Annemiek van Vleuten: Women’s cycling is more than just trying to beat Annemiek van Vleuten

The Dutch superstar believes that Movistar will continue to thrive after she retires.

Photo: Alex Broadway/Getty Images

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Annemiek van Vleuten is pleased to see that teams and riders are raising their game to beat her this season, but the Dutch superstar says that women’s cycling is about way more than just her.

Some teams and riders, such as FDJ-Suez, have already stated their intentions to top the Movistar rider before she retires at the end of the season. Van Vleuten dominated the stage races last year, winning almost every multi-day event she entered, including the Giro d’Italia Donne and the Tour de France Femmes.

While she would like people to look at more than just her when guiding their tactics, Van Vleuten is using that focus to push her on as she tries to hit it big in her final season of racing.

“If I can be the reason they want to lift their game, I’m proud and it’s good for the level of women’s cycling that it will be higher,” Van Vleuten told VeloNews in a recent video call. “It’s a bit sad to reduce women’s cycling to only being about beating Annemiek van Vleuten. Especially at the classics, I think some teams had their tactics last year only focused on me, and then other girls won, so I think it’s sad to reduce women’s cycling to Annemiek van Vleuten.

“In the stage races, yes, but that’s only three races. First, we have a really beautiful block coming up at the classics. Hopefully, they will play different tactics. I see it as a complement and also as a driving force for myself because I don’t want to lean back, and I haven’t. I also need to lift my game. I know that my competitors are doing that, so together we have raised the level for women’s cycling. That’s what we want because we want to keep it attractive.”

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More riders upping their game will mean it’s far more challenging for Van Vleuten to dominate as she has done in recent seasons. It has already been evident this year with Van Vleuten finishing off the podium in her season debut at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana.

It was the first time since November 2020 that Van Vleuten finished off the podium in a stage race. In the intervening time, she had either finished first or second in the general classification.

While Van Vleuten likes to win, she also likes the challenge and wants to deliver an exciting race to the fans.

“I love to entertain people. Winning is nice but it’s also important to have some interesting races and sometimes I get like critics that say ‘oh it’s boring with Van Vleuten, I’m very happy that she will be stopping.’ If you check the classics of last year, I was always part of it, but I was not winning every race. I think almost all the classics had a really good fight and I think that’s really important for the promotion of women’s cycling and I’m happy that I’m figuring in the play.”

Moving on

Van Vleuten is in the opening days of her final season as a professional racer after announcing her decision to retire at the end of this season. Perhaps as a result of her longevity in the sport and her star pull, it has taken people time to come to terms with the fact that she will not be racing next year.

There have been questions about whether she really will call it quits, but she remains firm on that decision for now. Racing her final season will be a fine balance between hitting each race as she has always done and absorbing the final moments of her career.

“Nothing is different. I still have my driving force that I have to get the best out myself and I’m not thinking that this my last year,” Van Vleuten said. “I try to be a bit more conscious that it is my last year and that I should enjoy a bit more. I am always enjoying but next year it will be different and sometimes to realize the nice parts of cycling and also realize that next year it is over.”

Van Vleuten announced her final season calendar earlier this year and it will be one packed with her biggest hits. It will see her take on the Vuelta Femenina, Giro d’Italia Donne, and the Tour de France Femmes, as well as hitting up some major one-day races at Strade Bianche, the Tour of Flanders, and the Ardennes classics.

Her final races will be at the multi-discipline “super worlds” in Glasgow in August. She’ll be going out to perform at her highest in each event, but there are some she’s looking forward to more than others and she won’t always be the lone team leader — something that she’s gotten used to lately.

“I have to adjust a little bit. Of course, I want to win with the team and especially this year, I think I can I can arrive in some situations where I have a teammate in front and we have more cards to play,” Van Vleuten said. “Sometimes it will be a little bit different for me and I cannot wait for the win, which is also a good development.

“I look forward to arriving again in Siena [at Strade Bianche -ed] and racing there for to win. That was one of the best places to finish a race for me. Last year, the epic fight with Lotte Kopecky it was… okay I came second, but it was a beautiful fight. In the first few hours, I hate the race and in the last hour I start to love the race, and I forget about it first three hours, because it’s really a war in those first two hours to be in position for the sectors.

“I also really look forward to Amstel because it’s my home race in the rainbow jersey. In the Netherlands. It’s special. It’s not a race that suits me the best, but they made it a bit longer and it’s a hometown race so it’s special for me to race there.”

With Van Vleuten hanging up her racing wheels at the end of the year, this season will very much be a transition season for her Movistar team. Van Vleuten has been the undoubted leader of the team since she joined in 2021, but the team is building for when she leaves.

There were already some promising riders on the squad, like Sara Martin and Sarah Gigante, while Liane Lippert and Floortje Mackaij joined over the winter from Team DSM.

“I felt that I missed the start of the season. I was still training, and everyone was racing everywhere, but it was super exciting to wake up to see Floortje. What an amazing start and nice addition to the team. That gives you a really good momentum and good energy in the team,” Van Vleuten said.

“I didn’t race with Liane yet, but it’s also one of my driving forces also to improve and not only improve myself, but also with the team. If I can be a part of that to develop a little bit more talent in this team that they were ready for next year, and they improve, and as we improve as a team, then that’s one of my driving forces.”

Movistar after Van Vleuten will be a very different team, but she is confident that it will succeed without her.

“They are ready to take over when I leave,” she said. “It’s good to have two new additions. For sure, it will be different. It’s super nice to be part of a team that has made such a huge improvement and huge development. I’m sure that will continue because this team is eager to improve and that’s also why I feel really at home in Movistar.”

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