Thanks to an excellent final weekend, Demi Vollering was honored as the winner of the Tour de France Femmes on Sunday. She laid the foundation for success in the dark winter months and in finding the perfect combination of work and relaxation.
When Vollering has crossed the finish line in her yellow speed suit and drop helmet and has seen that her time trial around Pau is good enough to secure the overall victory in the Tour de France Femmes, she lets herself go on the warm asphalt of the Rue de Liege falls and sits for several minutes, arms over her knees and her head between her legs.
Around her it is teeming with photographers, who are jostling for the best shot. With deep breaths she tries to recover from half an hour in which she gave everything one last time, after a chaotic week of racing through the south of France. When teammate Lotte Kopecky falls around her neck, she suddenly seems to realize what she has done. “Oh my god”, she shouts first, followed by a loud “yes!”.
She has to be helped up by two men, her legs are so soured. She is immediately handed a yellow bicycle, on which she can go to the stage on the Place de Verdun. There it is full of fans and friends from the Netherlands who chant her name. With the yellow sweater around her shoulders, she waves at them with a broad smile.
Receive notifications of important developments in cyclingStay informed with notifications
It must feel surreal to suddenly have realized at the age of 26 what you dreamed of as a little girl. There was a period in her life when she had said goodbye to that dream, because she thought she was too old to go far as a professional athlete. She skated creditably, became South Holland champion in the winter of 2017/2018 thanks to a strong 1,500 meters and 3 kilometers, but realized that she would not reach the ultimate in that sport.
So she chose a life as a florist, after studying Flower Design at the Wellant College in Rijswijk, following in the footsteps of her parents. Kees and Germa Vollering run a hydrangea nursery where the eldest of their four children could regularly be found. She also worked at two florists and took a flower arranging course. In the winter she skated, in the summer she cycled. To keep fit. There was nothing more to it.
Demi Vollering just after the finish of the individual time trial in Pau. Photo: Getty Images
Vollering recovered very quickly from exertion
That changed when she met her boyfriend. Jan de Voogd, an amateur cyclist himself, had seen something special during a weekend cycling in the Ardennes, now six years ago. After an hour-long ride, he had to push her up the climbs, but the next day she had recovered from that effort and was able to get back on the bike without muscle pain. That was when he advised her to try her luck in cycling.
It was not easy to get her career off the ground. “I have another brother and two sisters, and we are gardeners’ children,” writes Vollering on her website. “That’s why it was difficult to cross the whole country for competitions.” When exercise tests showed that she had what it takes to become a professional cyclist, she stopped working and focused fully on a career in top sport.
A move to Switzerland after her boyfriend turned out to be a golden move. There she found the ideal terrain to work on her climbing abilities. Moreover, she could indulge herself. As a child she could always be found in nature, says her mother Germa. There she relaxes. And De Voogd: “Demi is nowhere happier than in the vast nature.”
In a van converted into a camper, they regularly go into the mountains with dog Flo to train and explore stages, and then enjoy the most beautiful views. It turns out to be the perfect combination of work and relaxation. Trainer Anna van der Breggen takes this into account when writing her schedules.
She doesn’t always have to go out with the team. Because she still knows from her own career how important it is to spend enough time with loved ones, and not just racing. “This combination works perfectly,” said Van der Breggen on Saturday at the top of the Tourmalet.
Demi Voller seized power in the Tour de France Femmes on Saturday in the stage with arrival on the Tourmalet. Photo: Getty Images
Matter of time for the changing of the guard
Where Vollering initially thought she was made for the fierce efforts of the classics – after victories in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and La Course in 2021 – last year it turned out that she also digests the longer climbs well. She came up short against Van Vleuten in the first edition of the Tour de France Femmes, but it was only a matter of time before she would knock her forty-year-old competitor off the throne.
In May, on the last day of the Vuelta, it became clear how things were this season. Vollering was almost a minute faster than Van Vleuten on the final climb to Lagos de Covadonga, but she lost the lap because she had fallen behind during a bathroom break the day before.
Last winter she trained hard for the first time in her career. Previously, she was hardly on the bike in November and December. When it was raining and cold and she didn’t feel like it, an hour’s running or mountain biking was enough, says her boyfriend. But now, precisely in those dark months, she laid the foundation for an unprecedented season. Sessions with a sports psychologist also brought what she was looking for. She learned to deal with the pressure she put on herself. For the first time in her career, she started a Grand Tour as the top favourite.
The first four days of the Tour everything went according to plan. Vollering put on sprints for her winning teammates and was unlucky. In the fourth stage to Rodez, she even gave Van Vleuten a pinprick by sprinting away from her for two seconds in the finish street. A day later she received a twenty count from the competition jury when she returned from a flat tire behind the team leader’s car.
Voller felt so relaxed that she became nervous
In the past she might have been put off by that. But not anymore. She had only one goal all week: to strike on the Col du Tourmalet. She pulverized her competitors, making the time trial a formality on Sunday. Van Vleuten lost more than 2.5 minutes.
On the morning of the time trial in Pau she felt very relaxed. So relaxed, in fact, that it actually made her nervous. She needed that tension to achieve a top performance. She came second, behind teammate Marlen Reusser. Van Vleuten again lost minutes and even missed the podium with a fourth place. She crossed the finish line shaking her head and had to be comforted by her teammates. Her era will soon be over. Vollering has definitively taken over the baton. With her team SD Worx she dominated the Tour, with four stage victories, and the green and yellow jersey on all days.
Vollering said at the closing press conference two hours after the finish that she still couldn’t believe what she had done. Before that, she needed some rest. She will be on the road with the camper for the next few days. Together with her boyfriend, family and her dog into nature. To then fly to Glasgow for the World Cycling Championships. There she will again be the top favorite at the start.
Last year, Demi Vollering finished second in the Tour de France Femmes. Photo: Getty Images