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Every rainbow jersey has its own tale to tell for Ellen van Dijk, and no two are the same.
The Trek-Segafredo powerhouse has notched up three TT world titles during her career with her first coming in 2013 before back-to-back titles in 2021 and 2022. Each one is a representation of where Van Dijk was in her career at the time and how she has developed as a rider and a person.
While her first title was her most dominant victory, with a winning margin of 24 seconds, her most recent was possibly her most impressive as the depth of the peloton continues to get stronger.
“Every jersey has its own story,” Van Dijk told VeloNews. “The first one I won in 2013. I was 26 and I just thought, if I could ever be in that rainbow jersey then my life would be complete. I did it, and it was really cool, but then I realized afterward it doesn’t define your life. It’s really nice, but it’s not who you are. I had a personal development process. But I always had this deep desire in me that I wanted to win it once more, just to prove that I could still do it, and that took me eight years.
“Brugge was super emotional for me. That’s my favorite win. That came from so far and so deep and all my closest people were there. After that, I got a little bit more confidence again, but going toward Australia I never really had the feeling I could win there. The course was not that great for me and I never had the confidence that I was going to win there again.
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“You could say I had something to lose because I had the jersey, but I felt like I got the second win I always wanted and whatever happens now will be a bonus. I really had that feeling. Maybe that was the key to staying relaxed, and then doing it again on a course that I would normally never think would suit me. I was really in disbelief that I won it and I’m still a little bit like ‘what actually happened?’”
The win in Wollongong put Van Dijk alone as the second most successful TT world champion since the event was introduced in 1994. The only rider who sits ahead of her in the all-time standings is French rider Jeannie Longo, who won four world titles between 1995 and 2001.
Van Dijk is seven years younger than Longo was when she won her final world title and doesn’t appear to be slowing down just yet. The rest of the peloton is snapping at her heels, but she still has time to equal or perhaps beat Longo’s record.
Becoming the record-holder of TT rainbow jerseys would be a nice bonus, but Van Dijk isn’t thinking like that.
“I have time for two more,” she laughed. “I take every year as it comes and, for me, the best thing is to look at it like everything is a bonus. If I really put pressure on myself, then things are not going well, so as long as I can keep that mindset that that really works. I’m not really into these statistics, although it’s nice when you see you’re the one who was the best, but at the same time, you cannot compare champions championships from 30 years ago.”
Leaving the Hour Record on the back burner
Taking a third world title was not the only career-defining achievement that Van Dijk wrapped up last year and she set a new Hour Record. She bested the previous record set by Joscelin Lowden by nearly 850 meters and pushed the distance over 49km.
“The whole project around the Hour Record was so cool to do. I really, really loved it. And it was fun. It was so cool, in many ways. That’s my highlight of the year,” Van Dijk said. “It has this kind of mythical status, It’s the hardest thing you could ever do. It’s something so specific. When you see that, Dan Bigham can do it so well, because he’s really trained on this specific discipline, it’s almost like a different discipline. Just to find out your physical limits, to go as fast as you can in one hour, and then see how far you can get is a mentally super big challenge physically as well. For me, it’s the ultimate challenge in every aspect.”
Van Dijk’s performance has put the magical 50k mark tantalizingly close and Italian racer Vittoria Bussi, who previously held the record, is setting out to try and beat it. VeloNews spoke to Van Dijk before Bussi announced her attempt but the Dutchwoman said she wanted to see people try and take it.
For now, Van Dijk doesn’t have any plans to try and top the 50km mark.
“I think that’s the purpose of the record, others have to attack it as well. I think that only makes it worth more when other people are doing it,” she said. “I’m super happy I’ve done it and it was the best experience for me. I don’t know if I will do it again. I don’t think that experience could be as good anymore as I have it now. I never say never, but I don’t have plans at the moment.”
For now, Van Dijk’s goals are on the road rather than the track for 2023 with the spring, and Paris-Roubaix in particular, at the forefront of her mind. Last season, she had to push through the feeling of fear following a heavy crash in the opening edition of Paris-Roubaix that left her dealing with a concussion.
She now holds less feat about the race, but she’s not keen on riding another wet edition anytime soon.
“I always want to be good in the spring, and often I am quite good, but it’s just not that easy to win a race in the spring, especially now for a rider like me. But for sure. I hope to win a nice classic this year,” Van Dijk said. “If I could pick one, then I will go for Roubaix. The first year, I completely hated it and last year I really liked it. It depends on the circumstance, if it’s raining again, I’m not starting. I was really scared this year to do it again, but then afterward, I really enjoyed it.
“The race itself, I think it really suits me. But so many things can happen in this race. Last year, I had a badly timed puncture and I had to do 30k of time trialing to get back, and these things you just cannot really help.”