With Annemiek van Vleuten retiring at the end of 2023, the spotlight is on defending Tour de France Femmes champion Demi Vollering more than ever. At the top of her game with few legitimate challengers, the 27-year-old must now figure out how to derive motivation in the absence of their rivalry.
“I know that a rivalry is always good because you always strive to be the best you always want to be, to beat the best. That’s a clear goal. But I also know … in the coming season, I will probably be the rider who most girls want to beat. So this is again, something different. And I need to see how this feels in the races and how that goes,” she says.
“But also this will be something different again, but I think I learned from that … it wasn’t Annemiek being the best last year. If it was, for example, Elisa Longo Borghini, then she was the one we all want to beat.
“This is also something new for me, of course. But that’s also something that I need to find out. I mean, I want to stay the best, so this is a big motivation for me. I want to keep on winning,” she says.
However, Vollering is keen to take the pressure off achieving specific results and prefers to focus instead on maintaining a positive environment within the team and in her own life.
“I have just a really good team around me where I can trust and I think also I need to focus a lot on having fun with the girls and then I hope everything else will also come a little bit with it. Just enjoying my time with the team and those things and then if you’re feeling good, the balance is right between like the sport you do like training a lot but also feeling good, feeling happy,” she says.
“If everything is right and the team and stuff then then I think it’s easier. Then you don’t really think, ‘I cannot lose today’ or ‘I really need to win’. Then it’s just making a lot of fun in the race together and trusting that it will have a good end.”
Vollering is right not to rest on her laurels, the level within the women’s peloton is growing every year and other riders are quickly catching up to her.
“I think I’m growing but the others are also growing. And this is also nice. In women’s cycling, you see a lot that the level is going up, up, up, up. So you never know,” she says. “Also some riders last year had a lot of bad luck, for example, Elisa Longo Borghini who would normally be a big rival for me in the races. Kasia [Niewiadoma] already showed for example in the Gravel World Championships, that she is in good shape and that she is also a rider to watch out for.”
While others have already started their season in Australia or Mallorca, and some of her teammates will head to the UAE in a few weeks, Vollering says she will wait until Het Nieuwsblad to start her 2024 season. Her programme for this year will look very similar to last with a Classics campaign as well as La Vuelta before an altitude camp as a build-up to the Olympics and Tour de France Femmes.
Her teammate, Lotte Kopecky, has already reserved the right not to race the Tour should the Olympics prove too strenuous, but Vollering says she is buoyed by the prospect of a home Grand Départ: “For me, it helps a lot that the Tour de France starts this year in Holland. This will be so special for me that even if I’m tired after the Olympics I will have a lot of motivation to go to the Tour after that,” she says.
“So I’m not so scared of this but that’s just because I think the Tour de France will be not so difficult for me to find motivation for. But it’s for sure a challenge because it’s pretty fast after each other.”
For now, Vollering is still recovering from a rollercoaster winter off the back of a whirlwind season with highlights including the Ardennes triple and Tour de France Femmes title.
“My winter was pretty busy. So maybe the feeling is not yet as good as last season in the winter. But then it’s still January so I cannot say yet. You really feel in the first race how your form really is. But I think it’s still going in the right direction and still going a little bit up. I hope so,” she says.