Annemiek Van Vleuten says that she doesn’t fear anyone going into Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes. Boels Dolmans has been the dominant force in recent weeks, with Anna van der Breggen two for two during the Ardennes Classics, but Van Vleuten says that doesn’t worry her in the slightest and that her Orica-Scott team has more than enough talent to out-gun the Dutch squad.
“I’m not so busy with this thought,” Van Vleuten told Cyclingnews of Boels Dolmans’ run. “For me, I don’t see Boels as a big enemy at all. I think we will just look at our strengths and I’m not scared of any team at all. I’m not busy thinking, 'oh Boels is so strong', not at all. We look at our strengths, and if we play it very well, then we can beat them. I’m not scared of them.”
This weekend will be the first ever edition of the women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, completing the full line-up of Ardennes races. Beginning in Bastogne, the race will head towards the finish of the men’s race in Ans, on the outskirts of Liege. It has just four classified climbs, plus a handful more unclassified ascents, predominantly packed into the last 50 kilometres of the race. The first of the classified côtes is the Côte de la Vecquée, a 6.7km ride that should change things up a little bit according to Van Vleuten.
“We are on our way to do the recon, so I will jump on the bike in half an hour. I can tell you later,” Van Vleuten said when asked about her thoughts on the route. “I’ve had a look at the course though, and it will be the first time that we have a seven-kilometre climb. We don’t usually have that in our Classics, so I’m excited.
“It will be something different for sure, and I like it that the climbs are much closer together in the final. I’m expecting a hard final.”
The Orica-Scott team has happily played the instigator in many of the moves throughout this year’s Classics season, which has seen them rise to second in the WorldTour team rankings. We can expect more of the same from the Australian outfit on Sunday.
“A hard race is more in our advantage because you have girls like Gracie [Elvin], me and Katrin Garfoot who really like it if the race is hard,” she said. “[At the Tour of Flanders] we played it well and made every climb hard, and I was proud of our team for taking that responsibility. For Liège, I think it will be the same. It’s not good for us to wait for just one climb and the climbers go. It’s better if we make it a hard race and we use our numbers.”
Van Vleuten has been a large contributor to Orica-Scott’s WorldTour points haul, scoring 409 out of the team’s 654 total. She has been incredibly consistent so far this season, with 14th at Gent-Wevelgem the only time that she had been outside the top 10. She sits second in the individual rankings and stands a realistic shot of moving into the lead of the WorldTour in Liège. However, she says she’s not going to make any changes to her programme to target it.
It has been a long season already, with 19 race days already done, Van Vleuten having begun her season at the Santos Women’s Tour back in January. Despite this, she is showing no sign of fatigue, in fact, she’s not yet ready for this block of racing to end.
“I think that it’s awesome. I think that this has been the best spring ever for the races. It’s not hard to motivate yourself when you have such big races on the programme with Amstel in my home country and Liège next Sunday. I’m eager to race everything,” said Van Vleuten. “I’m coming from a relaxed attitude where it doesn’t seem hard to go for every race and actually I’m disappointed that the spring is already over. I still feel fresh, and that’s really good but I was like oh sh*t it’s already Liège, and it’s my last one.”
After taking the win at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race at the end of January, Van Vleuten’s best performance this spring came on home ground with her third place at the Amstel Gold Race. It almost wasn’t to be though with a misunderstanding leading her to mess up her sprint. In the second group, Van Vleuten wound up her sprint but slowed briefly when she rode over a marking on the road, mistaking it for the finish line. She quickly noticed that her rivals were still sprinting and went again, but it appeared to be too late, and she was given fourth. It was only when she was back in the team camper van that she was informed that she had been given joint third in a photo finish.
“I felt like I had lost the third place and I was disappointed in myself. Usually, I can handle when I lose something, but it was my own mistake, so it was hard to deal with that. In the end, I was third place with Kasia [Niewiadoma], so that made me really happy.”
Following Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Van Vleuten will take a short break before heading out to an altitude training camp, “and then if things go like they did last year, then I will be able to go another step. It’s also fun that I’m already racing in the finals, being at 98 per cent, so it’s going to be just a little bit better, and that’s what I need to really surprise people going uphill.”