Ellen van Dijk says that she has struggled to match the form that helped her take her time trial world title in Florence in 2013, but the 31-year-old hopes that her move to Trek-Segafredo will help her get back to her best in the discipline.
"I have a new coach here. I’m working with a coach with the team and that’s exciting and new, and hopefully I can get something more out of myself," Van Dijk told Cyclingnews.
"I haven’t been able to improve my level from 2013. To be honest, I have had problems trying to reach that level again. I hope that I can make another step this year. I was on such a high level and it’s hard to keep that and get it back again."
Van Dijk’s biggest challengers in time trials will be her own compatriots Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen. There’s no revelation in the fact that the Dutch have been a dominant force in women’s cycling for some time now, but it was particularly evident this year when the World Championships time trial podium was filled with riders in orange.
Van Vleuten had defended her title, while Van der Breggen was runner-up for the second year running. Van Dijk was almost a minute further back and had to settle for third. It was a frustrating end to the year, particularly as she'd had their number throughout much of the season.
"It’s a bit crazy at the moment," Van Dijk said of the Dutch dominance. "I had a really good time trial year. I won the Dutch championships, the European Championships and then I got third at the World Championships. The end of the year left me with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. The World Championships are the highest achievement and I knew that Annemiek and Anna would be my toughest competitors so it’s weird that it’s from your own country. It’s still a bronze medal and it’s great that it’s an orange podium but if you’re on the lowest step then it’s not so great.
"Maybe in a couple of years I can look back and think that it was nice and special to be a part of, but when you’re on the lowest step, you think, 'I didn’t want it this way’."
A new dawn at Trek
Van Dijk will start a fresh chapter in her career in 2019 after leaving Team Sunweb for Trek-Segafredo in the off-season. Van Dijk spent just two seasons with Sunweb after moving there from Boels Dolmans in 2017. While she complimented the set-up at her former team, she was attracted to the increased freedom she believes Trek-Segafredo can give her.
"[Sunweb] had a good structure as well, but I think that they were a little bit over structured," said Van Dijk. "They have so many rules, protocols and stuff. Everything that they do is written down by somebody else. For me, I think it’s good to look at a situation and change plans when it’s necessary. I really feel that it is possible here.
"When this project came up and I saw that Ina [Teutenberg] was going to be the director, I worked with Ina in the same team for four years and we were pretty close teammates, so I thought this is a great sponsor with new material and with a good team director. Then I heard that Giorgia [Bronzini] would also come and it just gave me confidence and I thought this is the team that I want to ride for."
At Trek, Van Dijk will maintain her role as a super domestique but she is looking to balance that with her own ambitions. The time trials are high on her priority list but, as a former Tour of Flanders winner, the Classics are also well up there.
"Normally, I am focusing on the Classics and team time trialling and time trialling. Also, I want to be an important team player, setting up a sprint or closing a gap but next year I want to be really good in the spring," she said.
"We have a really strong Classics team with Elisa [Longo Borghini]. I think that all the riders here can ride a good Classics campaign. I hope that we can have a really good start with the team. You never really know how things will go. Sometimes it can take a long time before you get a win, and sometimes it’s right there. It’s hard to predict but, on paper, we have a really strong team."
The European Championships, where Van Dijk is the three-time reigning champion, and the World Championships in Yorkshire are also major targets for the Dutch rider. At the Worlds, the time trial is the obvious goal but the road race is also an opportunity for Van Dijk given her skill set. However, as in the time trial, she will face some stiff competition from her teammates.
"I think the road race is for the Classics riders and the time trial is a bit in between," she said. "I will look at [the road race] for sure but I know the Dutch team and it’s not easy to get a specific role in there, like a leader role. We will have to see how the season goes and at the end of the year you usually know who is going to be the leader."