The German rider has been a peloton stalwart since she turned pro in 2004, with many big wins. Owen Rogers caught up for a chat.
TREK- SEGAFREDO’S ROAD CAPTAI N TRIXI WORRACK TURNED PRO I N 2004, HAS 47 WI NS AND OVER 300 TOP 10S, AND I S ONE OF THE MOST EXPERI ENCED R I DERS I N THE PELOTON. AS SHE APPROACHES THE END OF HER CAREER, THE GERMAN TELLS PROCYCLING WHY SHE’S SATISFIED WITH HER CAREER AND ACHIEVEMENTS
After Lizzie Deignan was outwitted By Elise Chabbey in a two-up sprint on stage 1 of the Tour de Suisse, her Trek-Segafredo team began the second stage on the back foot. But the team’s performance that day around Frauenfeld was proof, if it were needed, that victories owe as much or more to tactics and well executed plans as they do to power, weight and aerodynamics.
Picking up bonus seconds and denying Canyon-SRAM’s Chabbey the same, the team propelled the Brit to overall victory.
“This is what I like because the strongest rider does not always win. You have to be smart, says Trek-Segafredo’s road captain Trixi Worrack.
“It was me and Audrey [Cordon-Ragot] who did a lot of work, and Lucinda [Brand] and Lizzie sprinted. When Audrey and I crossed the finish line last we were celebrating, because I really like the feeling when I do a good race and my team-mate wins, even if I arrive five minutes later.
“There are so many strong riders in the bunch in different teams, but I see what they do and I want to ask why. They have no clue - they could win so much more by being clever.”
Worrack has not always been a team captain, nor even a domestique, though she is now one of the best at both and this year’s Tour de Suisse was extra sweet for the 39-year-old, as in 2001, before signing her first professional contract, she won the final stage of the race’s only previous edition.
That was the third of 47 career wins, which include German road and time trial titles, GC victories in California and Qatar and stages of the Giro Donne and Holland Ladies Tour. She was second at the first women’s edition of the Tour of Flanders and the following year won the last women’s Milan-San Remo, La Primavera Rosa.
“I was the last lead-out person for our sprinter and in the last corner she left a bit of a gap and just said on the radio, ‘Go!’
“I had about 50 metres to go. It was big for us. Okay, Flanders was the same for the men but there were not too many races like that on the same day.”
Worrack is currently the oldest rider on any Women’s WorldTour team - she turns 40 on September 28. However after 18 years as a pro she will retire at the end of the season. When she won in MilanSan Remo, could she ever have imagined she would still be riding 16 years later?
“I was never thinking about when or where I wanted to stop,” she says. “I just continued. If
I had a two-year contract, I said, ‘Okay, two years.’ I never had a goal of when to stop. It just happens. If I had not been happy any more I would have stopped, but I was really happy in CanyonSRAM and now also with Trek.
“It’s pretty funny, because
I also have to say cycling is not my passion. I’m not really a fan,” she says, almost apologetically. “When I became older it was a job and I think because I was so successful, I stayed. When I’m at home I don’t watch races. I switch off completely. When I come to a race I am completely there, but I don’t know that when I stop
I will still go to any cycling races.”
A FAST START
A career shift from winner to helper and captain which has kept Worrack out of the spotlight has coincided with the increase in attention for the women’s side of the sport. For the German, races are her job and her businesslike expression does not invite casual chats at sign-on, but journalists aren’t the only ones who don’t find it easy to get to know her.
“I didn’t know her before I came to Trek,” says team-mate Cordon-Ragot. “I think it’s impossible to get to know her without being on the same team. She is not shy, but she is really closed from the outside. I asked people about her and the answers I got every time were that she was amazing; they were all positive. And now I have the chance to race with her, that matches.”
Despite her sometimes stern appearance Worrack appears relaxed when we meet her in the foyer of a Belgian hotel this summer. Softly spoken, she
“I was the last lead- out person for our sprinter and in the last corner she left a bit of a gap and just said on the radio, ‘ Go!’”
is welcoming, chatty, charming and all smiles as she tells us about her upbringing in a small village near the German city of Cottbus, close to the Polish border, during the mid to late 1980s.
“I came to cycling pretty late,” she explains. “I always liked sport and always rode my bike because in the village we had nothing else. I rode my bike to school and everywhere. I sometimes tell my team-mates in my first years we were living in my grandparents’ house and we had no running water and lived in a very basic way. We didn’t have a lot, but I didn’t miss anything.
“My dad was a boxer when he was younger. He still knew some people in Cottbus, and he asked them what sport I could do. They said, ‘Bring her to the cycling.’ I tried it and the first day, the trainer said, ‘You need to stay.’”
After only two years with her first club, Worrack represented Germany at the 1998 World Championships at Valkenburg, where she won the junior world time trial title the same year Fabian Cancellara won the men’s equivalent. When the Swiss rider won his second rainbow jersey the following year in Verona, Worrack was third against the clock and second in the road race, and moved up to a national level team.
Racing internationally she picked up a number of victories, including that stage in Switzerland, but her career blossomed when she joined German professional outfit Equipe Nürnberger Versicherung for the 2004 season.
As one of only three or four fully professional squads the German team compared favourably to Trek-Segafredo, according to Worrack.
“They did a very good job, I think because they had the men before. They knew the standard and they took that standard to our team. If you start with only a women’s team, everything is new and it’s harder.
As one of the few pro teams, Nürnberger Versicherung were able to dominate through sheer sporting logic and Worrack believes the current trend of increasing professionalism makes for better sport.
“Four or five years ago Boels Dolmans [now SD Worx] were
“I came out of hospital and had one week at home when I felt really bad, but I recovered really quickly, so I said, ‘ F*ck, I really need to go to the Olympics’”
winning everything. It’s not like this any more. Now, if you had five bunch sprints, I would say you might have four different winners. That was not the case before - it was a bit boring.”
That first season was excellent for the then 23-year-old, with GC victory at the prestigious 10-day Tour de l’Aude the highlight. Under the tutelage of champions like Judith Arndt, Petra Rossner and Regina Schleicher, Worrack learned her trade.
“It sounds stupid, but when you’re young you have to work to learn to get better and I learned everything there. If I hadn’t raced there, I wouldn’t have been the same person. We had such a good combination of riders and you had to do everything,” she explains, reserving special credit for Arndt.
“She was the world champion but also working her ass off for others. She was a class rider.”
BACK FROM THE BRINK
Though she was never a prolific winner of races, over the ensuing 12 years, Worrack steadily built an enviable palmarès. However, a serious crash in the 2016 Trofeo Alfredo Binda in the hills around Lake Maggiore changed her outlook on the sport.
“It was not a really hard crash, but as soon as I got up I knew
I had something bad,” she says.
With no broken bones she was left in a hospital corridor waiting for further investigations. It was only after she vomited blood and was drifting out of consciousness that she was moved to another hospital where a ruptured kidney was discovered.
“It was pretty close because they waited so long. My whole belly was full of blood...” Worrack trails off for a moment before offering some insight into the inner strength which has seen her at the top of the sport for so long.
“It was the year of the Olympics. It was the end of March. I came out of hospital and had one week at home when I felt really bad, but I recovered really quickly, so I said, ‘F*ck, I really need to go to the Olympics.’ The national time trial was mid-June and from then I was just on the time trial because it was a chance to get a spot at the Olympics.
I won the time trial. It was a good comeback, a really good comeback,” she laughs.
But the incident left a mark, and not only was she less able to push for her own results, it affected her more fundamentally.
“Now I’m not waiting to do stuff. If I want to do something, I do it, because I know I was just on the edge, and it can happen any time.”
Time with her partner and young daughter is one of the things she is looking forward to when she stops at the end of the season.
“I still have to earn, but I think maybe I’d like to travel. But as you get older it gets harder to be away for a long while. Three or four days and it’s already getting too long, so to stay home and have a settled life, nothing special... I’m not someone who is crazy.”