I started cycling in the summer of 2009,” Ann-Sophie explains as she runs through her extensive and impressive cycling career. The Belgian has had an excellent start to her season with Drops and has been one of the busiest riders in the squad with eight races already under her belt.
Ann-Sophie began with an individual license having graduated with a Master’s Degree in Physical Education and Kinesiology from KU Leuven. Following a stint at a local side, she joined Steeds Vooraan Kontich in 2011 and it was here she won her first Time Trial in the West-Vlaanderen Regional Championships.
“In 2012 and 2013 I signed for Team Lotto but during my time there, I really struggled with illness and injuries,” she explains.
“In that time however, I did manage to win the Regional Championships TT for a second time.”
Ann-Sophie kept building on an already impressive list of accolades and over the next three years would go on to forge a career path worthy of any successful professional cyclist.
“In 2014, I rode for the Autoglas Wetteren team and I became Belgian ITT Champion for the first time,” she says.
“I also won the 1.2 UCI race Erondegemse Pijl, won a stage in Trophée D’Or and became 5th on the World Championships ITT.
“In 2015 and 2016 I joined Topsport-Vlaanderen. It was here that I won the prologue of both Auensteiner Radsporttage and Trophée D’Or, became Belgian ITT Champion for the second time, won Chrono Champenois and earned 9th position on the World ITT Championship rankings.
“In 2016, I won the ITT in Gracia Orlova, the ITT of Ljubljana, Chrono des Nations, became Belgian ITT Champion for the 3th time, won a kermis race in Belgium, became 8th on the World Championships and participated in the Olympics at Rio.”
Got all that? Ann-Sophie is not light on titles and race wins which is why when she was brought to Drops for the 2017 season, expectations were high. But before getting stuck in to Drops’ demanding race calendar, the 29-year-old was working hard on her fitness over the winter break.
“I had a good winter with no illness or injuries, which was good. I believe winter is the perfect time to physically and mentally reload and prepare your body for the upcoming season.
"I worked on a lot of different training types; swimming, running, mountain biking, power training and core stability. The winter is the base for everything and so you have to train, rest, eat and sleep well. In the first few weeks of winter - I don’t ride my road bike. The weather is mostly bad and I believe you should stimulate your body with different training types to get better results.”
Ann-Sophie was part of the squad that travelled to Australia in January, she describes her experience halfway around the world including her reluctance to come home.
“Oz was a great experience, not only were the races professionally organised, the country is just overwhelming! We met a lot of lovely people, could train in enchanting environments and had a warm and friendly welcome in both Adelaide and Geelong.
“The weather was incredible, we had some serious sun! The team did a great job in planning everything maticulously, I don’t think anyone struggled with the time difference or anything.
“When we weren’t racing or training, we were invited to some beautiful BBQ’s – and boy, do the Australians know how to BBQ. We had a yoga session, visited a wildlife sanctuary. Belinda Bramley was our ambassador in the Santos Women’s Tour and she took very good care of us! We won’t forget her or her family – they were lovely.
“We spent almost a month Down Under and it was with pain in my heart that we had to head back to Europe. For me the experience was 200% positive and I’d absolutely love to return next year!”
After Australia, Ann-Sophie and the rest of the squad briefly returned home before reuniting with the rest of the team for training camp. With the team launch and other preseason commitments shortly after too, this was a real chance for her to get to know her teammates and support staff.
“Training camp was great and the perfect opportunity to get to know everyone better,” she agrees.
“We have a very international race schedule so everyone is racing all over the world and it happens that you don’t see some of your teammates for a couple of months. The spirit in the team was good and relaxed. We had some nice training rides and although the weather was a bit unstable, we made the most out of it.
“One of the best parts was meeting some of our sponsors during training camp. It’s good to know the people who support the team, because it’s thanks to them that we are able to race! I enjoyed all their presentations, it was very educational and now know much more about them. All of our sponsors have a big respect for women’s cycling and are really passionate! I think we are really really lucky with all of our sponsors - we have top quality clothes, bikes, tubulars, tyres, shoes, helmets, nutrition and so much more. It all helps us perform at a higher level!
“Some of the other sponsors met us at the team launch in London which was also a good experience. I think it’s important for both the team and sponsors to do a team launch. It was at the London Bike Show which made it an ideal location given the amount of spectators.
“The important thing was meeting all the girls – they are really nice and have so much potential. We have a good mixture of age and experience, which brings the team to a higher level."
Having already accomplished so much, it’s easy to thing that Ann-Sophie might have a long list of specific goals for the season ahead. But as she explains, her targets remain quite broad and she’s most concerned with being the best cyclist she can be.
“I want to become a better rider in general and to improve as an all-rounder. My main focus will stay with the time trail races, but I’m desperate to improve my road game too. With Drops, we have a great race calendar and I’m confident this will help to achieve my goals this season. We are participating in a lot of the World Tour this year and the team is growing with each race we do!”
Ann-Sophie was responsible for a special result notching Drops’ first win of 2017 at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana. A huge lift to the team and sponsors, the win is hopefully a catalyst for the rest of the season. She describes the feeling within the team on a special day.
“Well first of all I must say that Setmana Ciclista Valenciana was a very well organised stage race. I can really see this race becoming even bigger in the next couple of years! Great stages and great weather!
“On day one we had the team time trial to start with, we finished 7th which was a good result. Day two was the queen stage, lots of altitude meters and it was seriously hot - it was also Paul’s 60th birthday and before the start of the stage he told us he’d like to have a nice and original birthday present, so we gave him that,” she laughs.
“We took the stage win, the mountain jersey and were first in the team classification that day! It was unbelievable. When I crossed the finish line I didn’t totally realise that I had won. I am, of course, very proud that it’s Drops’ first win of the season and it’s an achievement earned by all riders who were in Valencia! The reception afterwards both from fans in Valencia as on the social media was overwhelming!
“On day three we had another hilly stage and we had to defend the mountain jersey, which we did perfectly! The final stage, was a flat stage with four big laps which ended in a bunch sprint. It was a very successful race for us, one stage win, the mountain jersey, third in the team classification, and good classifications in the GC as well!
“I want to say a special thanks to my teammates in Valencia! I saw them growing every day and they did an incredible job! I can’t wait to get stuck in to more racing with them.”