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You’d think, having already been a professional since 2008, and having been on the top teams in cycling since joining Rabobank Women’s Team in 2012, that the thrill of joining a new team would have eased for Annemiek van Vleuten. Well, it definitely has not. The 2019 World Champion joined her Movistar teammates at the first training camp of the 2021 season and she is already feeling swept up in the family-like atmosphere of her new team.
“I feel like a first day to school for me because so many new people and then also they all talk in a different language,” Van Vleuten told CyclingTips. “So I was quite out of my comfort zone to another level. But it’s also what I’m here for because that gives me new energy to learn a new language to meet new people, to get to know new people from a different culture. They are so warm. That’s also what I hope to find. Movistar, it’s like a family-style run team.”
After spending five seasons with Mitchelton-Scott, Van Vleuten is not only entering a team full of new faces but also new equipment, new clothing, new vibes.
“The only thing that stayed the same is my Garmin,” Van Vleuten told CyclingTips. “It’s actually not a joke. It’s really true because it’s the only thing. I have to change everything.”
Traditionally a mostly Spanish team, Movistar switched up its roster quite significantly leading into the 2021 season, bringing on not only Van Vleuten, but also American Leah Thomas and Danish National Champion Emma Cecilie Norsgaard.
Even with the new faces, and the addition of a big name like Van Vleuten, the European champion hopes that the team doesn’t divert away from the atmosphere they’ve had in the past.
“I think they had a really nice base of sentiment and I think I feel so badly that I just want to add to this group and not completely change the culture,” Van Vleuten said. “I think it’s still really a Spanish culture and base for sure. Maybe me and also the other girls can add something to that, but I hope it’s not completely different because I think they had already their own identity.”
In 2020 the oldest member of Team Movistar was only 30 years old, with the team average around 26. This year the average is the same and Van Vleuten is joining at 38 years of age, still very much in the prime of her fitness. Despite the age range, Van Vleuten insists that she’s not looking to mentor the young riders on the team but inspire them.
“I’m not thinking about teaching them because I don’t feel I need to teach them, but I would like to inspire them,” Van Vleuten said.
“I started quite late so I can still remember my struggles in the beginning also. And I’m not scared to share them actually.”
Van Vleuten isn’t quite laying out her goals just yet, with the pandemic still looming over the season and rumors of races being canceled or postponed, she is keeping her hopes up that the season goes along as planned. When asked about the demotion of the Giro Rosa, the only women’s Grand Tour on the calendar, Van Vleuten said it’s a good message to the organization, but the fact that the organizers were still able to put a race together in 2020 was a good thing.
“I think they were able to organize in the COVID situation was really hard so shout out to them that they still organized the Giro Rosa,” Van Vleuten said. “But in the end, I think already before they should have television, online or streaming … I think it’s still a really beautiful state race, but I hope it’s an alarm for the organization that they need to step up and meet the requirements if you want to be WorldTour again.”
But the status of the race isn’t something Van Vleuten puts much store in. What is important to her is the history, the impact, and whether or not the race has proper coverage. “It’s about winning beautiful races.” Van Vleuten has won the Giro Rosa twice, her first time being in 2018 and then again the following year. Last year she held the pink jersey for five stages before an unfortunate crash caused her to abandon the race before the penultimate stage.
When Jose Been spoke with Van Vleuten in August of 2020, she described her as being an adventurer, inquisitive, and “grateful in an almost childlike manner with everything this bike racing adventurer brings her.” Now, as Van Vleuten begins this new adventure with a brand new team, the light in her eyes is as bright as ever, especially when she looks around at the young talents who make up the rest of her Movistar squad.
“I’m very keen to share them, to help them, and yeah, to give them the confidence to never stopped believing in yourself,” Van Vleuten said. “That so much more is possible if you enjoyed the training and you keep enjoying the ride and the training and the process and that you never know where it will go. And so yeah, I like to inspire them.”