Van Vleuten: the colours of triumph

Whether in the Pink, Yellow or Red Jersey, the success of the Dutch champion has sparkled like a rainbow, at the age of 39 years, after belatedly but fully displaying endurance and climbing qualities that are unique in the peloton. In 2022, she has achieved a historic hattrick by winning the Giro d’Italia Donne, the Tour de France Femmes with Zwift and the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta.

Annemiek van Vleuten is a dyed-in-the-wool conqueror. “When I take starter’s orders for a race, it’s with the objective of winning,” explained Movistar’s star rider on the evening of her historic triumph on the Tour de France Femmes with Zwift, at the end of July, whilst already looking ahead to her forthcoming participation in the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta 22. And in fact, six weeks later, “Miek” again displayed her immense talent to grab an extraordinary hattrick.

Following her belated emergence on the top step of the biggest cycling races’ podiums, the ‘Oranje’ star has made a point of conquering all the prizes imaginable over the last few years: World, European and Dutch Champion, Olympic Champion last summer in Tokyo and dominant in 2022 on the UCI Women’s WorldTour for the third time in her career.

A ball at her feet and gold in her legs
As with many young children who dream of conquering the world on a bike, her relationship with cycling commenced in the month of July. Whilst her family hurried to the beach, young Annemiek would watch the Tour de France on television. She was in rhapsodies over the Dutch successes but was far from imagining herself following in the footsteps of her countrymen.

Van Vleuten (born in the village of Vleuten, you could not make it up…) has been an enthusiastic sportsperson for a long while. In tandem with her studies in animal sciences, she was a keen gymnast, horse rider and footballer; however, at one point her knees said stop. So, at the age of 24 years, her doctor recommended that she try cycling and a legend was born.

Though technically lacking, thanks to her physical strength, “Miek” gradually imposed her talent on the Dutch circuit. In 2010, at the age of 28 years, Van Vleuten conquered the planet by winning the road racing world cup thanks to victories on the Tour of Flanders, the Swedish Open and the GP de Plouay, displaying her power in one-day races and time-trials.

 The turning point in Rio

It was in 2016 that things began to fall into place enabling her to become an exceptional stage race rider, though not without ups and down. In the close season, Van Vleuten joined the Orica-AIS team (which went on to become Mitchelton-Scott and then BikeExchange-Jayco), whose sporting directors were convinced that the Dutchwoman’s power could work wonders in races requiring endurance.

Van Vleuten innovated with long training blocks at altitude, a habit which went on to become her hallmark. She flew along the Olympic circuit in Rio, until a terrible fall bruised her physically and mentally. Though the chance of an Olympic gold medal had slipped through her grasp, the Dutchwoman had become aware of the extent of her talent.

From then onwards, she made her age an asset. She says that her late emergence in cycling has enabled her to draw on extra freshness at the age of almost 40 years (which she will reach on 8th October). By progressively increasing her training load as the years have passed by, she has developed superior capacities of endurance.

 The queen of the solo breakaway

Her greatest successes are most often down to grand performances, such as her solo breakaway of more than 100 km to conquer the Rainbow Jersey in 2019. This summer, she left her nearest rival, Demi Vollering, in her wake 62 km from the Markstein ski resort to take over the Yellow Jersey and also wore out her pursuers on the Ceratizit on the slopes of Cantabria before opening up a gap of more than 2 minutes in the last 28 kilometres leading to Colindres.

Her performances are stunning, judging by the haggard look in the eyes of the riders that she outperforms. However, in the Movistar team, which she joined in 2021 to support the development of her sport far from her native Netherlands, they only gaze upon her with much admiration.

With a triumph on Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes last spring, Van Vleuten is once again in the process of completing an extraordinary season, though it will be the penultimate one as she is due to retire at the end of 2023.