All images courtesy of Team dsm-firmenich
In women’s cycling, longevity is highly achievable if riders are well-supported. Consider Annemiek van Vleuten, recently retired aged 41; Marianne Vos, heading into her 18th year of racing aged 36, and many more examples of athletes who might be considered more senior by the men’s peloton’s standards, where youth is increasingly lauded.
With that in mind, at just 23 years of age you’d be forgiven for assuming that reigning two-time British champion Pfeiffer Georgi is still a relative newcomer to the sport, some years away from her peak. The latter could well be true – which makes it all the more impressive when you look back at her 2023 season in which she achieved four wins, including her first World Tour win at Brugge-De Panne. Beyond this though, Georgi displays a confidence and self-assurance beyond her years. Appointed road captain by her team (Team dsm-firmenich), Georgi is relied upon by her team mates to stay cool under pressure, and is equally comfortable guiding sprinters as part of a lead-out train as she is grappling with the bergs and cobbles of the spring Classics, all the while providing an experienced head for her team whose average age, at 22, is very young by Women’s World Tour standards.
A part of the DSM set-up since graduating from the junior ranks, Georgi has successfully navigated the pitfalls of the post-junior period – a particularly trying time in the women’s peloton given the lack of an under-23 tier – and has become a linchpin in the Dutch team’s set-up; a backbone around which the rest of the team is built. I caught up with Pfeiffer to find out how she has found the gradual transition into leadership, about team dynamics, and her thoughts on the development of women's cycling.
How's off-season been so far?
Really good actually, I had a nice trip to New York and had about four weeks off the bike so now I'm just starting to get back into it, I think I've done maybe two-and-a-half weeks back training which is always the hardest bit but it’s starting to get a bit easier now.
Do you have any interesting hobbies or anything you do to fill the time off the bike?
Yeah, I like drawing and this off-season I got into trying to paint cycling shoes. I painted my boyfriend's old shoes, and it turned out better than I thought so I'm going to try and do a couple of my pairs, maybe with the national champs bands or something, it’s quite fun.
What else do you like to draw?
I do colour drawing so I mainly do faces or eyes, I prefer doing people. And I've done a few animals like a cat and a cow, just quite detailed stuff I really enjoy doing. You have to fully focus which helps you switch off a bit.
It's nice to have an outlet, something creative.
Yeah, definitely I think you need one in cycling.
From a personal perspective, with four wins including your first at World Tour level and regaining the national champs jersey, did last season exceed your expectations?
I think it did, actually. I think heading into this year I wrote some performance-based goals and putting ‘a podium in the Classics’, I thought that was a bit far out of reach, so to win De Panne and take my first World Tour win, that gave me a lot of confidence. I think the whole spring I felt like I was a bit more part of the race and I could do things at a higher level than I expected so that was really nice. I took that confidence and winning nationals again was a really big thing for me; it’s hard to win it once and I didn't expect it so that was one of the highlights of the year I’d say.
You said you came in at slightly higher level than you expected. What do you put that down to?
I remember we analysed the sessions and when I felt good at what points of the year last year and discussed what efforts we needed to put a bit more focus on, and I think we had a more intensive winter. We started the high intensity efforts a bit earlier and more fatigue resistance – so like more Classics-specific efforts – which I think really helped actually. Also just getting a year older; coming from juniors, in winters usually you have to build a base, and now I’m in my fifth year I think you grow as a rider and you're getting a bit older so you can develop your training a bit more which I think all has an impact.
The developing mindset
You’ve been with the same team your whole career, how would you say that stability has helped your development?
It's been really valuable to me. They took me on from a junior and my first few years were a big learning experience. Stepping up from junior is a big step; we have no under-23 category so the race distances, the level, the tactics, everything changes a lot. I remember in my first year everything was new. And yeah, learning everything about races and all the team tactics because it's a different dynamic to junior racing. Also I had a few crashes, and it was COVID obviously, so it took a few years for me to find my feet and maybe show the kind of level that I promised as a junior. So it was really nice how the team supported me through that. I think they saw my potential and really believed in me and gave me a few years to develop and now I can show what I'm good at.
Maybe that lack of pressure is what helped you develop into your role more naturally without feeling under stress?
I think it's really important that while I've been developing they haven't put that pressure on me, and also whenever I had any injuries or setbacks there was never the pressure to come back quickly or to prove myself, which was really valuable and I think allows you to develop at your own speed and not try and compare yourself to other people the same age or people you were juniors with.
Now that you're at this level, presumably the pressure increases as you become more experienced. How do you deal with that, mentally?
Stepping into a leader role there's obviously going to be a bit more pressure. I'm not the greatest at dealing with pressure, so I kind of expected that I’d find that harder, but this year in the Classics, having the physicality to back up all the support I got from the team kind of helped me enjoy the pressure rather than be debilitated by it. I think I saw a race as an opportunity to succeed and repay the team for all the work they were doing for me in the races rather than thinking that as the leader I have to win and if I don't, that's a failure. That was never the mindset that I had and never the mindset that the team was putting on me.
It sounds as though maybe having those few setbacks allowed you to develop the emotional resilience as well as the physical?
All the setbacks make you realise that you can't always rush everything, and I think that it made me stop comparing myself because everyone will have setbacks in sport and everyone’s on a journey, so there's not much point in stressing over it or feeling the pressure from what other people are doing, just kind of focusing on myself more.
You always seem so self-assured and calm in race situations; but you’ll be making extremely quick decisions in lead-out situations and so on. Where do you draw that sort of self-assurance from or does it just come naturally?
Yeah, I never really feel too stressed in races, part of being in this team is that we have a plan and I have trust in all the other girls that they're going to do their job and so nothing is ever really stressful. And we always say that if we're always riding together and staying together then even if things go wrong, we can fix a situation, whatever it may be. So I never really feel too stressed.
When I started being a road captain our DS said to me the only wrong decision that I can make is not making a decision. Whether it's the right thing or the wrong thing, we'll discuss in the meeting after, but part of being a good captain is just trusting your instincts and actually making a decision in the moment.
The pressure in the final few kilometres of a race for a sprint finish must be incredibly intense, which adds even more pressure.
Yeah, I always feel a bit more pressure when I'm leading out Charlotte [Kool] because my job will affect how well she does, whether she wins or not, so I always have that extra incentive. And I’m maybe not the craziest, like, fearless person that she is, but when you have that good kind of pressure that it forces you to be a bit more confident and fight through the bunch and make sure that you're putting her in the right position.
You've gone from supporting arguably the fastest woman in the world the previous season with Lorena [Wiebes] to supporting Charlotte who’s now up there vying with her. It must be strange, having been strongly involved with both those lead-out trains, to now have them against one another?
Yeah, I think we were in quite unique position when we had Lorena because we had her as our sprinter and then Charlotte who is arguably just as fast as her lead-out and I think it's very rare to have such a fast sprinter as a lead-out. So it's been different this year, because I was usually third from last, and now we've had to switch around, so I've been guiding Charlotte as the last lead-out so it's been a bit of a different format, it's sometimes maybe me putting her into the wheel or in the right place. Before, we always had a dominant lead-out, but I think we’re still one of the teams that other teams give respect to and take notice of, and it’s something we practise a lot and I think we're good at actually.
What is it like at races with Lorena now you're on different teams?
It's all quite friendly. Like with most people, you're friends off the bike and then when you're racing you know that you're going to be fighting each other. That's just the way it is. Everyone wants to win and everyone's always competitive.
At DSM you always seem to have a really nice vibe among you, it seems like a very cohesive unit. What have the team done to foster that atmosphere?
Yeah, it’s definitely a really nice environment with all the girls. We’re all a similar age, we’re quite a young team and we all get on really well, on and off the bike. We had a team bonding camp at the end of October, and just the fact that you can see each other out of the season, you can get to know the new girls, and we all stay in contact even though we're not racing, and we always have a lot of fun at races on the bus with our karaoke machine.
Just all these little things make it a good vibe and everyone's so committed to doing their job and really wants each other to win and I think maybe it’s not the kind of thing you get in all teams, so that's really valuable and really nice to see that everyone will give 100% for their team mates.
So who sings what at karaoke?
Everyone loves ‘Can’t Hold Us’ by Macklemore and we have ‘Starships’ by Nikki Minaj a lot; they’re two of the favourites.
What we can expect from you next season? Have you had a chance to discuss your programme yet or is it still a bit early?
Yeah it’s a bit early, I don't know my full programme yet, but definitely a focus on the Classics again in the early part of the year and in particular Paris-Roubaix and Flanders will be the big two to focus on. So being in the best shape for that really.
What race would you like to win before you finish your career, what’s the dream race to win?
I think a tie between Paris-Roubaix or Flanders, both or either would be absolutely amazing.
My favourite two races on the calendar.
I think Roubaix is the nicest to watch but probably the most painful to ride.
Having been a pro for five years you're uniquely placed having seen the transition with women's cycling going from relatively hidden from view to now being broadcast more widely, sponsored more, and with more races, and more attention thrust upon it.
What’s that experience been like as someone within the sport?
Yeah, it's really exciting. When I was growing up, it was really only men’s cycling that was accessible to watch. It's really nice that we can now be role models for younger girls who want to ride their bike, whether they want to race or just ride. And having Paris-Roubaix and especially the Tour de France Femmes has put a spotlight on women’s cycling. I’ve done both editions now and you can just feel the difference, like it's the biggest race in the world and just the atmosphere and the fans and the coverage they get, though I think there’s still a bit of a way to go with the coverage. If you look at the statistics I think a lot people want to watch women’s cycling, I think the next step is just to make sure that the coverage is adequate for every race and we can see more of it.
But yeah it's definitely a really exciting time especially with the salaries, minimum wage, and maternity leave coming in. I think it's creating a more supportive environment where we can be full-time professional athletes, which was never the case before when I was getting into the sport, professionally.
Aside from broadcasting what else do you think needs to improve on the women's side?
A lot of people talk about the prize money but for me personally, broadcasting is probably the best way to go. I think then the financial side follows on from that. The first step is to just get our races out there and more of our races, so you can see what happens before the last 30km, then if people see it, sponsors are more likely to invest. I think that's helped the financial side maybe more than just asking for adequate prize money.
What are your thoughts on having races on the same day as the men or a different day. What do you prefer?
I quite like both because when you do Flanders then you have the same massive crowds that the men do and it's one big spectacle. And Roubaix is also nice because you have your own day and everyone there is watching for you and there's the possibility for maybe more coverage though that sometimes doesn’t happen, so I don't particularly have a preference. I think as long as you have the crowds and the atmosphere, and as long as there's good coverage, then both can work.
Thanks to Pfeiffer for her time and to Team dsm-firmenich for facilitating this interview. If you have enjoyed this interview and would like to see more please don’t hesitate to drop me a line with your feedback, or even your requests of who you’d like to hear from.