Commentary: Annemiek van Vleuten deserves more hype for her Giro, Tour, Vuelta bid

Annemiek van Vleuten could become one of the greatest of all time if she can pull off her ambitious 2022 targets.

Photo: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

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There’s no slowing Annemiek van Vleuten down, and certainly not her ambitions.

The Dutch rider dubbed 2021 her best season yet, but she could topple that this year with some major goals on her to-do list for 2022.

Van Vleuten revealed last week that she would target the pink, yellow, and red jerseys of the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, and Challenge by La Vuelta this year. To ramp up the hit list that one extra notch, she is also eyeing up the world championships in Wollongong at the end of the season.

“I like challenges, and I’ll ride the three grand tours. I’m looking forward to preparing for these grand tours together with my whole team, the riders, and the staff. It will be a big new objective for all of us. I’m very proud of the development of the team and that motivates me a lot,” van Vleuten said at the Movistar presentation Thursday last week.

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Van Vleuten’s bold ambitions deserve far more hype than they have received since she unveiled them last week. It is huge!

Can she hit all her targets in 2022 and just where in the pantheon of greats would it put her if she does?

The short answer to the first part of the question is “yes.” There’s no doubt that van Vleuten has the capability to come away with everything on her wish list by the end of this year. Will she do it, is another question entirely.

Though one of her biggest rivals Anna van der Breggen has retired, it is not a straightforward task. Van Vleuten is strong, but she’s not unbeatable — though it may seem like it at times — and there will be plenty of big-name riders gunning for those same races.

There is also the matter of fortune, a difficult split or a bad crash could easily bring the whole deck of cards tumbling down. It’s the reason she chose to skip the Giro d’Italia last year when she was preparing for the Olympic Games last season.

There’s nowhere to hide this year.

However, she now has a team around her that is far more experienced in supporting a big leader than it was when she joined last year. Van Vleuten will also have the support of rising star Sarah Gigante for this season, which will give her and the team more tactical choices at crunch moments.

Never back down

Targeting four of the biggest events on the calendar is a list of goals that would stress out the best of us, but van Vleuten is not a person that is easily daunted. Her desire for a challenge was plain to see when she decided to attack the whole bunch alone to win the Challenge by La Vuelta last September.

That dogged determination was also demonstrated in how she bounced back from the Paris-Roubaix Femmes crash she had just a month after that win in Spain, which left her with a broken pelvis. She was back on the bike just days after hitting the cobbles.

Van Vleuten’s not afraid to have a go and maybe fail and that’s what makes her so threatening in a race.

“It strikes me that a lot of people always say: What if? If only I hadn’t continued,” she said in a recent interview with Dutch publication De Gelderlander. “It is also easy to blame others, but it won’t make you happier if you do. It doesn’t change the situation. Of course, a crash is a big disappointment, but I try to look ahead to the bright spots that are there.

“I think it’s in my genes too. When my father lay on his sickbed, he could no longer look ahead. But he tried to make the best of it. So did my mother. As a result, I do have beautiful memories of that time, despite the fact that my father was sick and in bed and that he was dying. That has inspired me, even more, to deal with setbacks in this way. No matter how shit the situation is, you also make the best of it with humor. When the doctor said in October that I didn’t have to be in bed for six weeks, I immediately started looking ahead again. Then the fire will burn for me. That drives me. That motivates me.”

Perhaps the most impressive part of van Vleuten’s master plan for 2022 is that her big goals are spread out over just under four months. Starting with the Giro d’Italia Donne at the beginning of July, she will move onto the Tour de France Femmes at the end of that month.

August will bring a brief reprieve for the Dutchwoman before the Vuelta and the worlds in September. While the Vuelta may not technically be considered a grand tour on the women’s calendar just yet, it is a major race for her and the Movistar team, and it won’t be a cakewalk.

The Tour de France will be the crux of van Vleuten’s season, but she’s not the type of rider to push the pedals in a race just for training purposes. She wants to win everything she does and we’re unlikely to see her take it easy at the Giro to save some energy for the Tour. The same can be said about the Vuelta and worlds doubleheader.

With a rich palmarès already in her back pocket, van Vleuten is already a name to be considered among the best of her generation. However, if she can complete the clean sweep in 2022, it would place her in the select group of the best — woman or man — cycling has ever seen.

Perhaps, we could even dare to call her the greatest.

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