Shirin van Anrooij: “I realise I’m now one of the bigger names”

The female peloton joined the big family of the Tour 40 years ago, in June 1984. Six Dutch riders clad in "Oranje" flexed their muscles and claimed six of the top eight spots in the opening stage, with Mieke Havik leading the charge. The insatiable "Oranje" pioneers would go on to take fifteen stage wins in that historic edition. Several generations have since had their day in the sun, but Dutch talent has always remained a sight to behold. Looking back on this epic saga in the run-up to the Grand Départ of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in Rotterdam, the official website has sat down to talk with some of the stars —past, present and future— of this tale.

When the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift set off in front of the Tour Eiffel in 2022, a new ranking was born, that of the best young rider, distinguished by the white jersey. A week later, the first winner was crowned and, as often, it was a Dutch talent who led the way, as Shirin van Anrooij (Lidl-Trek) displayed on French roads the skills that have already impressed for years in cyclo-cross events. The youngster is a groundbreaking rider, who enjoyed this 2022 edition to stand on the final podium alongside Oranje icons such as Annemiek van Vleuten, Marianne Vos and Demi Vollering, which made for “the most special picture” she has. Shirin van Anrooij went on to win the first edition of the Tour de l’Avenir Femmes, in 2023, while establishing herself as an elite Classics rider. After a strong spring 2024, she is gearing for new trailblazing performances as the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift 2024 passes next to our home, in Maastricht, and heads to L’Alpe d’Huez.

Shirin van Anrooij (Netherlands)

  • Born in Goes (the Netherlands) on 5 February 2002
  • Best young rider of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift (2022)
  • European U23 Champion in the road race and the ITT (2022)
  • Junior cyclo-cross world champion (2022)
  • Winner of the Tour de l’Avenir Femmes (2023)
  • Winner of the Trofeo Alfredo Binda-Comune di Cittiglio (2023)
  • 3rd of the Amstel Gold Race (2023) and the Ronde van Vlaanderen (2023)
  • U23 cyclo-cross world champion (2023)

What does it mean for you to have the Grand Départ of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in the Netherlands? I think it will be really special of course, especially just because it will be so much easier for friends and family to be there, to be at the start and see all the femmes. On the third day, around Valkenburg, we will almost pass in front of my house in Maastricht so that’s also pretty special to be in the biggest race in cycling and to pass next to your own home. I think it’s just so nice to be able to have your friends and family there and to see how crazy it can also be in the Netherlands, because I expect a lot of spectators.  

Do you know about plans your friends and family are making?
I know for sure that my parents and my brother and sister will follow almost the entire Tour, so they will also go to France and they will be there at the finish on the Alpe d’Huez. Friends from school will be there at the start. And, of course you focus on racing, but for me it also plays a really big role mentally. It helps a lot to know there’s friends and family around and there’s always someone you can go to. Of course you also have that in the team but it’s nice sometimes to be able to give a hug to your sister for good luck.  

What kind of ambitions or dreams do you have for these first stages in the Netherlands?
I think the first stages are really a lot about making sure you don’t lose any time. I think it really depends on if there are maybe echelons. Of course it will be a lot on open roads so you never know. So it will be about getting to the finish line safe and also trying to support the sprinters. I think it will be full gas racing from the start. It’s the Tour, everyone is excited. Everyone wants to win races and I think everyone wants to win a bit more when it’s the Tour.  

How do you see your part with Lidl-Trek?
It’s not exactly clear at the moment. Normally, I think I should get a bit of a free role to see maybe what I can do riding the GC. But it also depends on the shape I have there. Last year, I had the opportunity to race the Giro with a free role but in the end I didn’t have the shape that I wanted. We changed my role and I helped Gaia [Realini] for the GC. There’s a lot of different cards to play in the team and it also just depends on what shape everyone has. In an ideal world, it would be really nice to see what kind of steps I could make riding a GC.  

You rode the GC of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift two years ago and you stood on the podium as the best young rider, alongside Annemiek van Vleuten, Marianne Vos and Demi Vollering…
I think that’s the most special picture that I have! That was really special. I never expected it. I didn’t go to the Tour to ride GC, I came with a supporting role but then, when I had the white jersey after the first mountain stage, the team wanted me to go for it and try to win it in the end. I don’t know, for me, it was also a kind of moment to realise: ‘Ok, actually, now I’m here, I’ve won the white jersey, I did a good GC and I’m between these really big names on the podium of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift’… That was just so special. You dream of it as a young rider, that’s something you grow up with, watching the Tour. And all of a sudden you’re someone who’s on TV for other people.  

Another landmark was the first edition of the Tour de l’Avenir Femmes, that you won last year… How did you feel with the Maillot Jaune?
That was also really special. I was super nervous going into the Tour de l’Avenir to be honest because I didn’t perform in the Giro at all. I was really searching for the good feeling that I had in the Classics and I didn’t feel confident anymore in my climbing. And then all of a sudden everything fell into place at the right moment in l’Avenir and for me that was a real eye-opener, like ‘I did 20-km long climbs today and I could attack there on my own so I just need to believe’. To win the first Tour de l’Avenir like that was really special and it made me want see what I can do in the real Grand Tours, against Elite riders. But it was also a really cool experience to race between Under 23, to see your level between riders of your own age, because we never get to see it. And it’s just a different way of racing, so I think it’s really good that it’s there.  

Historically, Dutch riders have been dominant in women’s cycling. What do the likes of Leontien van Moorsel and other former champions represent to you?
Sometimes I look up to them but mostly when I was young and already riding, I was watching riders who are now my teammates! I met Leontien van Moorsel a few times and it’s enlightening to talk with someone like her but to be honest I don’t know so many things about the history before I started cycling.  

You also come from the same area as Keetie van Oosten-Hage (a 6-time world champion on the road and track in the 1960s and 70s)…
True! She’s also someone I do know a lot about. I met her a few times in events. It’s super interesting and also impressive to hear all the stories about how it was back then, and how much it changed and developed with the attention and the salaries we get now. I do have to say Leontien and Keetie are people that do feel like an inspiration.  

You’re still only 22 years old but already an established figure… Where do you see yourself in terms of development?
I surprised myself being there in almost every classic. I wanted to make this step but it’s hard so I think I really learned to step up towards the role of a leader although I could stay in the shadow of Elisa [Longo Borghini]. I think I’m just learning more and more to try and race for the win. And I realise I’m now also one of the bigger names in the races who can go for a result instead of just looking to other riders, which I used to do a lot. Mentally I just made a really big step and it was really important for my development.