INTERVIEW WITH ANNE TERPSTRA - RACING IS JUST ONE PART OF AN ATHLETE´S WORK
Anne Terpstra is currently one of the most successful women mountain bike riders in the world. After winning numerous national events, the Dutch athlete won the Cross Country World Cup in 2019. In 2020 , she took second place at the European Championships. However, aside from sporting success, Covid-19 has been a major issue for her. The Ghost Factory Racing Team rider contracted the coronavirus in March 2020 and had to completely change her plans for the season.
Anne, the 2020 racing season was a strange one for top athletes. Looking back, how would you summarise it?
Anne Terpstra: “Weird” is maybe the best way for me to describe it. For a long time, we had no idea how things would pan out. As I was ill, it was kind of easier for me, I didn’t have to think about things as much. If I had been fully fit, this would have been different. However, I still had to remain flexible and keep adapting my plans according to the constantly changing situation. Thinking back about it now, I’m just happy that we were able to get out and do sport at all – and that there were a few cool races at least. Otherwise it would have been really tough.
You contracted Covid-19 in March? How did the illness affect your training and your plans for the year?
Initially, I had no other option. I just had to stop and listen to my body. I’m glad that I was patient and that I was not under any pressure to get better quick. But it took such a long time. And I felt very tired. At the start, it wasn't even clear that I had Covid-19. Back in March 2020, relatively little was known about the illness. It was only once I had the antibody test that we understood that I had come in contact with the virus. That spring, I tried to start training again several times, but it was just not happening. But, I got better and my body started to recover so that I could start to shape up. It took a long time to get my full strength back though.
“I was scared at first, because it was a very unpleasant illness.”
One of the problems with Covid-19 is that you don’t know what the long-term consequences might be. Athletes are particularly at risk, as they tend to be quick to switch back into normal mode and can push too much, too soon. How do you cope with the uncertainty of what the illness might have done to your body?
I was scared at first, because it was a very unpleasant illness. There were times when I was not able to breathe properly at night. It felt like after a hard run in sub-zero temperatures. My lungs were really burning. I was not able to do anything physical for weeks. Luckily for me, my trainer is a sports doctor. So, I trusted him, and knew that he would not let me start training too early. You need someone like this to tell you what’s what. It’s not possible to just decide for yourself.
“I entered my first race again in July in Czechoslovakia. The people there acted like there was no such thing as corona.”
How did you perceive the corona measures in place at races? A survey by the Cyclists' Alliance, an organization that represents professional cyclists in UCI Women's World Tour events, said that guidelines and protocols were harder to maintain in women’s racing than in men’s racing.
In mountain biking there is really no difference between men’s races and women’s races. During the races at the end of the year, I felt that everything was organised according to plan. We also introduced additional measures for our team, for example, we all got tested before a race and then kept very much to ourselves within the team. Some of the races at the start of the season were a bit strange though. In Germany, there were pretty strict regulations, both for racing and in everyday life. However, in July I attended a race in Czechoslovakia. The people there acted like there was no such thing as corona. I wore a face mask and people looked at me strangely. That was very weird. I considered whether taking part in race events was the right thing to do. As this also shows that you support these measures. It was difficult.
Do cancelled races mean a problem for you and other riders? For example, when it comes to sponsorship for next year?
When it comes to sponsors, sure, some teams have it somewhat easier than others. But there have been no major consequences. I was worried that it might really affect the smaller teams. But we’ve yet to hear that this might be the case. This is a relief. Our main sponsor – Ghost – quickly confirmed that it planned to continue supporting us, even if all racing is cancelled. As an athlete, it’s comforting to know this from the start. But there has to be give and take on both sides. When Ghost reduced its employees’ hours as part of the furlough arrangements, it was clear to us athletes that we would accept a pay cut. As things started to run well again, we were paid back in full though. In some ways, this is a complicated issue. Some people say: “If athletes are not racing, then surely they don’t deserve full pay”. I don’t support this view. If I have not put in the time and effort to train for a competition, there’s no point in joining the starting line-up. Racing is just one part of the work that an athlete does for a brand.
You are and have been involved in the development of the new Ghost bikes. How has the lack of races affected your work with the product designers?
It’s not had such a big impact. I was able to test out a lot more, because I was not travelling as much. And as I live in Waldsassen, where Ghost has its headquarters, it’s not so complicated. It was cool to race in both the first World Cups on a new bike, which went really well. If bike factors play a role, then this can only be a good thing. It’s a nice confirmation though, but not one that I depend on. I know that the bike is good and that I am happy with it.
„Wir als Sportler sind normale Menschen. Unser Leben ist nicht nur bunt, schön und „einfach“.“
Your sponsors need visibility, especially via social media. What do you do apart from racing?
There are always stories to tell. I went on the offensive against my illness. To fans, it might seem that everything is back to normal after my good finishes in the races. But it’s not like this though. They should also know what it was like in-between times. Athletes are just normal people. Our lives are not just bright, beautiful and ‘easy’. This is why it’s important to share and communicate this – via Instagram, Facebook or with a special video. This was a welcome solution for the pause in racing.
“I would be really sad if the games could not take place.”
I’m not sure if the Games are really going to take place. However, I feel that there is only one way to see it. And that is to train as if they are definitely going ahead. Otherwise, you only have to catch up later. My trainer and I have a plan and I know when and how I’m preparing. My approach is to plan concretely and to go for it, rather that swapping and changing between different options – this only drains energy. There’s a while to go to July yet and hopefully we will know more soon. I would be really sad if the games could not take place.
How do you think the sport of cycling is going to change? Will international travel decrease, say for example to training camps around the world?
Bike racing is definitely going to change. I hope that things might return to the way they were pre-corona at some point. I had always intended to spend this winter at home. However, the weather has been so bad that I’ve not been able to train properly. So we decided spontaneously to travel to Madeira. When we made the decision, the island was not considered at risk, but unfortunately it is now. If the weather had not been so bad, I would never have considered travelling.
The mountain biking world is a very friendly, close-knit community, everybody knows everybody. Is this close contact and exchange of ideas now missing?
Absolutely. Normally, I spend about half the year with my team-mates, this is more than I see my own parents. They are like a second family to me. I really missed not having that this year. Having said that, I’m not the kind of person who needs lots of social contacts. Others probably feel it harder. You really notice how really great it is, to meet with someone else, especially given all the restrictions. This has strongly influenced how I view last year.