When Marianne Vos decides she’s had enough, she stands up on the pedals and rides away from the peloton with a calm rhythm that seems to indicate she is feeling no pain. The break is a few minutes up the road and she reaches it quickly. For a second, I think she might ride straight through it. But she doesn’t.
We’re watching this unfold on a large flat screen TV in a skybox just above the finish line in Valkenburg. When the peloton comes through, all thirty of us rush out onto the balcony and hang over the edge, straining to be the first to see them approach. Below us, suited men drink beer and a little girl with a pink noisemaker is perched on her father’s shoulders, erupting in excitement at the spandex land-rocket ladies blow by her.
Behind her, a tiny baby sleeps in a bassinet parked near a table. From my position above, I can look directly down at the baby and see his arms raised in fists above his head as he sleeps. He’s as excited about the World Championships as anyone, he just doesn’t know it yet.
Vos will win by a sizable margin - big enough to take a flag from a spectator as she rides up the finishing straight. Big enough to pedal in holding it out into the wind while she celebrates the end of a curse that must have kept her up at night: five times she’s tried to win this race, five times she’s come in second.
Now sitting here watching Vos win in the manner that she does, it’s hard to imagine her ever losing.
On the final lap we pressed against the balcony wall and leaned. Two small blond girls to my left jumped up and down, up and down, up and down. The spectators lined against the finishing straight below pounded the side of the fences with open palms until a deafening roar greeted the orange-clad victor.
The Dutch love them some Marianne Vos.
Up in the skybox, it’s hard not to be happy for the new champion although I am hosted by Specialized-lululemon, who would have preferred to see one of their own on the top step. The thing is, no matter Vos’ team or country colors, everyone in the skybox realizes that she represents a hopeful future for a sport that has historically struggled. If women’s cycling needs a hero to maintain the momentum that has been building over the last few years, surely Marianne Vos is up to the task.
We love her not only for her superhuman performances: we love her because she rides with that Dutch hard-woman style that is impossible not to respect. She wins honestly and with emotion. She wins with panache. She paints her fingernails orange. She is humble and hard-working. She has the respect of the peloton and therefore ours as well.
Later at the dinner table, the great German champion Ina-Yoko Teutenberg will say, “It was a good race. The strongest one won today.” To my right, Evelyn Stevens nods solemnly in agreement from behind an overly full glass of Riesling, her first drink in nearly 11 months. Stevens looks down into her wine, apparently contemplating her disappointing performance in the race, “Motivation for next year,” she says and smiles, “Motivation for next year.”
The talk turns back to mostly unmentionable topics not fit for print and plans for the evening’s festivities which include dancing and probably more overly-full glasses of wine. The season is over. Ten months of discipline and airplanes and hotel rooms and crashes and victories and endless travel have come to a close. Stevens will head to New York to visit family and friends and then back to Girona to spend quality time with her boyfriend and pet turtles (yes, really, pet turtles). Teutenberg will drive an hour to Dusseldorf to meet her family and take her mother on a trip, then fly back to the states where she spends most of her time.
But first? There are dance clubs in Maastricht waiting for these ladies to launch an attack.
2013 will be here before we know it.