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Annemiek van Vleuten: I was a bit worried about Manuela Fundación

NINOVE BELGIUM FEBRUARY 29 Podium Annemiek Van Vleuten of The Netherlands and Team MitcheltonSCOTT World Champion Jersey Celebration during the 75th Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2020 Women Race a 1229km race from Ghent to Ninove OmloopHNB OHN20 OHNwomen on February 29 2020 in Ninove Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
Annemiek van Vleuten on the podium at 2020 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Annemiek van Vleuten is ready to put the last few turbulent months behind her now that the season is about to restart after being halted due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemi and the failed sponsorship takeover from Manuela Fundación has been sorted.

The world champion confirmed that she has not yet renewed her contract with Mitchelton-Scott, but that she's relieved that team owner Gerry Ryan will continue to support the program in 2021. She will now shift her focus to the revised calendar with the primary goal of defending her world title at the UCI Road World Championships in Switzerland.

"A lot was going on in the team, and it was quite hectic, and to be honest, we're super lucky with Gerry as the team owner. He's a legend," Van Vleuten said.

"I'm very happy that he told us, after the hectic situation, that it didn't go through, and that he said he would continue to support the team. He's the team's founder and very important for the team culture and the Australian mentality."

Mitchelton-Scott announced last month that the Spanish non-profit organisation Manuela Fundación, founded by Francisco Huertas, would take over the team's sponsorship once racing began. However, Mitchelton-Scott later stated that the deal had been called off, with the team and Ryan declaring they had terminated negotiations over sponsorship and that GreenEdge would continue to support the team into 2021.

"I was a little bit worried about Manuela Fundación, that we would lose a little bit of our team culture," Van Vleuten said. "Our team culture is important for this team and why I feel really at home with this team. I'm super happy with Gerry and that he said he would continue to support the team. It was the best thing for me."

Van Vleuten has flourished as a rider since joining the Orica-AIS team, now Mitchelton-Scott, in 2016. Over the last five years she has twice won the overall title at the Giro Rosa in 2018 and 2019, and the individual time trial world title in 2017 and 2018, along with the road race world title in Yorkshire last year. She confirmed that she hasn't renewed her contract with Mitchelton-Scott, which expires in December, and that she's in discussions with both Mitchelton-Scott and other teams for 2021.

"At the moment, I am talking with my current team and other teams," Van Vleuten said. "At the moment, I am not sure where I will be next year, but I'm confident I will be fine."

Van Vleuten, 37, who is committed to competing at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021, was asked if she had considered when she might retire. Her compatriots and former world champions Anna van der Breggen and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak announced they would retire at the end of 2021 and 2022, respectively. Van Vleuten said that she has no plans to retire anytime soon and that her fitness is still improving.

"At the moment, I cannot imagine that I would have to stop," Van Vleuten said. "It would be my nightmare to stop because I love it so much; the lifestyle, the training, being out on my bike, and I still see a lot of challenges. I don't feel bored. Last year, at the World Championships, I had my best power ever for five minutes, and that makes me so hungry and keen to continue because my level is not yet going down.

"I still see improvement. I want to quit when I can see that I'm not improving myself anymore. I'm 37, and so at some point, it needs to go less good. But if you have a great team and feel really well and look forward to the challenges, that is the reason to continue. 

"I hope I inspire women and men. A lot of people think that after 25 you have had your best years. I have proved the opposite, and I want to inspire more people to continue sports at a high level. I also started a little bit later, finished my university degree, and maybe why I am still hungry to develop myself.

"There are other reasons to quit cycling, and I think with Anna van der Breggen and Chantal Blaak, they have other reasons to stop. In women's cycling, it can be important for women to decide when they want to start a family, and there are more reasons to decide if you want to continue or stop. They made their decision. I'm a little bit sad if they quit because it is always such a nice fight, and they are such high-level athletes, so when high-level athletes stop I'm always a little bit sad because it is so nice to race against each other."

The World Championships is my number one goal

HARROGATE, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: <<enter caption here>> on September 28, 2019 in Harrogate, England. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Van Vleuten took a stunning solo win at the 2019 Worlds in Harrogate (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The UCI announced the revised late-season calendar in May, which is a replacement for plans that were halted due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Although there have been some cancellations since then, the Women's WorldTour has retained 15 of the original 22 events. It will now include four stage races and 11 one-day races held between August 1 and November 8.

Public health restrictions surrounding the pandemic have begun to ease across European nations, and riders and teams have begun training camps and preparations for the season to restart. Van Vleuten said that with her team's health regulations in place, combined with the UCI regulations, she feels confident that it is safe to begin racing again. 

"I think my team did a great job being prepared with the documents to guarantee the riders' safety, which was on top of the regulations of the UCI," she said.

"With the documents, regulations, and with our doctors behind us and with us, I'm very confident that it will be safe to race, especially because the virus is not so much around us, it makes me less cautious. We still need to be cautious, and with the regulations and the testing together, I'm not scared to go out there and to race in the peloton."

Van Vleuten will begin her season at three one-day races – Emakumeen Nafarroak Klasikoa, the Clasica Femenina Navarra and Durango-Durango – running from July 23-26 in Spain. She will then turn her attention to Strade Bianche (August 1), La Course (August 29), Giro Rosa (September 11-19), and target the road race and time trial at the UCI Road World Championships (September 20-27) in Aigle-Martigny.

"I'm super excited about the World Championships," she said. "Last year, I became the world champion on a course that really didn't suit me, I thought. I've been looking forward to Switzerland because it's hard and one for the climbers. It's my number one motivation for this year, my number one goal, and if you ask me about goals, the World Championships is important to me, and I was happy when they said they would still organise it."

Van Vleuten isn't looking that far ahead yet, focusing only on gaining race fitness at the three races in Spain at the end of July and her preparations for Strade Bianche on August 1.

"To be honest, I think we have to take it race-by-race at the moment. It's good that we have all kinds of races on the programme, but I need to focus on being good for August 1 for Strade Bianche, which will be an important race," Van Vleuten said. 

"Before Strade Bianche, we have three nice races in the Basque Country to get into the rhythm, and I'm looking forward to racing there. After Strade Bianche, I keep my fingers crossed that everything will still be on the programme and that the health situation will relax."

If all goes well, she intends to line up at La Course by Le Tour de France to contest the new 96km road race in Nice on August 29. That will be followed by the Giro Rosa from September 11-19 where she will attempt a third consecutive overall title.

"I would like to race Giro Rosa, especially this year, I look forward to racing there with my team," she said. "We didn't have so many team efforts this year, and the Giro Rosa, a big stage race, is the best way to have team building and put something out there on the road together. I look forward to that race, and I keep my fingers crossed that that one will be organised."

Many of the events on the Women's WorldTour calendar have not yet announced route details or course profiles, making it difficult for some riders to plan the short season. Van Vleuten said she is not concerned with what types of races are available and just grateful to compete. 

"I'm not too stressed about it," she said. "I'm more stressed about whether the races will be organised. I have to focus on being in optimal shape on August 1, from then on, I'll keep my fingers crossed that everything will be organised. I will not be focussed on specific parcours or whether the Giro Rosa will be very hilly, or with more mountains. Just being, in general, at a high level, is my goal. From there, I'm confident that I can race every race and on all the parcours."

Annemiek van Vleuten's 2020 schedule

July 23: Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa

July 24: Clasica Femenina Navarra

July 26: Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria

August 1: Strade Bianche

August 29: La Course by Le Tour de France

Septmber 1-6: Boels Ladies Tour

September 11-19: Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile

September 21: World Championships time trial, Aigle-Martigny

September 26: World Championships road race, Aigle-Martigny

September 30: La Flèche Wallonne Féminine

October 4: Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes

October 10: Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition

October 18: Tour of Flanders

October 25: Paris-Roubaix Femmes

November 6-8: Ceratizit Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta