Well before this year, when she joined the star ensemble that is SD Worx, Mischa Bredewold made a name for herself with long and daring attacks. The approach brought her stage victories at the Baloise Belgium Tour in 2021 and the Simac Ladies Tour in 2022. But both because of her own exploits and the jersey she now wears, Bredewold found she stands out more to rival riders these days. That makes her trademark attacking style of racing a bit more difficult, but being part of SD Worx also brings new opportunities.
“I have never been a sprinter for a big bunch sprint so I can’t win races like that. It’s also not that I make attacking consciously my trademark. It’s just something I like doing. Since I was a young rider, I have always done this. Back then it didn’t amount to anything because I was always dropped,” she laughs from her parents’ home in Amersfoort.
Bredewold’s career is one of steady progression, interrupted. In 2018, her second year as a junior, the results were starting to come when a serious accident — she was hit by a truck while out training — almost ended her career. She suffered three broken vertebrae, six broken ribs, a broken pelvis and serious brain injury; she’s not eager to talk about it, because she refuses to let even a serious setback deter or define her.
“I don’t want to be the Mischa of the accident,” she says. “I don’t want to use it as an excuse for anything. I must say that I was walking away from even discussing it until recently. Now I start to accept it more and more as part of my career. I also try to look back at that period [of recovery] with a sense of pride but it’s not intrinsically my motivation to do what I do now. The day after the accident the sun rose and it did again today.”
That’s not to say that she was unaffected. “Of course, my perspective on life has changed. I have become a more grateful person,” she says. “After having seen the other side of life, there is more of a shine to where I am now. But it doesn’t define me. In the Thüringen Rundfahrt I did think about it when I won. That hardly ever happens. I found it really special that on that day I could appreciate where I come from and where I am right now.”
New team, new successes
Winning a stage at Thüringen was something she didn’t expect would happen in her first season with SD Worx, where a plethora of super champions win races on a weekly, or even more frequent, basis.
“I knew what I signed up for when joining SD Worx. I knew I would have a supportive role so I could not even have dreamt of winning two races already [Bredewold also won Volta Limburg Classic]. Having these two wins feel like a bonus because I know hierarchy comes naturally with sport, especially with riders like Demi [Vollering], Lorena [Wiebes], or Lotte [Kopecky] on your team. I never had the illusion I would be a team leader here.”
Bredewold comes from the Parkhotel Valkenburg team, a Dutch talent factory where her current teammates Wiebes, Vollering, and Femke Markus also come from. She sometimes still has to pinch herself about being part of SD Worx now.
“I sometimes still have these ‘waking up’ moments when I realize I am part of this team. At weird moments like riding in the convoy to the start of a race I feel that it’s unbelievable I am here now. I do realize it’s very special.”
Finding new ways to win
Being on SD Worx with all those big stars can have its disadvantages. One of them is being watched, even when you’re not named Demi or Lotte or Lorena.
“It’s becoming more and more difficult to win a race by attacking like I always try to do and that has to do with the jersey I wear,” Bredewold observes. “SD Worx riders just don’t get that gap easily.” But she’s also gaining respect and attention on her own. “The riders in the peloton also start to know me personally now and won’t give me that much room anymore. That means that I just have to become stronger like the big champions who can do that,” she smiles.
Being on women’s cycling’s super team also has its advantages. Bredewold not only learns from the experience of the other riders, but having a strong team in a race also means opportunities arise for her, like they did in Thüringen last month.
“There are fewer moments to attack now compared to when I was with Parkhotel. [But] being on SD Worx also means riders like Lotte can help set up an attack and protect it. We discuss these things on the team. I can’t take these decisions on a whim anymore. I said to our sports director Lars Boom where I thought would be an opportunity and asked Lotte to do that leadout for me.”
She’s also learning when is the most opportune time to take those chances. “You feel quite soon whether it was indeed the right moment. Two years ago, I would just go and then do a 40-kilometer ‘chasse patate’. Those make you stronger too. By having a lot of these ‘wrong moments’ to attack you know when the right ones come along more and more. It worked really well this time in Thüringen.”
Bredewold just turned 23 and is in her third pro season. Still, she knows she has a lot of room to grow. She lost two consecutive years of her career: in 2019 she was still recovering from the crash injuries, and her 2020 season on the amateur scene saw only a handful of races due to COVID restrictions. Being part of the best team in women’s cycling is the right place for her right now, even if it means a steep learning curve.
“When we had the first team training camps in December it was a bit daunting to see how fast riders like Demi or Marlen (Reusser) are uphill. I saw right away that everyone here works very hard and that all the success doesn’t just come for free. I did surprise myself though with the speed I adjusted to that level. I like racing and learn a lot in racing but the development goes faster than I thought.”
Although Bredewold has adopted the professional mindset to match her job, she also does not want to lose the fun that drew her into the sport in the first place.
“I was seven when I started. My older brother was into cycling and I wanted to do what he did. I wasn’t really good as a kid but I loved it. Cycling was about playing and having fun. For me that is the most important thing, to just have fun. Of course, I have to live as a professional athlete now but I still love riding my bike and race.
“You see that development starts younger and younger now. I feel that up to and also including the junior category fun is paramount. It’s not your job. It doesn’t have to be complicated at all. I had a normal life when I was a teenager. I feel that missing out on that because you take it too seriously too young will catch up with you later. You can be serious later and even then, there is room for fun. I like to have fun in races. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not all fun and play at SD Worx because you have to get results too, but never forget the fun that got you into this sport in the first place.”
This weekend SD Worx with Vollering, Wiebes, Markus, Lonneke Uneken and Bredewold forms a strong block at the Dutch national championships in Sittard, Limburg. The Dutch nationals are almost an open World Championship sometimes with the wealth of talent the country produces in women’s cycling. Indeed, the time trial on Wednesday featured a 42 km course (the same course and distance as the men), where Bredewold finished sixth against a top field. Saturday’s road race, a 153 km test, is next.
“Cycling is part of our DNA,” Mischa says. “Cycling is a relatively big sport here as well and all the talent there is lifts everyone up. There is just a lot of competition to get results. We have a strong team as SD Worx where each of us can win the national title. We race as a collective and that enables us to anticipate too. Lorena and Demi are the big favorites though,” she explains.
Progressing with the sport
Bredewold has taken a step-by-step approach to her development, but the steps now get progressively bigger. So do the stakes: she hopes to win big races in the future too.
“I really took a step up in professionalization in this team,” she says of the move from Parkhotel. “It’s really a job now and that comes with more pressure too. I learned how to win races and although I didn’t win the big races yet, I see from very close by how it’s done. I hope that in the future I can for the victory in races like Flanders or Amstel Gold Race. Flanders was always the pinnacle for me, but Amstel is becoming more and more important. I also hope to keep progressing in stage races and time trialling.”
There are more races for women and the development in the sport is going fast but Bredewold also sees the issues that come with rapid growth.
“We have a great set of races now but there are new races every year. Some are new and others are copies of the men’s races. There are more races but not four or five new riders per team every year. We are going a bit too fast now. Especially due to the two COVID years [where junior women barely raced] we are a bit behind. We will catch up but it takes time.”
She is outspoken about women’s cycling’s future and already corrects me when I say ‘women’s cycling.’
“I don’t like the concept ‘women’s cycling.’ When cycling is then automatically the men’s variety it makes them the standard. It’s a fact that men are stronger. That’s got nothing to do with equality. I don’t feel women should have a 300 kilometer-long Milan-Sanremo. We are not there yet.
“The development in men’s cycling has been going much longer and you can’t catch up in a few years. I also don’t know if we should. I am not against long races but in the Tour de France, you saw many crashes in that long stage. What I do want is just one concept called cycling. That there will be differences in that one concept is fine but please let’s just call it cycling. Period.”
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