Anna Van Der Breggen knows she cannot be promised a fairytale ending to her career but the double world champion is determined to go out at the top of her game.
The 30-year-old has said this year will be her last – a season she will spend in the rainbow stripes of the road and time trial world champion and in which she will defend her Olympic title before becoming a sports director with the SD Worx team.
There were several factors in her decision. Van Der Breggen is keen to start a family, she wants to find new ways of developing her rapidly-changing sport, but mostly she wants to climb off the bike before she loses the love for it.
“This year was special for me because of the Olympics,” said Van Der Breggen, nominated for the Laureus world sportswoman of the year award after her double success at last year’s world championships.
“You have that one big goal in mind. If I don’t really feel that anymore, if I don’t feel the motivation to win something, I will be a less good cyclist and I wouldn’t like that.
“Just to ride but to know I could have trained better but didn’t. Those were my thoughts – how long can I keep myself motivated to be the best cyclist there is?
“Now I’m looking forward to new things. I thought ‘this is the moment to do something different’.”
Van Der Breggen – who has won virtually every race that matters in a glittering career – says becoming a sports director is a natural move, a way of using her experience even as she steps away from racing.
Female sports directors remain in the minority across the sport. This year Cherie Pridham joined Israel Start-Up Nation to become the first female director on the men’s WorldTour, but the majority of coaches are male in women’s cycling too.
Van Der Breggen said it was “strange” there were not more women in the job, and said teams in both men’s and women’s cycling would benefit from having a mix.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl, it matters what you are saying,” she said.
“You have women who are good at this and also guys that are good at this. It is strange that the guy’s teams don’t have more women. We are good at different things, I guess.
“We also need to have male directors in women’s cycling because we have different qualities. The best team is if you have all different people.”
Van Der Breggen began her season with a thrilling victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last month but, for all the quality of the racing, much of the focus afterwards was on the prize money – or relative lack of it – she received.
While Davide Ballerini picked up 16,000 euros (£13,775) for winning the men’s race, Van Der Breggen collected just 930 euros (£800) for her own victory.
In response, on the eve of International Women’s Day, a crowdfunding campaign raised almost 26,000 euros (£22,385) to boost the prize fund for the women’s Strade Bianche on Saturday.
The end result meant the final prize fund of 31,876 euros (£27,500) narrowly eclipsed that for the men’s race – and Van Der Breggen got to share the spoils as she took third place with team-mate Chantal Van Den Broek-Blaak on the top step of the podium.
In a week where the issue dominated conversation, Van Der Breggen said it was an important debate but not necessarily a straightforward one.
“We are used to it, it has been like this for 10 years,” she said. “But we are really happy that the race is there, that the organisers make the race happen.
“I truly believe they try their best more and more for women’s cycling. The race was broadcast on TV – we should see that as a victory and not just focus on what was not right.
“Of course there was a difference and that is strange but it’s not the main thing to focus on. If we keep on developing like we do now, for sure this will change very soon.”