Vos is an ambassador not only for women cycling but also for “Jeugdfondssportencultuur”, a Dutch charity that supports children from poor families to join sports clubs or cultural activities. Internationally, she’s also involved in Youth United for Sri Lanka.

Vos’ passion for the road remains undisputed and she loves racing in Great Britain. Before the OVO Energy Women’s Tour, she won the Tour de Yorkshire last month. Despite the rise of female Dutch cycling in general with the likes of Anna van der Breggen shining in the rainbow jersey and Annemiek van Vleuten leading the UCI Women’s WorldTour, her victory at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda-Comune di Cittiglio in March, one of the most competitive races of the year, says a lot about her motivation and her dedication to cycling.

Vos is still the boss. The nasty crash and the forced her to abandon this year’s OVO Energy Women’s Tour does nothing to change this. Vos’ tone is very much frustration that she had to have her head and facial wounds attended to. Anything else and you feel she would have raced on…

"I fell hard on my head and, apart from a cut and some scratches, I don't have any other injuries," Vos said. "Yet I went to the hospital because the cut had to be stitched. Very unfortunate, I was quite upset by it, because I was in such a good position. But even after a fall, the race continues, but this time without me."

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