One-half of the 2020 Swiss Epic women’s champions has subsequently retired from professional mountain biking. She is Annika Langvad, one of the most decorated mountain bikers of her generation. The undisputed queen of marathon and stage racing.
In an elite career spanning a decade, Annika Langvad won the UCI Cross-Country World Championships (2016), the UCI Cross-Country Marathon World Championships (2011, 2012, 2014, 2017 and 2018), the Absa Cape Epic (2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019) and the Swiss Epic (2014 and 2020). In stage races, in particular, the Dane was virtually unbeatable, winning all 7 Epic Series events she started. Remarkably she did so with 4 different partners, most recently alongside the amazingly talented young American Haley Batten.
In September 2020 Langvad hung up her wheels, retiring from elite racing. “One of the main reasons for retiring from professional racing was to get a break from the constant pressure” she confessed. “Mainly, the pressure I put on myself. This pressure eventually left me struggling to perform at all. I needed a break from racing to get a chance to approach riding my bike differently, which I had been missing for a while.”
“When I go riding now, it feels different” Langvad allowed. “But, I still have to consciously catch myself not slipping into a bad mindset, when on my bike. It’s all a process. I retired and the next day I could stop thinking about goals, races and training, but it takes more than just a day to unwind from so many years of optimising, pushing, and perfecting myself. It is still very much in my DNA somewhere.”
“How much time I spend on my bike now differs a lot from week to week. I go very much by feel” she continued. “The good thing is that, very often, I go ride my bike because I feel a deep need for it, not because I have to. There’s a big difference and I really enjoy feeling the need and not the obligation. In January, I started at my very first job as a dentist. It’s been quite a transition and still is. It’s been very tough, but also very exciting to put my mind on something else. I commute to work by bike some days, and it’s so refreshing to start the day with a bit of exercise before a long day at the clinic.”
Her 2019 Absa Cape Epic winning partner, Anna van der Breggen, also recently announced that she will be retiring at the end of the 2021 season. The reigning World and Olympic Road champion remains one of Langvad’s closest confidants, as she revealed: “We didn’t actually talk specific dates, timelines or plans. But we did speak about life as a pro athlete as well as the internal and external pressures that comes with it. Being a pro athlete is a very special lifestyle and there’s only so many pro athletes in the world. Opening up and sharing experiences with someone who knows exactly what you are talking about and experiencing on a daily basis is extremely liberating. It creates a special bond, that sometimes leaves words unnecessary.”
“That is especially true, if you go through something as intense as a multi-day stage race together” she added. “Personally, I felt now was a good time for me to retire. I always had a pretty clear plan with dentistry waiting for me after my cycling career. Therefore, it was probably ‘easier’ for me to make the decision, than for most athletes who may have dedicated their entire life up until that point to their sport. I know Anna has a good plan for her future, transitioning into a new role as a sports director of her current team. I can’t wait to follow her next chapter in life.”
While Langvad is at the end of her professional career her 2020 Swiss Epic partner, Batten is just getting started. “I had such a good time racing Swiss Epic with Haley” Langvad reminisced. “Seeing how she’s excelling in the World Cups right now warms my heart. Needless to say, she’s super talented. She has a bright future ahead of her. She has a very relaxed way of approaching things, which I believe will take her far. It’s easy to get confused or derailed in the world of professional sport. Knowing what works for you and sticking to it even during tough times is not easy. A key part of this is having the right people around you. I believe Haley is good at navigating in this and that will take her far.”
With the Swiss Epic in mind, and their 2020 victory fresh in her memory, she reflected fondly of her time in Graubünden: “There are so many highlights of the race in Graubünden. I have to mention the stunning landscapes. It’s hard to find anywhere more beautiful in the world. Especially around that time of year, where the firsts hints of autumn start sneaking in. I simply love it.”
“Also, I love the feeling of the area being very rural with farms and field everywhere; then next to the field, you’ll find the most comfortable and welcoming accommodation” she praised. “I swear – in one of the hotels, I could pet a cow from my window. And then of course – the food! Having a proper Swiss breakfast before each stage is such a treat. All races in the Epic Series are super well organised but if you haven’t been to Switzerland the level of organisation in general will amaze you. Last but not least… trails like “The Hörnli Trail” are incredible. I can’t wait to get back on that trail at some point.”
“The Swiss Epic has a more relaxed vibe to it” Langvad explained, pointing out the differences between the two Epic Series events. “I believe it all comes down to time of year. Absa Cape Epic is early in the season, where everybody is hungry to get the racing underway. At the Swiss Epic the end of the season is just around the corner and that leaves many riders with a much more relaxed approach. But don’t be fooled – the pace it still very high at the sharp end of the field and those mountains certainly don’t climb themselves!”
“For us, Europeans, it’s also a challenge to get through Absa Cape Epic while avoiding stomach problems and the like” she expanded. “Racing is Switzerland is much closer to home and in an environment I’m used to. I wouldn’t say it’s easier to race Swiss Epic than Absa Cape Epic – it’s different, but also very tough.”
With more time on her hands, Langvad has had time to expand on her hobbies. “I’ve taken up a new hobby during Covid times” she smiled, in reference to spear fishing. “The water is still a bit too cold for me at this time of year. But I really like that spear fishing is an activity completely different to cycling. I don’t really feel any advantage of having a high lung capacity or breathing control though, because when you’re working hard on the bike every ounce of tissue is screaming for oxygen. You have absolutely no control. When snorkelling however, you really have to exert a great deal of control over breathing or the desire to breathe. For me, the exiting part about spear fishing is the completely new environment under the water and a new way of experiencing nature.”
“I’ll have to come back with stories of my catches (hopefully) later this year” she promised with a laugh.