Getting Covid had 'more impact than I had hoped': Marianne Vos prepares for return to racing after virus recovery

Veenendaal-Veenendaal will mark the Dutch cyclist's return to racing

Marianne Vos at Jinglecross 2021
(Image credit: Getty Images)

“Hey Marianne. Is now still a good time to chat?” I texted Marianne Vos early morning Pacific time on May 13th.

“Can it wait 5 minutes?” she promptly texted back. 

Of course I should have known she’d be glued to a TV somewhere. The seventh stage of the Giro d’Italia had just entered the finale, and her Jumbo Visma teammates, Tom Dumoulin and Koen Bouwman, were in a four-men breakaway with mere metres left to go. Bouwman would take the win and a few short minutes later, Vos and I were talking.

“To miss the last kilometre would have been a real shame,” she said.

It’s been a minute since Vos herself was part of a race. Her last appearance was the Ronde van Vlaanderen on April 3, one of just three races she has taken part in this year thus far. 

Her spring schedule was already selective, foregoing races like the Amstel Gold Race in an effort to be at her absolute best at the start of the second-ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes, but then she tested positive for Covid-19, nixing her entire spring season. 

“I didn't get very sick so I thought I would get rid of it quickly, but [getting Covid] did have more impact than I had hoped,” the three-time road world champion said. 

“At the time when I had to withdraw from Roubaix, I had no symptoms yet. I then did develop some symptoms but I wasn’t that sick — throat soreness and a persistent cold mostly. But it lingered. The moment I picked up the bike again, I noticed that when it came to endurance especially, it really had an impact. So I’ve had to patiently start training everything back up again, which we as athletes aren’t always very good at.”

Vos had pretty much singled out the Paris-Roubaix as her spring target ever since finishing second at the historic inaugural event in October last year. To then test positive the morning of the race was a massive blow. 

For a split second Vos even wondered if there was a way to get around it, but the health of herself and the peloton of course came first. 

“In the past two years Corona has been among us, and you know that at some point you might have to deal with it yourself, but yeah, the timing was unfortunate. I admit that I was really disappointed that day,” the 35-year-old said. 

“You tell yourself that it’s just a race, but at that moment it is, of course, also very frustrating when you’ve worked towards it. I was really looking forward to it. I would have loved to have been part of the fight for the win.”

Marianne Vos at the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes in 2021. She finished second to Lizzie Deignan

(Image credit: Getty Images)

But she was back to feeling good and happily training alongside her teammates at a camp in Limburg ahead of a reconnaissance trip to France to scout some of the Tour de France Femmes stages.

“I would have liked to have raced more this spring, but things don’t always go as planned. Luckily I have some time to rebuild my fitness and work toward the bigger goals,” Vos said.

These goals include the Dutch National Champions in June, and the Giro as well as the Tour de France Femmes in July.

Vos will test her racing fitness at Veenendaal-Veenendaal, a 140km-road race in the centre of the Netherlands on May 20th. A part of the Exterioo Cycling Cup, the UCI 1.1 race will be hotly contested with top teams like Jumbo-Visma, Lotto Soudal Ladies, UAE, Liv Racing Xtra, Plantur-Pura, Valcar and Parkhotel Valkenburg among the starters.

She’ll be headed to altitude training right afterward in preparation for the Dutch National Championships and the summer stage races.

Having been a crucial advocate behind La Course, the single-day race that would grow into the eight-day Tour de France Femmes that’s slated for July, Vos is pleased with the event ahead.

“I think this is a very nice development. La Course was a great milestone for the sport and I also enjoyed riding those races because you noticed right away that they added a certain cachet, a certain value to the calendar,” Vos said.

“It is wonderful that ASO was willing to take this step and recognized that the sport can handle it and that the outside world looked at them and said it was time for an actual, full women’s Tour. It will be very special to be part of the first Tour de France for women and to be in that peloton."

But is eight days enough?

Given the limited team resources, relatively small team rosters and the tight race calendar, Vos is of the opinion that it is.

“If I look at the way things are right now, I think the choice of an eight-day race is a good place to start,” she said.

Vos is convinced that the physical ability of the riders to race for two or more weeks is certainly there, but the team structures and resources aren’t available to support it. Teams aren’t large enough to send separate delegations for the Giro, the Tour de France, the Women’s Tour of Britain and the Scandinavian races, nor can you expect any one racer to ride them all.

“It would be a real shame if the whole calendar gets upset by the addition of a new stage race,” Vos pointed out. “Plus, I don’t know if going longer makes the racing any more interesting.”

As for her Jumbo-Visma team, Vos said they’re aiming for stage victory. The team doesn’t house any pure climbing specialists, and with the final two stages of the Tour suited for just that, Vos said they’re just being realistic.

The yellow-and-black squad made its debut in women's racing only last season, and added American Coryn Labecki to co-captain alongside Vos for 2022. The shared leadership is not something we’ve seen often with Vos, who previously tended to be the sole centerpoint of her team. But with the addition of Labecki, the team now sports two potential ‘race finishers.’ Additionally, British talent Anna Henderson has been an indispensable rider for the team, both in her ability to support the sprinters as well as her own, strong breakaway capabilities.

“The team has an absolute ambition to continue to grow in the coming years, and so it’s necessary to have different top women who push each other and who can take part in the race finals,” the team captain said.

“With the strength of the competing teams, it is very valuable if you enter a final with several riders so that you can play the game. And so, for the team, I think it's a really nice goal, and also just a part of the development needed to be at the top.”

But with Vos absent from most of the season thus far, the Jumbo-Visma squad had a challenging spring. Vos did earn a podium at Gent-Wevelgem and a Top-10 at Strade Bianche, but we’ve yet to see a Jumbo-Visma victory.

When asked if she feels pressured to perform and deliver a win, she responded with these wise words: “The pressure is only as high as you put it on yourself.”

Vos, of course, is the winningest cyclist of all time. Now in her 17th year as a professional, her palmares includes well over 500 wins, including 11 world championship titles, two Olympic gold medals, about a dozen Grand Tour wins, and victories at just about every race on the calendar.

Pressure? To her, it’s just a word, and the wrong one at that.

“Pressure may not be quite the right word, but there is always a certain tension, a certain will to perform,” she explained.

“I want it —the good result—for myself, but of course also for the people I work with. You know you’ve done a lot in the preparation, you’ve been working towards it, and then of course you want a beautiful outcome. And I think you need that healthy tension to perform well. If I don't have that tension, then I'm not ready. I need that little bit of nervousness.”

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Le Tour de France Femmes

Having been a crucial advocate behind La Course, the single-day race that would grow into the eight-day Tour de France Femmes that’s slated for July, Vos is pleased with the event ahead.

“I think this is a very nice development. La Course was a great milestone for the sport and I also enjoyed riding those races because you noticed right away that they added a certain cachet, a certain value to the calendar,” Vos said.

“It is wonderful that ASO was willing to take this step and recognized that the sport can handle it and that the outside world looked at them and said it was time for an actual, full women’s Tour. It will be very special to be part of the first Tour de France for women and to be in that peloton

But is eight days enough?

Given the limited team resources, relatively small team rosters and the tight race calendar, Vos is of the opinion that it is.

“If I look at the way things are right now, I think the choice of an eight-day race is a good place to start,” she said.

Vos is convinced that the physical ability of the riders to race for two or more weeks is certainly there, but the team structures and resources aren’t there to support it. Teams aren’t large enough to send separate delegations for the Giro, the Tour de France, the Women’s Tour of Britain and the Scandinavian races, nor can you expect any one racer to ride them all.

“It would be a real shame if the whole calendar gets upset by the addition of a new stage race,” Vos pointed out. “Plus, I don’t know if going longer makes the racing any more interesting.”

As for her Jumbo-Visma team, Vos said they’re aiming for stage victory. The team doesn’t house any pure climbing specialists, and with the final two stages of the Tour suited for just that, Vos said they’re just being realistic.

The yellow-and-black squad made its debut in women's racing only last season, and added American Coryn Labecki to co-captain alongside Vos for 2022. The shared leadership is not something we’ve seen often with Vos, who previously tended to be the sole centerpoint of her team. But with the addition of Labecki, the team now sports two potential ‘race finishers.’ Additionally, British talent Anna Henderson has been an indispensable rider for the team, both in her ability to support the sprinters as well as her own, strong breakaway capabilities.

“The team has an absolute ambition to continue to grow in the coming years, and so it’s necessary to have different top women who push each other and who can take part in the race finals,” the team captain said.

“With the strength of the competing teams, it is very valuable if you enter a final with several riders so that you can play the game. And so, for the team, I think it's a really nice goal, and also just a part of the development needed to be at the top.”

But with Vos absent from most of the season thus far, the Jumbo-Visma squad had a challenging spring. Vos did earn a podium at Gent-Wevelgem and a Top-10 at Strade Bianche, but we’ve yet to see a Jumbo-Visma victory.

When asked if she feels pressured to perform and deliver a win, she responded with these wise words: “The pressure is only as high as you put it on yourself.”

Vos, of course, is the winningest cyclist of all time. Now in her 17th year as a professional, her palmares includes well over 500 wins, including 11 world championship titles, two Olympic gold medals, about a dozen Grand Tour wins, and victories at just about every race on the calendar.

Pressure? To her it’s just a word and the wrong one at that.

“Pressure may not be quite the right word, but there is always a certain tension, a certain will to perform,” she explained.

“I want it —the good result—for myself, but of course also for the people I work with. You know you’ve done a lot in the preparation, you’ve been working towards it, and then of course you want a beautiful outcome. And I think you need that healthy tension to perform well. If I don't have that tension, then I'm not ready. I need that little bit of nervousness.”

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Cycling Weekly's North American Editor, Anne-Marije Rook is old school. She holds a degree in journalism and started out as a newspaper reporter — in print! She can even be seen bringing a pen and notepad to the press conference.

Originally from The Netherlands, she grew up a bike commuter and didn't find bike racing until her early twenties when living in Seattle, Washington. Strengthened by the many miles spent darting around Seattle's hilly streets on a steel single speed, Rook's progression in the sport was a quick one. As she competed at the elite level, her journalism career followed, and soon she became a full-time cycling journalist.