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State of the Nation: Analysing the Dutch women's 2021 World Championships team

Composite image of the Dutch favourites for the 2021 World Championships - Marianne Vos, Lucinda Brand, Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen
Composite image of the Dutch favourites for the 2021 World Championships - Marianne Vos, Lucinda Brand, Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Ahead of the 2021 UCI Road World Championships elite road races, Cyclingnews is taking a deep dive into the key teams.

We've looked several of the women's teams from Great Britain, the United States and Australia. Now it is time to take a closer look at the Dutch women's squad.

History

The Netherlands won their first world title in the women's road race in 1968 with Keetie van Oosten-Hage, who won again in 1976, and there were also two other champions in the 1970s with Tineke Fopma (1975) and Petra de Bruijn (1979). Leontien van Moorsel delivered a pair of victories in 1991 and 1993 before the stage was set for the current generation's dominance.

It began when Marianne Vos in 2006 broke the country's 13-year dry spell in Salzburg in her first elite season and then delivered a record five straight silver medals. Finally, Vos shook off the frustrations of second place and claimed back-to-back wins in 2012 and 2013, in addition to taking Olympic gold in London. Since then, the Dutch women have only gathered steam, landing on the podium each year except 2014 and going on to take the past four World Championship titles – first with Chantal van den Broek-Blaak in Bergen, then with Anna van der Breggen in Innsbruck, Annemiek van Vleuten in Yorkshire and Van der Breggen again in Imola.

The results combine to make the Netherlands the most successful country in the event, with 13 titles and a total of 34 podium placings – head and shoulders above any other nation. They also currently have four of the five top-ranked riders in the world on their team.

Lineup

Key riders

Marianne Vos surprisingly suffered and was dropped mid-race

Marianne Vos at the European Road Championships (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

All of the Dutch former world champions of the past 15 years will be on the start line in Flanders and come together with a power-packed line-up that includes new time trial World Champion Ellen van Dijk, Thüringen Tour winner Lucinda Brand, La Course by Le Tour de France winner Demi Vollering, and Dutch Champion Amy Pieters.

The usually dominant Anna van der Breggen, who is retiring  at the end of this season, has suffered a fade in form since winning the Giro d'Italia Donne in July and has said she would race in support of the team. With a domestique like her, the chances of seeing another orange jersey being covered by rainbow stripes is a distinct possibility, and it could be any one of her teammates.

Marianne Vos showed fine form late in the season, taking two stages of the Giro d'Italia Donne and three in the Simac Ladies Tour, plus the classics are one of her specialities. She won Tour of Flanders in 2013, and has taken victories in La Fléche Wallonne five times in addition to wins this year in the Amstel Gold Race and Gent-Wevelgem. Vos, however, didn't finish at the European championships but will likely be more comfortable in the cooler weather in Flanders.

Annemiek van Vleuten is another Tour of Flanders winner, having taken the title this year and in 2011 along with a slew of other one-day victories in her career including Dwars door Vlaanderen and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad – clearly the narrow roads, cobbles and short, sharp climbs of Flanders are her kind of terrain and she has the mentality and drive to win in important races.

Van den Broek-Blaak is an important foil for the Dutch tactics, and her world title came with a long attack as her teammates sat on their rivals. She's also on form, having won the Simac Ladies Tour last month and Dwars door het Hageland and Strade Bianche in the spring. Look for her to go with the late attacks.

Brand is another powerful rider who no one will want to bring to the line from a breakaway. She just won the last stage of the Tour de l'Ardèche and is gearing up for cyclo-cross season, so the world champion in the discipline is bound to be on good form. Most likely she will be another card to play if Van Vleuten or Van den Broek-Blaak can't get away.

Van Dijk was incredible en route to victory in the time trial on Monday, clocking over 50kph to take her second rainbow jersey. Together with her solo win in the European Championships, this bodes very well for the 34-year-old who has a strong record in the Classics. She won Tour of Flanders in 2014 and has twice taken Dwars door Vlaanderen.

Vollering is good in a sprint, with her La Course win this year as a clear demonstration, but can tackle the hellingen, too, having shown her climbing abilities with the win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. This year she also come second in the Amstel Gold Race and Brabantse Pijl, which includes some of the same terrain as the Worlds course.

Pieters' palmares are nothing to sneeze at, either. The current Dutch champion and former European Champion also won Omloop het Nieuwsblad (2014) and twice been second at Tour of Flanders. She'll be a formidable alternative to Vos or Vollering in a fast finish, or a stellar lead out.

Strengths

IMOLA ITALY SEPTEMBER 26 Annemiek Van Vleuten of The Netherlands Ane Santesteban Gonzalez of Spain Demi Vollering of The Netherlands Anna Van Der Breggen of The Netherlands Peloton during the 93rd UCI Road World Championships 2020 Women Elite Road Race a 143km race from Imola to Imola Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari ImolaEr2020 Imola2020 on September 26 2020 in Imola Italy Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images

Dutch Women's Team leading the peloton at the Imola World Championships in 2020 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Dutch team have all the bases covered, with world-class sprinters, the best time trialists in the world for long-range attacks or controlling the race, and the top one-day racers for late attacks or small group sprints. They've also shown unity in past World Championships, with each rider willing to go well into the red zone to help her teammates. That level of self-sacrifice is one of the Dutch team's most powerful weapons.

Weaknesses

There aren't many cracks in their armour to speak of, especially considering the depth of their talent. If anything, their strength makes them the biggest target and deters any other nations from working with them in breakaways.

The team's tactics came under question at the Olympic Games when they let the breakaway gain too much time and Anna Kiesenhofer stayed away, while Van Vleuten appeared to celebrate silver in a way that looked like she wasn't aware the Austrian had already won.

However, the team only had four riders at the Olympics, and with eight at Worlds, they won't be making the same mistake twice.

The view from the Netherlands

If you look at the strong field of participants that the Netherlands will have at the start, there is only one place where the orange women should fight for: the world title. 

In the past four years, a Dutch rider has always won the world championship and the expectations are high this time as well. The only thing is that a Dutch collective has to be in place and that no tactical mistakes are made like during the Olympic Games in Tokyo. With Annemiek van Vleuten, Marianne Vos, Demi Vollering, Ellen van Dijk and Chantal Blaak, the Netherlands has five top favourites. 

Defending champion Anna van der Breggen is not one of them because she has not reached her desired level of fitness in recent weeks and has already indicated that she wants to ride in service of the team. Maybe she can be the cement within the selection, because the Netherlands will have to be unified. That is not easy when everyone on this course believes in her own chances more than in recent years. And bear in mind that, apart from Vollering, everyone is well over the age of 30, so they will realise that this is one of the last, if not the last chances.

Raymond Kerckhoffs, wielerflits

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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.