Shouts of triumph, shock, even tears; emotion is not an unusual thing when a rider wins a race. But when Lucy van der Haar took the overall at February’s inaugural Dubai Women’s Tour, the British rider had every reason to sob.
A sprinter’s raison d’être is to win for the team, but van der Haar’s stage and general classification victory came nearly five years after her last. Now riding with Norwegian squad Hitec Products, the success could mark a new dawn for the 25-year-old, who attracted a good deal of hype as Lucy Garner (her maiden name), winning consecutive junior rainbow jerseys in 2011 and 12.
"Coming from the juniors there was so much expectation to come out and be this amazing rider, people expected more from me," explains van der Haar, now married to Dutch cyclo-cross star, Lars.
"I enjoyed every single moment of being a junior and being successful was really amazing, but afterwards that’s the point where the serious work happens, stepping up then made me realise.
"It feels like a completely different life. Obviously it was amazing and it was so super special to be able to wear the rainbow jersey, but life happens.
"I struggled a lot for quite a few years and it’s only since I moved to Hitec that I’ve started thinking this is where I am, this is the level I am at, so let’s work from here and see what I can do.
"That’s why I was so emotional, it was like finally I was doing it for me, I had trained really hard for it, and everything came together which I felt previous years hadn’t, that’s why it was so emotional, I just couldn’t control it."
Despite the struggles, van der Haar began her senior career well, winning a stage at the Tour of Chongming Island early in her first year with Argos-Shimano. The next season brought the Leicester-born rider 13 top-10s, including four at the inaugural Women’s Tour, where she finished seventh on GC. There was more of the same the following season, including stage victory at La Route de France, and her upward trajectory seemed assured. In terms of results, she finished 2015 way ahead of all who had finished in the top 10 behind her in Valkenburg at the 2012 junior Worlds. Even now, only two of those women have more wins than her.
However, van der Haar’s big-time move to Wiggle-High5 for the 2016 season coincided with a drop off in both results and number of race days. This was especially true in 2017, when she was joined on the British registered team by her sister, Grace, and raced only 23 days.
"Obviously we’d been racing for years, and to go into a team with the [big] names we learnt so much, and I think that helped me know where to be in the peloton and tactics wise," she says.
"But at the same time I’m not at that level, so I didn’t get as much racing as I wanted. You have girls that love to train, and then you have girls that love to race and I’m like that. I love to race and I didn’t race as much as I wanted to in the years with Wiggle."
In the first two of her three years they had 15 riders, increasing to 17 in 2018, so could they have run a second programme for the younger riders?
"It’s hard because Rochelle [Gilmore, team manager] wanted the best team in the world, so maybe not a second programme, but less of the top. When you have so many girls wanting to win, and who can win, that makes it difficult, and we had so many good riders I didn’t have a chance to get in the selection, and [if I did] I would have been the worker.
"You have to race to get better and especially in Holland, the racing is so different and it’s always aggressive and you always have to be at the front, and when you don’t have that in the legs it makes it really difficult to progress.”
With restricted opportunities to progress and her love of racing being unfulfilled, van der Haar was forced to reassess her future.
"Oh yeah, definitely,” she responds when asked whether she ever considered the prospect of retirement. “Yeah, if Hitec didn’t ask if I wanted to be on the team I probably would have stopped a couple of years ago. I was at
the lowest low, and I didn’t think I could get any better.
"Having someone come and say we want you, we see potential, that really sparked something in me, so I thought, OK let’s have some fun, because once you’ve lost the fun there’s nearly no point in doing it.
"I really enjoy going out on my bike and pushing myself, I’ve changed coaches and she’s really helped me. Every year I’m a bit more professional, I’m relying more on me and my coach, now it’s more focus on what I need to do.
"Little changes have made me into a more positive and more accepting person with where I am at the moment." Hitec Products are not the strongest of teams, and van der Haar knows results in the bigger races against stronger squads will be difficult to come by, but she’s still riding and feeling positive.
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Owen Rogers is an experienced journalist, covering professional cycling and specialising in women's road racing. He has followed races such as the Women's Tour and Giro d'Italia Donne, live-tweeting from Women's WorldTour events as well as providing race reports, interviews, analysis and news stories. He has also worked for race teams, to provide post race reports and communications.
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