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Annemiek van Vleuten has been officially crowned queen of the road for 2021.
Closing in on her 40th birthday, which will be a year from now, the Movistar rider shows no sign of slowing down.
Van Vleuten’s dominance this season has been such that she was able to miss the final two rounds of the Women’s WorldTour — not that she had a choice after breaking her pelvis and shoulder at Paris-Roubaix — and still romped away with the overall series win for the second time in her career.
She first won the competition, which awards the season’s most consistent rider in the sport’s top races, back in 2018 with a slim advantage over compatriot Marianne Vos. Her massive points margin of more than 600 over Demi Vollering sees her become the first rider to win Women’s WorldTour on two separate occasions.
Van Vleuten’s huge haul of 3,177 points in the Women’s WorldTour and 5,053 in the overall World Ranking, which she leads by over 1,600 points, were the result of yearlong consistency with victories in six of the eight months she raced in.
Only in June, where she skipped almost everything aside from the Dutch nationals, and October — where she crashed out of Paris-Roubaix Femmes — did she not come away with a win.
Among van Vleuten’s victories were her second places at Tour of Flanders, Clásica San Sebastián, the Ladies Tour of Norway GC, and the Challenge by La Vuelta GC. She also rode away with several stage victories, two podiums in Ardennes week, a runner-up placing overall at the Vuelta a Burgos.
Other results that boosted her season tally, though didn’t contribute to her Women’s WorldTour win, were her Olympic TT victory and her road race silver in Tokyo, as well as her podium places in the individual and mixed time trials at the worlds in Flanders.
Van Vleuten’s success this season continues to mark her out as one of the most complete riders in cycling.
What’s most impressive is that she did it all while moving to a new team last winter.
This season has seen some of her long-term rivals retiring, including Anna van der Breggen, but there’s no time to rest on laurels for van Vleuten with a strong crop of riders coming up behind her.
Vollering, who was in just her third pro season in 2021, will be prime among those challengers next year. The fellow Dutch rider is also very well rounded, and what she lacks in punch on the big climbing days she makes up for in her fast finish — which van Vleuten learned at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Elisa Longo Borghini continues to be a serious threat to van Vleuten with her fearless style of racing, while the European time trial champion Marlen Reusser is developing into a very well-rounded rider.
Time will tell as she recovers from her injuries, but van Vleuten will still be hard to beat in 2022 and the other teams will need to bring their A-game to beat her. Especially when it comes to the new Tour de France Femmes.
Back on the bike, already
Van Vleuten’s season ended quite abruptly when she hit the deck at Paris-Roubaix Femmes, breaking her pelvis in two places and her shoulder. Thus is her relentlessness to improve at anything, van Vleuten was riding a stationary bike just two days after the incident — don’t try this one at home without some medical advice, though.
She was soon on her city bike that comes with the usual wide saddle, which has allowed her to adopt the upright riding position she needs to avoid putting too much stress on her injuries.
“After 16 kilometers I was completely exhausted, but it worked! Pain is still my guide in what I should and shouldn’t do, but as long as I don’t feel pain, I can load and move,” van Vleuten said in a blog on her own personal website.
Van Vleuten tried to assure anyone that might be worried she’s pushing herself too hard too early, stating that she’s doing it with support from doctors and her recovery time will likely be as long as everyone else’s.
“I get the reaction from many people that I recover so quickly, but this is only partly true. For every bone fracture, there is simply a recovery period of 4 to 6 weeks, and this time also stands for me,” she said. “I may be a bit more motivated and less afraid to start moving as soon as I can responsibly.
“Then 48 hours after the fall, you are just sitting on an exercise bike (under the watchful eye of the physiotherapist and with the permission of the doctor, of course). I do think that way you make progress a bit faster, and in any case, you don’t lose a lot of muscle and condition.”
The Dutchwoman’s spirits already seem more buoyed than immediately following her crash, which is understandable. Van Vleuten has been through this process before after injuring her knee at the 2018 worlds and knew that spending another off-season recovering was going to be tough.
However, some rearranged vacation and training camp time has given her something to look forward to in the coming months.
Van Vleuten will still be heading to her planned off-season road trip to Colombia, though it will be slightly delayed due to her recovery. She will spend time in the South American country to help lead a bike tour and get in some warm weather training as Europe continues its descent into winter.