Demi Vollering: “Even if losing the overall win wasn’t nice, last year’s La Vuelta Femenina by made my team stronger”

March 21 st 2024 - 11:00 [GMT + 1]

We meet Demi Vollering (1996, Pijnacker) as she holds an altitude training camp in Sierra Nevada, down in the south of Spain. “It’s the fourth year in a row that I come here”, she explains. “It’s one of the best places for cycling, really. It has a lot of different climbs and routes, and I can even go on the adventure from time to time as there are also many gravel tracks to enjoy.” The day before the interview she has even taken a small detour on her training ride to visit the outskirts of the Alhambra, the Moorish palace and fortress that is the crown jewel of Granada.

The SD Worx-ProTime rider really likes Spain. As per ProCyclingStats data, it’s the country she has raced the most kilometresin UCI races and her most fertile hunting ground, as she has claimed no less than 12 victories on its soil. Two of them were scored in the mountaintop finishes of the first edition of La Vuelta Femenina by, atop Mirador de Peñas Llanas and Lagos de Covadonga. Yet those two wins did not translate into overall triumph as she lost the Red jersey to Annemiek van Vleuten in the second-to-last stage and couldn’t reclaim it in the final one.

Demi Vollering, the world’s number one rider as per the UCI World Ranking, has some unfinished business with La VueltaFemenina by and she is coming to Spain in a few weeks to settle it. Before, she will race a handful of one-day events in Belgium and the Netherlands – the Classics, where she will share SD Worx’s leadership with UCI Road World Champion Lotte Kopecky. Yet she already has the first grand tour of the season in the back of her mind…

- How would you define your relationship with Spain?

The Spanish races suit me very well, as almost every race has a lot of climbing. Last year, par example, I stayed for nearly one month in Spain to race La Vuelta Femenina by, the Vuelta a Burgos and the Itzulia Women. It was convenient because I didn’t have to travel around, which is something that can be very tiring, and I enjoyed every event – especially the Itzulia! [She won two stages and finished 2nd on the GC, as a runner-up to teammate Marlen Reusser.] More and more long climbs are being thrown into women races, and Spain is on the cutting edge of this trend.

- You will race this year’s edition of La Vuelta Femenina by after a very intense Classics season. Are you confident you can reach the Spanish event in good shape?

Last year I won all three Ardennes Classics [Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège] and later went to the Vuelta Femenina without a clear goal. My initial approach was to enjoy racing and to be playful, without thinking too much of the results. Yet, once I was on the race, I just wanted to win

- How do you look back on last year’s race?

It was a strange race for me. I enjoyed it, yet there were so many up and downs … I entered the event without a GC mindset. I then got a first victory on the summit finish of Mirador de Peñas Llanas and claimed the Red jersey, and keeping it became a goal for the whole team. Then this ‘accident’ happened on stage six, [Movistar Team was pulling hard to create echelons as Demi Vollering had stopped to answer the call of nature, opening a gap that the Dutch rider and her team were unable to close] and it was a pity for the whole team. But, on the other hand, I find that this experience made the team stronger. Even though it was not nice to lose the Red jersey like we did, it was somehow pretty to see everybody react with this fighting spirit to try and get the jersey back. We regrouped with the aim of pulling out a great final stage, and everybody on the team got behind that final push. It was nearly impossible to win the GC, and I almost made it thanks to the effort that everybody put on. When I was riding up Lagos de Covadonga, I had this thought in my mind: that I had to do my best because of my teammates, because of how devastated and angry they were the day before and because of how strong and dedicated they had been throughout that stage. It helped me climbreally fast, and it was a great feeling.

La Vuelta Femenina 2003 - 1st Edition - 5th stage La Cabrera - Mirador de Penas Llanas 129,2 km - 05/05/2023 - Demi Vollering (NED - Team SD Worx) - photo Rafa Gomez/SprintCyclingAgency©2023
La Vuelta Femenina 2003 - 1st Edition - 5th stage La Cabrera - Mirador de Penas Llanas 129,2 km - 05/05/2023 - Demi Vollering (NED - Team SD Worx) - photo Rafa Gomez/SprintCyclingAgency©2023 © SprintCyclingAgency©2023

- This performance made you become the first-ever woman to win atop the Lagos de Covadonga. Did it feel special?

We couldn’t see so much of the Lagos themselves, because it was so foggy that I could hardly see what was 100 meters ahead of me … [grins] But yes, I really enjoyed the climb and it was indeed very special. I was so motivated because of my teammates’ effort, and also very happy to have dropped all riders from a long way out in such a grueling climb. That was indeed very important in the races that came after that day, as it helped me realize what I could do in such a scenario…

- You have taken part in this event twice, in 2022, when it was still branded as CERATIZIT Challenge by La Vuelta, and in 2023, when it had been renamed to La Vuelta Femenina by Did you notice a step up between these two years?

It definitely was a huge step up from one year to the next. The event has grown quite fast. The first year, it didn’t feel like a big race for me, to be honest. It came right after the first edition of Le Tour Femmes, where we got a huge media attention and enjoyed so much support from the spectators, and it felt small in comparison. Notwithstanding, the 2023 Vuelta Femenina was a much bigger and better event. It was nice to see this progression. I think this coming edition will be even more remarkable, as every pre-race event and announcement has come across to me as better showcased.

- Do you like the La Vuelta Femenina 24 by course?

I haven’t quite gone into the specifics. Par example, I haven’t checked the climbs’ profiles in detail. I’ve seen there are a few long climbs that can suit me well, and that the final stage is very interesting as it features two category-one climbs. I also like that the first stage is a team time trial. It’s unusual to have this kind of team efforts in the UCI Women’s WorldTour, and it’s nice that the Vuelta Femenina has one.

How do you like TTTs compared to ITTs?

The TTT is much nicer than the ITT, in my opinion, even though it’s really painful because we make each other suffer a lot and you can never choose to go your own pace. It’s a difficult discipline that is also very hard to practice. I have to admit that, as a team, we almost never train for TTTs because there are so few of them, whereas rivals like Visma | Lease a Bike or Canyon // SRAM do. Hence why the win – they have that feeling of racing a time trial together that is so different from a road race or an ITT. It’s really specific, and that makes it very nice in my eyes.

- Will you miss having Annemiek van Vleuten as a rival in La Vuelta Femenina 24 by

I have done some races without Annemiek already, and I actually don’t miss her so much because there are so many good riders in the bunch right now. I always had great battles with Annemiek, because she was so strong both physically and mentally. She could do crazy things, and forced you to always be focused and alert on her as she could go solo from 100kilometres to go all the way to the finish. You could never be sure of when she was going to attack. Her Movistar Team also used to make races very hard – something we enjoyed, as it set up the races for us. This is something that has changed this year. Yet women’s cycling is again stepping up a level, and every rider is getting stronger. The favorites’ group is getting bigger and bigger every year. I really like to see this, as every race feels like a big battle. Also, if you look back on last year’s Vuelta, I was never alone with Annemiek. One day was Ricarda Bauernfeind who was with us, and the other it was Gaia Realini. Both are super-young girls who can grow a lot in the future, and that is going to be exciting to see.

- Sometimes rivals can be very influential on an athlete’s career. Has Van Vleuten helped you define yourself as a rider?

If it was not Annemiek, then it would have probably been another rider… There is always one rider who is the best, and if you are an up-and-coming talent you want to beat her. For me, this figure was always portrayed by Annemiek. That was clear for me, because I liked climbing and she was the best at that, and also at solo attacks. For me it was really clear that she was the best and I wanted to beat her to become the best on my own right. Now I’m probably ‘that’ rider for a lot of girls – the same one that Annemiek was for me. Lotte [Kopecky] is that rider-to-beat in other terrains, and if you are a sprinter then beating Lorena [Wiebes] is your target. I think you always want to become the best in your sport, and beating the best is crucial for that. In that respect, Annemiek was important for me and, if it hadn’t been her, it would have been someone else – maybe Elisa Longo Borghini, or ‘Kasia’ Niewiadoma.

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