“I feel really honoured,” says Brennauer over the phone. “It’s been a big surprise and I feel very happy and honoured to get all those votes and to have won this award.” She expresses that, “it means a lot” that so many people voted for her.
This award is in memory of Sharon Laws, a talented rider who raced professionally until 2016 and sadly died in 2018 – does Brennauer remember Laws from the peloton? “We’ve never been teammates but women’s cycling is super small and we are like a big family…and you know everybody and so of course I knew her,” she says. “To win this award that is in memory of her feels very special actually.”
Against heavyweight contenders such as (winner of the Women’s World Tour overall) Lizzie Deignan, world champion Anna van der Breggen and the prolific Annemiek Van Vleuten it would be fair to say that Brennauer may not have been the obvious choice for the award. But whereas these type of results from Deignan, van der Breggen and van Vleuten have come to be something of a given over the last few seasons, Brennauer has been chipping away at a comeback that has seen her return as a regular on the top step of World Tour races following a dip after her World Championship Time Trial victory in 2014.
“I never thought it was super negative to go through this kind of period because this is what makes you stronger afterwards and that’s life right?” She says of the fallow years that are now seemingly behind her, “It’s always going in waves and sometimes you’re in some of these times where you think like ‘oh, what’s going on now? What did I get myself into?’ And then you kind of need this to get this experience in life to come back to another level.”
“Another level” is what Brennauer seems to have found in 2020. She started the year with a successful track campaign (she came second to Chloe Dygert in the individual pursuit at the World Championships in February), she was about to start her road season when the pandemic hit, lockdown ensued and races were all cancelled.
“We never had the big, big lockdown where you are not allowed to be outside,” she says of her home, Germany. “I really looked up to the riders who kept this work up during the time all the time on the trainer, it also really motivated me to keep up my own work and to go outside and train.”
The training clearly paid off. In Brennauer’s first road race of 2020: Strade Bianche, she claimed 8th place. Two weeks later she became German national road race champion for the second year in a row. Next, the European Championships yielded 4th in the individual time trial and 6th in the road race along with a victory for her German team in the mixed relay TT.
For Brennauer, though, the real indication of her return to the top came via her fourth place in the World Championships time trial: “If you look at it it looks like ‘oh, just out of the podium,’” she says. “So it’s this bittersweet thing where you’re just not winning a medal but for me it felt like being back in the top of the world rather than having missed out on a podium.”
Off the back of the World Championships came a podium at Gent-Wevelgem (third), fourth place at Flanders and a second place at Brugge-De Panne. Brennauer then went on to round off her season by repeating her 2019 win at Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta, “It’s been a great event. It was a really important race for my team as well with our main sponsor being the main sponsor,” she said of the event.
She describes how it was a “nice way to end the season on a high and also to kind of show the team and our sponsors that were so involved in this event a little thank you at the end of the season.”
Brennauer’s road season may be over, but she still has one more race to do in the form of the eSports World Championships which will take place on Zwift. She says of the event: “I’m excited, it’s new, it’s something special and also nice to have something new on the calendar. Let’s see how it’s all going to turn out.”
Away from the virtual world, Brennauer has big goals for the 2021 season, but is keen to take away the lessons from 2020. “I mean the Olympics is going to be a big goal for me next year it’s going to be my main focus,” she says. However: “Having experience from this year, I think that it’s good to focus on little goals in the season.”
She says she “loves” the Spring Classics: “Flanders, Roubaix, it’s the races I like and that suit me.” And then? “Maybe National Championships, as a good indicator as well before the big event of the Olympic games.”
She is, however, keen to add the caveat: “let’s hope for the best that a lot of them will actually happen.”
Interview by Amy Jones. Photo credit: CERATIZIT – WNT Pro Cycling