The newly crowned Women’s time trial World Champion, Annamiek van Vleuten is a reluctant ambassador for women’s cycling. Speaking to her over the phone before the Worlds, there is the sense that victory in an online poll does not sit particularly easily with her.
She prefers, as she ended up doing on Tuesday in Bergen, and twice each at the Giro Rosa and La Course, to let her performances be the example she sets.
Yet that’s perhaps why she is absolutely the right winner of the Voxwomen rider of the summer, for there can be no doubt that she earned the public’s support by winning races, rather than through any extracurricular or off-bike activities.
It was those two victories in France in July in particular that caught people’s attention. In the first stage, the 60km uphill battle of the Izoard, Van Vleuten attacked with five kilometres to the summit, and stayed away to win by 43 seconds. The second, a staggered time trial-cum-pursuit, didn’t really work as a contest. Despite Lizzie Deignan et al teaming up, Van Vleuten never looked close to losing her lead.
Of the race itself, while less than effusive about the format, Van Vleuten is more sympathetic than some have been. ASO, she believes, envisioned a race between the best climber and the best time-trialist in the women’s peloton. The organisers’ bad luck was in that ending up as the same rider.
“It was good that they tried something new but next year it would be good if they had a week’s stage race or something, in the last week of the Tour de France.”
In Van Vleuten’s view, what mattered most was that both races were televised from start to finish. Audiences worldwide had a rare chance to see that women’s cycling can be every bit as entertaining as men’s.
“I think that’s really good for women’s cycling because it makes it more popular.”
That, in turn, should make it more likely that broadcasters will screen more of it, increasing the popularity of women’s cycling still further.
Asked about her performance on the Izoard, which saw Van Vleuten record a Strava segment time bettered only by two of the men later that day in the Tour de France, van Vleuten is quick to point out that “it was just the last five kilometres”.
She is, however, prepared to acknowledge the PR value of such an achievement: “One small good thing is that people start to realise that maybe, because of the Strava segment, the girls are actually pretty fast.”
Rouleur’s interview with Van Vleuten took place just after she had completed an impressive victory in the Boels Rental Lady Tour, which she led from start to finish, but before she travelled to Bergen for the World Championships.
Of her chances in the time-trial she was justifiably confident, naming Dutch team-mate Ellen van Dijk as her biggest threat, but felt the mid-course hill gave her an edge over all her rivals.
Although it was actually Anna van der Breggen who ended up as her closest competitor, her prediction about how the race would unfold proved pretty accurate. While Van Vleuten was never far off her team-mate’s pace it was only in the second half of the race that she overtook her.
The Dutch women go into Saturday’s road race with what looks on paper to be the best squad. The inevitable question is whether such a strong set of individual riders will be prepared to sacrifice their own chances and work to ensure a victory for the Netherlands. If not, there’s a chance they could open the door to one of the other nations.
if you go for a medal, you go for gold.
“Some people like to make a big thing about it, because the Dutch team is so strong, as if there will be all kinds of problems about who is the leader. I’m only focussed on one thing, which is being at my best ever shape…
“We’re all really professional with each other and we have one goal: to take the gold medal for the Dutch team.”
Pressed to provide an answer about her own chances in the road race, Van Vleuten is coy, but not too coy.
“In both disciplines I am a contender for a medal. And if you go for a medal, my coach says, you go for gold.”
One more vote will be held at the end of the season to find the rider of autumn. The Rider of the Year will then be announced at the Rouleur Classic in London in November.