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Stage hunters and general classification hopefuls alike are taking on the first Giro Donne and Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift “double” one of two ways. They are either racing both races or skipping the Italian ten-day event in favour of the highly anticipated race around France.
Annemiek van Vleuten, arguably the number one favourite for both events, believes the key to thriving at both races is the two-week break between the two.
“I was aware that the time between the Giro and the Tour de France was super important also to recharge and to get keen to race again and I think also I have been now so long without racing that I feel like a tiger is in the cage and I want to go out,” Van Vleuten said in a video on social media.
Van Vleuten, who is returning from injury just in time for the Giro d’Italia Donne, announced earlier in the season that she would target both stage races. The injury sidelined the Dutchwoman from the Spanish WorldTour stage races in May, Itzulia and Vuelta a Burgos, but did not hinder her original goal of taking home both the pink and yellow leader’s jerseys.
“For me personally there’s not a big difference between targeting the Giro [Donne] and the Tour de France, but the people around me they only talk about the Tour de France,” Van Vleuten said. “For sure we have more important races than the Tour de France only.”
“For sure there will be more pressure from the outside world and I think it’s super nice and good that we almost the same team of riders but also the staff that are here at the Giro.”
The day before the Giro Donne started Van Vleuten announced she had extended her contract with Movistar through 2023 but would retire at the end of next season. The veteran rider said that one of the reasons she would remain on the Spanish team until her career was done was to help the team continue to develop. Indeed, since the Olympic gold medalist joined the team they have found themselves climbing the rankings of the Women’s WorldTour.
Targetting both the Giro Donne and the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift is a new challenge since the French race is a new edition to the Women’s WorldTour for 2022. The team around Van Vleuten have their work cut out for them, but Van Vleuten believes that having a similar team in both races will help the team succeed in France.
“For sure we will make some mistakes because it’s the first time that we target such a big stage race together with this team,” Van Vleuten explained. “It’s a new challenge and I love challenges but for sure with a new challenge we will make some mistakes and have to learn from it and if you take the same people I’m convinced that we will learn quickly and it will improve quickly also for this team and then the real pressure coming from the outside world in the Tour de France we are a bit more ready also for that.”
In the build-up to the Giro Donne, Van Vleuten spent two blocks of training time at altitude, first in Andorra and then in Livigno, a location the former world champion has frequented throughout her career.
“My goal is always to arrive at the best possible shape when I have a big goal coming up and I think I did that so I feel good,” Van Vleuten added. “I feel ready for the Giro and I can’t wait to race because it’s been long after Liege.”
“My training plan was to arrive here in my top shape that I’m 100% sure that physically I will end in the same shape in the Tour de France as I am now,” Van Vleuten said. “I thought about it, that I need those two weeks between. It’s important to recharge mentally as well as physically but I think more of it is mentally because I target both big stage races for the GC and that is especially mentally a challenge to recharge from that.”
Winning a big stage race like the Giro Donne takes more than physical strength. A strong team is key, but so is a level head. Flat stages and seemingly “easy” days can end in disaster, something Van Vleuten learned the hard way in 2020 when she was leading the Giro Rosa and crashed in the final kilometres of stage 7. The crash resulted in a broken wrist and the end of her Giro Rosa campaign.
“Every day you wake up with stress, every day I wake up with a stone in my stomach…also in the sprint stages I cannot lose time, I need to be super focussed from the beginning to the end and I also need to conserve energy and you have that stress every day. So that’s a challenge,” Van Vleuten explained.
“I’m not a person who likes to conserve energy and to be quiet, I like to race with my heart and I know in a stage race I cannot do that,” Van Vleuten said. “So that’s the challenge for me that I switch off my one-day racing style and go a bit into the conserving racing style and I need to be patient.”
At this year’s Giro Donne, it’s stage 7 that Van Vleuten is eyeing.
“That’s also not one of my strongest qualities but I need to be patient until stage seven. Patient but don’t lose focus and I think that is the biggest challenge with this,” Van Vleuten said. “If you just go for the two stage races just going for stages it’s so different, especially the days where I don’t have a goal unless I conserve energy, which is the challenge of a stage race.”
As far as winning both the Giro and the Tour the women are in uncharted waters, but if anyone can take home both jerseys it would be Annemiek van Vleuten.