RIDERS Q&A: Laura Vainionpää
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become apparent that some riders are struggling with motivation. Obviously, this is due to various different reasons and affecting people in different ways... whether it's the uncertainty of contracts for next year, not having the opportunities to race and showcase themselves this year, or just lacking the inspiration to get into some kit and out for a pedal. Because of this, we have decided to speak to some of the people we know to provide a small insight into their lives at this current time.
Hopefully these weekly/fortnightly Q&A's will provide you with not only that small bit of extra motivation, but an insight into the professional cycling scene and perhaps even some role models to look up to. We will be talking to an array of people... from ex-pro's, professional and semi professional men and women cyclists as well as people who have worked in the cycling industry such as team managers, coaches, ds's etc to provide a unique and different outlook on things and provide an insight as to what it takes to get to the top level.
The first person we have spoken to is 26 year old, Finnish road rider Laura Vainionpää. Coming from her background in Ice Hockey where she represented Finland in the 2012 IIHF World Women's U18 Championship... She has been in and out of the professional cycling scene for many years, but has recently settled down in Belgium with her new(ish) job at Bpost, her boyfriend Lennert and the S-Bikes AGU team. Here's what she had to say...
Can you tell us about about you and how you ended up where you are now?
My name is Laura Vainionpää. I am 26 years old, originally from Finland but now living in Belgium. At the moment I’m racing for S-Bikes AGU. In 2015, I decided to stop ice hockey and started focusing on cycling. That summer, I
really wanted to get out of Finland so I could get more racing experience because I knew if I ever wanted to be a professional cyclist, it wasn't going to happen in Finland. I came to Belgium for the first time in the summer of 2016, this happened because I emailed the organization of Bene Ladies Tour to find out if there was any mixed teams or teams needing extra rider. Soon Fabian from Isorex Cycling Team contacted me and before I knew what was happening... I was on my way to Belgium where the amazing family of Petit were already waiting me at the airport. I was never really scared even though I knew nothing other than a name from where I was going. They took me into the family and into the team like a sister and I am forever thankful for Fabian and Family Petit. So, my first race was Bene Ladies Tour and I actually finished all stages in the front group. Racing was really hard but the only thing I struggled was positioning because I did not have experience in such a big pelotons.
You have raced all over the world with a variety of different teams, what has been your favourite race, team, and county?
This is so difficult! I had very good time with Total Rush Hyster in Australia, also one of my favorite races was the World Championships in Doha when Lotta won bronze medal. Of course, I have to like Belgian races as I am living here (haha), they suit me well.
Every team I have been has given me so much and I am grateful for all the opportunities and chances I have got!
How did you deal with the COVID-19 situation and how did it directly affect you, your racing, and your training?
At first, I was really upset because all the racing was cancelled and I was in a really good form. Later, I was so happy we could still ride outdoors so I kept training hard and lot of hours too. Then it started to get more and more work at the post as everyone started to order everything online so I had to take my hours on the bike a bit less.
You recently decided to move fully to Belgium and start working in Bpost. Was this your first job whilst still chasing your cycling goals and ambitions?
Yes, this is my first real full time job whilst still chasing my cycling goals. Before I’ve been working in the winters in Finland while training but never full time so it was a big change.
How did you find combining a job with racing and training?
The first months were REALLY hard, I was new at the post, trying to learn to speak the language and waking up 4am every day...I’m not going to lie, I was crying A LOT. But it was worth it... I made SO MANY friends and the job got easier the more I did it that now I am happy to be there. Of course, Lennert makes it easier for me to combine full time work and cycling as I have still been doing all the same hours as a full time cyclist. So at the moment I feel like I have a good balance with my work, training and racing!
You are currently in the S-Bikes - AGU cycling team with a lot of your friends. How do you find that? Is it extra motivation when your teammates are your best friends?
I am super happy in this team. I’ve never succeeded so much like with this team. Everyone believes you so much that it gives you motivation and confidence to ride on your top level. And the best thing is, there is no pressure to perform and yet still I am riding better than ever.
What kind of rider do you think you are and what races do you like the best?
I think I’m a bit classic rider style, I’m also very good sprinter but I don’t like bunch sprints so that's the problem. I do love breakaways. I like the classics and the Belgian style of races the most. Usually the worse the weather gets the better I get!
What annoys you the most in races?
I really don’t like riders just sitting on the wheels and then sprinting for place something.
How is your diet? Does it differ between in and out of season? Is this something you struggle with?
I have no problems with my diet. I used to have some issues when I was playing ice hockey but now I am in a good balance with everything and I eat what my body needs and wants! It doesn’t differ between in and out of the season really.
How do you find motivation for those extra hard rides on rainy days, when you would rather stay in bed?
To be honest... I never really have days like these. I love riding my bike and even after a hard day at work I am happy to go out with my bike, even if it’s raining. Of course I have bad days too but I never want to skip my rides. Having a goal and keeps me motivated too.
Your boyfriend is also a well-known cyclist in Belgium... Do you find this motivating?
I find it very motivating seeing him doing so good on the bike, he pushes me to ride and race harder and I think I am better cyclist now also because of him. We do train a lot together and we love it! Also my dad and brother motivates me a lot. Seeing my dad getting on a bike every day in Finland after his work, winning the Finnish elite nationals at 51 of age... I used to ride a lot with my dad and Oskari and I miss having Oskari here in Belgium. He also motivated me for better results.
What would you tell your 16-year-old self?
When I was 16, I was still believing I am going to be professional ice hockey player and cycling wasn’t even an option. But I would still say is that everything is possible if you just work hard for it and stop being scared what can go wrong, stop thinking too much and enjoy what you are doing!
What is your favourite training session?
I don’t really have favorite training session, I like everything. But if i have to choose I would say extra long ride in a beautiful place and roads.
What is your favourite cycling memory?
There is sooo many! One of the best rides was when we did Mont Ventoux and Teide with Lennert. Or when we rode 240km to Namur. I have also had so many good rides with my dad and Oskari in Finland. I can’t choose the best from racing neither. When I will become Finnish Champion that is gonna be it ;)
What advice would you give a rider who was aspiring to be where you are?
Don’t be scared to contact people for advice, teams...etc. If you want it, go for it there is always gonna be a way. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t succeed at first, keep working hard and the time will come.
Can you see any problems in cycling these days?
I think mental health is a hidden problem in any sports and not talked enough, especially with eating disorders.
Women’s salaries are getting better now and teams are obligated to pay monthly salary to riders which is a step in the right direction for the women's cycling scene.
Any other comments?
Advice I would give is to keep believing in your own thing, you can listen what others have to say and take the things out of it what you need/want, do not compare yourself to others as they are not you, they did not walk your path. Sometimes it might seem easy for other people but you can't believe in everything in social media, it looks always better there. Focus on your thing, your goals, the people around you and what you want and work hard for it while enjoying what you are doing. Never do it for someone else or because someone else wants you to be something. Make the best decisions for you not thinking what others might say.
We think that Laura is an amazing role model and her journey and stories she has to tell are amazing. She is such a hard worker, with nothing but grit and determination!! If you would like to follow her or ask her any questions, I will link her social media accounts below!
People are often reluctant to combine working a full or part time job and cycling at the same time, whilst having aspirations of being a professional athlete but there is nothing worse than being constantly anxious about your financial situation. If training and racing is planned carefully around your job, taking into account the extra fatigue you might have, and extra rest you might need, then you are not at a disadvantage at all. We can see this with Laura, she is still winning national races in Belgium whilst waking up at 4am and delivering post all morning. We have witnessed Laura come to a race straight after work, barely making it to the start line and within 2 laps she is already in the breakaway. If your head is in the right place, then your legs will follow.
If you have any specific questions you would like answers to, people you want us to speak to, or even some stories and advice you want to talk about... please let us know by emailing us at email@example.com
See you next week!