It’s easy to forget that this is just Demi Vollering’s fifth season as a professional cyclist. At 26 years old, the Dutchwoman now has 27 wins in her career, none bigger than last week’s Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.
It’s been a speedy rise through the ranks for a rider who, until 2018, wasn’t sure she wanted to be a pro cyclist, and who is now the best racer in the peloton.
So how did she get here? And where might she be headed?
Like most people, Adriana Geertruida “Demi” Vollering started riding bikes when she was just a young kid, and even started doing some races while she was in school. But it wasn’t until she was 16 that she joined her first real cycling club, RWC Ahoy. She raced at the elite level for the first time in 2015, tackling the Boels Rental Hills Classic aged 18, but at that stage, she was far from committed to life as a pro cyclist.
For several years Vollering worked as a florist, flower arranger, and helped her father and uncle in the nursery they ran. In 2017 she even finished an official qualification in Flower Design. But in the years that followed, she’d start to invest more time in her burgeoning cycling career.
From full-time work split across two florists, she dropped down to just a couple days a week, to focus on cycling. And then, at the suggestion of her boyfriend (now fiancé) and manager, Jan de Voogd, she quit her job altogether. She wanted to give cycling a proper go.
In 2018, Vollering took her first meaningful steps towards a professional career, joining the SwaboLadies.nl local team. In that first season she posted a bunch of results that caught the eye of bigger teams: second on the final stage of the Tour of Uppsala – a UCI 2.2 race in Sweden – and then four top-10s at the UCI 2.1 Tour de l’Ardèche in France.
In late 2018, Dutch UCI team Parkhotel Valkenburg announced that it had signed Vollering on a two-year contract, for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. They’d been the first team to contact Vollering.
In her first season as a pro, Vollering didn’t take long to impress. In April she finished seventh at the Amstel Gold Race, fifth in Fléche Wallonne, and then, most impressively of all, third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, winning a reduced-bunch sprint. She was doing all three races for the first time. Her potential in the Ardennes Classics was immediately clear.
She didn’t have to wait long for her first professional victory – the prologue at the Festival Elsy Jacobs in Luxembourg, which landed her second overall. Another victory followed later that season: a win at the Giro dell’Emilia in Italy, outsprinting one of the biggest names in the sport, Elisa Longo Borghini. The future was looking very bright for Vollering.
In the COVID-interupted season of 2020, Vollering only completed 15 race days – roughly a third of the 42 she’d done in her neo-pro year. But still she managed some impressive results: third at La Course by Le Tour de France – the one-day precursor to the Tour de France Femmes – third as well at Flèche Wallonne, and seventh at both Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders.
In late 2020, Team SD Worx (then known as Boels-Dolmans) announced that it had signed Vollering for the next two years. She’d had a contract with Parkhotel Valkenburg for the 2021 season, but after the two teams negotiated, the smaller team let Vollering go, to ensure she’d have the best chance to develop in the seasons ahead.
“Over the next few years, we think Demi can grow into a rider who could follow in the footsteps of Anna van der Breggen”, Boels-Dolmans team manager Danny Stam said at the time. “In the Classics, she has already proven her class, but she also has the potential to compete with the best in stage races.” As we now know, Stam was spot-on in his prediction.
Joining the WorldTour with SD Worx in 2021 was a significant milestone for Vollering. Not only was she racing with one of the top teams in the sport, but her performance would mirror that step up.
After a couple of close finishes in her beloved Ardennes – second at Brabantse Pijl where Ruth Winder beat her in a photo finish, and second too at Amstel Gold – Vollering then took the biggest win of her career. At Liége-Bastogne-Liége, after a lead-out from mentor Anna van der Breggen, Vollering won the sprint ahead of some of the sport’s toughest competitors: Annemiek van Vleuten, Longo Borghini, and Kasia Niewiadoma.
More success would follow. After a podium finish the previous year, Vollering returned to La Course and won that – again in a reduced-bunch sprint – and then, in a sure sign of her promise in stage races, she finished third overall at the Giro d’Italia Donne and won the Women’s Tour of Britain off the back of a time trial victory.
Vollering would continue on her impressive trajectory in 2022. She finished second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the same at Amstel Gold, won Brabantse Pijl after being so narrowly beaten a year earlier, then took third-place finishes at both Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Her stage racing prowess continued to develop, too, winning all three stages and the overall at the Itzulia Women. And then came the Tour de France Femmes, one of her biggest goals yet.
On the queen stage, Vollering was the only rider able to follow when pre-race favourite and fellow Dutchwoman, Van Vleuten, attacked on the third-to-last climb. She battled admirably to stay with Van Vleuten, but was ultimately dropped on the penultimate ascent as Van Vleuten rode away to win the stage and the Tour.
Vollering would end the week in second overall, with second-place finishes on the two hardest stages, and the QOM jersey as a consolation prize. But the biggest prize of all had eluded her.
While Vollering has made notable progress from year to year, she’s had no bigger step-up than in the off-season of 2022-23. Vollering was the rider of the Spring Classics, winning five of her first eight races, including all three Ardennes Classics – Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Vollering’s early-season dominance sparked questions about whether she’d peaked too early, but those fears proved unfounded. She was the best climber at the Vuelta Femenina in May, winning the two mountain-top finishes, and only lost the overall to Van Vleuten thanks to an ill-timed nature break. Through May and June she also won two stages of Itzulia Women, two stages and the overall at Vuelta a Burgos, and then the Dutch road title for the first time.
But despite all her success in the first half of 2023, the 26-year old still had unfinished business. She came into the Tour de France Femmes as equal-favourite with Van Vleuten, who’d just won the Giro d’Italia Donne in commanding fashion.
The pair traded blows early in the race, with Vollering looking the stronger of the two on the short climbs, but the real battle would have to wait until the Col du Tourmalet on the penultimate stage.
The pair got clear on the Col d’Aspin, with Kasia Niewadoma for company, before dropping back to the chase group on approach to the Tourmalet. And when that group reached the final 6 km of the legendary climb, Vollering made her move. Van Vleuten couldn’t follow, nor could anyone else, and Vollering caught and passed Niewiadoma to win the stage by almost two minutes.
Second place in the final-stage time trial saw Vollering extend her overall lead to win the Tour by more than three minutes. Van Vleuten would end the race in fourth overall.
In five short years, Vollering has gone from promising neo-pro to winner of the Tour de France Femmes. So where to from here?
Most immediately, Vollering is due to line up for the Netherlands at the Cycling World Championships in Scotland, where she’ll race both the time trial and road race. She isn’t the big favourite for either race, but few would be surprised to see her leave Glasgow in rainbows.
Vollering will race on with SD Worx in 2024 and further success is all but assured for the Dutchwoman. She’ll start the season as the best Ardennes rider in the peloton, one of the best Classics riders in general, and the best stage racer. Defending her Tour de France Femmes title will surely be a goal, but the other ‘Grand Tours’ – the Giro Donne and the Vuelta Femenina – will surely pique her interest too, given she’s yet to win either. Expect Vollering to line up for the Netherlands at the Paris Olympics too.
Looking further ahead, the 26-year-old has plenty of time to round out her palmares as she sees fit. She’s a great climber, a strong time-trialist, and she has a formidable sprint from a reduced bunch. As Danny Stam noted in 2020, the similarities with Vollering’s mentor and now coach, Anna der Breggen, are considerable.
Van der Breggen finished her career at 31 years old, with 62 victories to her name. Among them were two world titles, four Giri Donne, the Tour of Flanders, Strade Bianche, and a gold medal in the Olympic road race. Vollering will surely be looking towards similar achievements as she plans out her future.
Wherever she goes from here, Vollering has much to be proud of. After an impressive rise through the ranks, she’s now at the top of the sport, winner of the biggest race on the calendar. Not bad for someone who, not that long ago, was working as a florist, and wasn’t sure she even wanted to be a pro cyclist.
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