Peloton Watch
  Anna Knauer joins Parkhotel Valkenburg for 2016 while chasing Rio Olympic dream  
  November 11th 2015  
  Anna Knauer will ride for Parkhotel Valkenburg in 2016 after Rabobank-Liv didn't renew her contract after two seasons with the number one ranked women's team. Knauer who started out in gymnastics before trying athletics having watched the 2003 IAAF World Championships on TV. After not finding what she was looking for in gymnastics or athletes Knauer along with her brother tried cycling. Following their father who was a passionate mountain biker.

Knauer competed at the Junior Road World Championships in both 2012 and 2013, finishing top 25 in the time trial and top 50 in the road race both years. It was on the track where she found her biggest success claiming the junior omnium world title in 2013.

Her success earned her a contract with leading women's team Rabobank-Liv. A fifth place finish at the German National Championships and a TTT stage win at the Lotto Belisol Belgium Tour were the highlights of 2014. A year that was all about development as well as spending time on the track to secure qualifying points for the track season.

Even with a third place finish at EPZ Omloop van Borsele and improved performances in 2015 Knauer was not offered a new contract by Rabo. Despite suspecting the decision was coming it was a still a shock for Knauer to be told she wouldn't be part of the team in 2016.

The uncertainty surrounding a team for 2016 has impacted Knauer's start to the track season but she still hopes to qualify in the omnium at the Rio Olympics. Knauer's attention now turns to the second World Cup in Cambridge, New Zealand in December. Longer term though her focus is all on the road and she will again split her time across disciplines in 2016 as she plans for the future.

PelotonWatch: Junior World Omnium Champion in 2013. Looking back what does it mean to you?

Anna Knauer: To win the rainbow jersey was great. I still remember the moment before the podium ceremony when I saw the jersey and couldn't believe that it was going to be mine a few moments later. Winning the race itself was a good answer to all the question marks the German federation set behind my form at the beginning of 2013 when I concentrated on finishing my school. I still trained and raced but until May school was more important for me. But even if I was very proud and enjoyed being a Junior World Champion on the track, the disappointment of losing a medal in the road race in Florence was bigger than the joy of winning gold in Glasgow.

PW: What has been the biggest challenge you have found stepping up to the elite ranks?

AK: To get back the 'killer instinct'. I had way too much respect of the women around me and didn't believe I could get anywhere close to a top 15. Unfortunately my ambition in training was a lot less than the years before because of that hesitation. When I raced I gave everything for my teammates and they often told me that I did too much early because I wasn't able to finish a lot of races after I killed myself in the work for others early in the race. So to find the balance between working for others, going for my own chances and doing the training that is needed for my goals was definitely a very big challenge - and it still is.

PW: Spent the past two seasons on the road with Rabo. How did you find it and what did you learn during that time?

AK: It was great! From the first day on I felt like I found a second family. I learnt that you always have to keep fighting, which is easier when you are working together with friends. I was in the team when Lucinda won that stage in the Energiewacht Tour last year after we didn't win anything during the classics. Everybody was just so happy and it was just the start of this incredible summer when the girls won almost every race they started. It was the same at the Women's Tour last year when Marianne just missed out the victory on the first two stages but won the other three. It was the first time I really felt like I could help to win a race and the yellow jersey in the end. And I learned that even if you are the weakest of the team, if you are the only one that is there for the leader, you can make the difference. It saves energy for the others who can then help in the later moments of the race. To only get a "Thank you Anna! You did a great job today" can put a smile on your face of which you profit a whole stage race.

PW: Finished third at Omloop van Borsele this year, ahead of some big names. Are you able to take confidence from that result heading forward?

AK: That race gave me a lot of confidence. Already in the Energiewacht Tour this year I felt that I was able to challenge the best riders in these typical flat and windy Dutch races. But at Omloop van Borsele it was the first time I felt like it was time to raise my hand and go for my own chance. I was in the first echelon the whole race and even after a hard race like that I was able to sprint. It was the first time ever I did a bunch sprint like this and I was very surprised how it went. I couldn't really believe that I got third when I crossed the finish line. But when the girls came and we celebrated my third place almost more than a victory I knew I finally arrived in the elite ranks.

A week later I really noticed what my result was good for. You have a completely different role in the bunch. Maybe it was just my own confidence but it really felt like I was treated differently from the big names in the peloton. And also my own teammates knew now that I could finish a race in the front and told me I should safe myself for the sprint even though I didn't feel great that day.

PW: 24 races days in 2014 and 26 in 2015. Happy with what your race programme was like?

AK: 2014 was okay because I had to do a lot of track in summer for qualifying, which was not really cooperated well of the federation with the team. In 2015 I tried to avoid that and did all my omniums that I had to do for the World Cup points during the Giro. I knew that I wouldn't race there so it was the perfect time to not get into any conflict with the road. In the beginning of the year it was planned to then go on with the road races again and maybe get selected for Worlds.

Unfortunately the team decided to not continue with me in 2016 and except the Sparkassen Giro I didn't get any race in the second half of the season. I was lucky that I could race Trophee d'Or and Lotto Belgium with the national team so I had at least a few international races this summer next to some local criteriums with the men Elite or Masters.

PW: Rabo didn't offer you a new contract. Did this come as a surprise?

AK: I somehow saw it coming already since the Energiewacht Tour when I was talking to one of my teammates about it. It was whether the 2016 team was exactly the same as the 2015 or one of us two had to leave. Still after my results in the spring races I didn't think I had to leave, especially because I always was told that I was an investment for the future. The phone call from the team manager then was a big shock and disappointment and together with almost two months of searching for a new team it was a very hard time.

PW: Left without a team but have now signed with Parkhotel Valkenburg next season. How did the contract come about?

AK: I had good contact with two other teams pretty soon but both didn't end in a contract because of different reasons. Then in Belgium after the last stage I talked to Jip van den Bos about the race and that I didn't get a new contract from Rabo. Five minutes later she came again and asked for my phone number and said her DS wants to call me. Then it all went pretty fast. He called me at home, I sent an Email, got another back and said I would join the team.

PW: What are you most excited about for 2016 with Parkhotel Valkenburg?

AK: First of all I'm excited to race with new teammates and a new staff. When I spoke to the team manager he said they wanted to add experienced riders next to the few young riders they have. The fact that I am only one year older than the young rides made me laugh. I think with that confidence the team has in the riders we have some good opportunities to challenge the bigger teams. The girls already showed this year that they are not afraid of big names and race as a real unit, which ended in some great results.

PW: Big year next year with Rio Olympics. Going to continue to split your time between track and road? With the Olympic omnium being a big goal?

AK: I am going to split between track and road. I don't know yet how it will look in detail because we will decide that when we know how I feel after the track season. Still I want to race as much as possible on the road because I enjoy that a lot more than track racing.

PW: Started track season as European Championships. Fell I'll ahead of the omnium and finished seventh and have just finished 10th at the Cali World Cup. How has the start of the track season gone for you?

AK: It didn't go as planned. The searching for a new team and the insecurity didn't really help me in a good preparation for the track season.

PW: Next is the World Cup in Cambridge, New Zealand do you have a target you would like to finish or is the focus just on continuing to improve?

AK: Normally finishing in or around the top five would have been my goal for every World Cup this year. But as so much can happen during an omnium I don't have a special target with my current form. I will just concentrate on improving my times in the timed events now and try to get as much out of the mass starts as possible. If I am qualified for Rio after this season I did everything right and can work fully focused towards the Olympic Games.
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