My season started in the best possible way with a victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Then my attention quickly turned to the seriousness of the emerging COVID-19 coronavirus around the world. I found myself worried about this global pandemic. How much and in what ways would it impact so many people? I was also concerned about how well we could collectively come together to get the situation under control.
I still worry about the virus, even now, when things appear to look better in Europe. At first, I felt that not being able to race seemed pretty 'small' and not so relevant compared to the more significant health concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
I was quite disappointed when I heard that many of our races were cancelled this year, but I also understood why public health precautions were necessary. I was in good shape and well-prepared for the season.
I felt like all my goals and everything that I looked forward to and worked so hard for was gone. Like many of us, I had no idea when, in the future, I could create new goals. As a very goal-oriented person, this was very hard for me, and I didn't feel so good in the first two weeks.
My neighbours Taco van der Hoorn (who rides for Jumbo-Visma) and Jan-Willem van Schip (who rides for BEAT Cycling Club), asked me, "what are your 'corona possibilities'?"
I thought about that for a while and considered what kinds of opportunities could arise from this uncertain coronavirus period. That question alone made me realise that I had to make the most of this time.
Cyclists, like many other athletes, are very creative and flexible. Many of my colleagues have been focussed on the opportunities that have been presented to them in their lives. They have searched for what is still possible at a time when things seem so challenging, and many have chosen not to worry about what's been lost or the things that are out of their control.
In a general sense, some people tend to focus on what isn't possible during this coronavirus period, and it's natural to feel worried during a pandemic. Perhaps they can also find inspiration from those who can turn a challenging situation into something positive with a new mindset.
And so, Taco and Jan-Willem challenged me to look at things with a new and more positive perspective. It was like a little trick to keep yourself mentally happy and to see the possibilities. They made me realise that I was in a pretty bad place, and they challenged me to think of my opportunities.
I appreciate that there are some aspects of this period that have been nice. For example, the sun is shining, and, unlike some of my colleagues who were in full lockdown, I was still able to ride outside.
Once the health restrictions eased a little bit in the Netherlands, I was able to spend time with friends and family at a 1.5-metre distance, and I usually don't get to spend time with them at this point in the year.
Generally, at this time of year, I'm running in and out of my house and travelling to races, so it's been nice to have a bit more time to organise and to make myself feel more at home.
I found inspiration through some of my teammates, who started to try new things and share their experiences on social media. My teammate Amanda Spratt came up with this great idea to organise an individual stage race in Switzerland. Jessica Allen was in Spain's lockdown and shared positive messages about how she stayed happy. She made me realise, together with the guys on my team, who were in full lockdown in Spain, Italy and Andorra, how lucky I was to be allowed to ride outside.
Jan-Willem also challenged me to ride 400km in a day. At first, I said, "no way, I don't think that will be fun." They planted a little seed in my head, and then after an hour, I changed my mind and said, "why not just go for it all in one day." Of course, it isn't necessary to do this for training purposes, and I don't think it's something I would do very often, but it was quite fun.
I rode it with Jan-Willem and his friend Niels Hoogenboom, and Taco met us for the last 100km. It was super fun and quite an experience because my longest ride up until that point was 250km. We weren't allowed to ride beside each other, so we took five-minute turns swapping off for 400km. I even got to use my time trial bike for some parts, which made it a bit faster (but the position behind my wheel was probably not so popular).
These are some of the things that have given me positive energy and motivation. It's in these times that you need to realise what is essential and find what makes you happy. This time gave me the chance to remember how much I love riding my bike - even without the goals or the winning - and how special it was to be able to ride outside when a lot of other people were stuck in full lockdown,. I just really generally love cycling, and gaining that realisation again is such a nice feeling.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) is a two-time winner of the Giro Rosa and a two-time winner of the individual time trial World Championships, both in 2017 and 2018. Last September she added to her palmares with her first-ever world title in the road race at the UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire. You can visit her website here.
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