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Dutch rouleur fills void left by Arndt
All season long it was clear that Ellen van Dijk was going to be the strongest time trialist in the world and she confirmed all predictions today with a powerful performance in the UCI road world championships, beating perennial podium finisher Linda Villumsen and the surprising American Carmen Small for the rainbow jersey.
Van Dijk filled the void left behind by the retirement of Germany's Judith Arndt, who won the title over the past two years.
The 26-year-old Dutch rider has gone nearly undefeated in the discipline this year, helped her Specialized-lululemon team to numerous team time trial victories (including Sunday's world title), and came into the race the undeniable favourite, especially after she won the Chrono Champenois last week.
"It was a different course to last week," van Dijk said. "It was 33km and so this is shorter at 22km. This was pancake flat. It was a completely different time trial, this was way more technical."
Van Dijk chalked up her success to an early morning practice session in August when she rode the course twice at 5:00am, at the crack of dawn, in order to avoid the traffic in the city center of Florence.
"It was really hard to practice in the city with the traffic, so we did it early the morning. We also made a video of it and I watched that video 10 million times until I was dreaming it."
Formerly more of a sprinter, van Dijk won the 2011 Ladies Tour of Qatar, but then decided to put more focus into her time trialing.
"I've made a transformation from a sprinter to become a time trialist, but I was always good at time trials too," she said.
"It cost me a bit of my sprint to focus on time trials, but it's better to focus on one thing and do it good than do lots of things a little bit good.
"I made the transformation with the help of my coach. He helped me to do special time trial training and skills."
The change has allowed her not only to win time trials, but to also excel in stage races since the increased power allowed her to climb better. As a result she could ride her time gains in the individual tests to general classification wins. The strategy paid off with overall victories this season in the Energiewacht Tour, Gracia-Orlova and Holland Ladies Tour, the latter just two weeks prior to the Worlds.