With Chantal Blaak's victory in the women's road race at last month's UCI Road World Championships, the Netherlands joined France as the nation with the most world titles with 10 in the elite women's road race. That it was Blaak donning the rainbow jersey at the end of the race was perhaps a bit of a surprise, but a Dutch rider standing on the top step of the podium certainly wasn't.
In the last six years, the Dutch have only missed the podium once and have won three world titles, and next year's route in Innsbruck looks like the perfect chance to make that four from seven.
"I think we have a very good chance," said Dutch coach Thorwald Veneberg when Cyclingnews asks if he thinks the Netherlands can keep the rainbow jersey within the Orange team in Innsbruck. Since Bergen, the riders and staff have been enjoying a break, but they will meet up again next month for a debrief on this year's competition and set out their plans for the next 12 months.
The Dutch team, particularly the women's team, has long been dominant at the world championships, ranking fourth in the overall rankings and first in the women's events. However, this year's competition in Bergen could have hardly gone better. It started off with the team time trial where nine Dutch riders, seven from the Dutch selection, walked away with either gold or silver. That got the ball rolling, and the Dutch would go on to win both elite time trial titles and the women's road title. The only thing that went wrong for them was the men's road race, where Niki Terpstra was their best finisher in 24th.
"Normally we go to an event and all the athletes have different goals and targets, but for some reason, they don't all work. Except for the result of the men's race, because we hoped for a better result, but the way we raced was good, all the plans worked out sort of," explained Veneberg. "I think there was a flow as a team. It started with the team time trial with a lot of Dutch success, so the good flow started there. Those athletes came to our hotel with a big smile and a lot of fun and we kept that the whole week."
Keetie van Oosten-Hage and Leontien van Moorsel have played a large part in the Dutch's tally of medals over the years, but the current crop is arguably the best ever. With Marianne Vos, Ellen van Dijk, Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen, to name just a few, they have riders dominant in every aspect of the sport. Their success has already has made the work of finding and developing new talent much easier for the federation.
"When the women bring some enthusiasm and some examples, the rest comes by itself," he said. "Of course, talent development is very important, so we have to co-operate and talk with the clubs and also discover new talents from other sports like speed skating. My colleague Loes Gunnewijk is talent coach of the junior girls and she does a lot of important work with training camps and bringing them to the mountains and teaching them a lot of skills which they need to be professional riders. We have to pay a lot of attention to the young girls."
With many of the present generation in their late 20s or very early 30s, the dominance we saw in Bergen and throughout 2017 could last several more years. However, beyond that, the future of the Dutch women's team looks fairly secure with junior world and European champions among the up and coming riders. Matching up to this generation will be a tough ask for anyone but Veneberg is confident that they will not suffer a dearth of talent in the coming years.
"In the young riders we have a very good time triallist in Karlijn Swinkels, and she's also very good in races. She's a bit like Ellen van Dijk she has the same good power output. We have another girl who is the same age, Nicole Steigenga, who is really fond of attacking. She attacks all the time," said Veneberg. "There is Maaike Boogaard, who was also in our junior selection last year. This year she started at a club and we took her to some races as a federation and she developed very quickly, and now she rides with Ljubljana and she was already in the team selection for the team time trial in Bergen and she performed very well. In the juniors we also have some very good ladies like Lorena Wiebes the European champion and the girls that helped her are also very strong.
"I don't know if together if they will be as good as the strong team that we have now, because the one that we have now has got a lot of good riders, but there are some good riders that will have some strong results in the future."