Annemiek van Vleuten is on the market and in high demand. The road race world champion is currently under contract with Mitchelton-Scott, but that deal expires at the end of this year, leaving her open to negotiate offers with new teams for 2021 and beyond.
Van Vleuten confirmed in a Zoom interview with international press last month that she has not yet renewed her contract with Mitchelton-Scott and that she was in negotiations with several other teams.
"At the moment, I'm talking with my current team and other teams," Van Vleuten said at that time. "At the moment, I am not sure where I will be next year, but I'm confident I will be fine."
In an email on Monday, Van Vleuten told Cyclingnews that she could not confirm recent reports and rumours that speculate where she might be headed next year, but reiterated that she has not, yet, signed on the dotted line.
Van Vleuten, 37, is at the top of her game and she's intent on competing at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympic Games next summer and through 2022.
Cyclingnews takes a look at some of the teams that are reportedly in the running to sign the best rider in the world.
Van Vleuten has been linked to Movistar Team Women, and is reportedly in the advanced stages of signing a two-year deal.
Movistar Telefonica, owners of the long-time men's WorldTour outfit, launched a UCI women's team at the start of the 2018 season in an effort to recognise the importance of fostering inclusion and gender equality. The initial goal was also to help develop Spanish athletes and women's cycling in Spain. However, they have quickly become one of the highest-ranked squads in the world.
Their steady progress and growth in women's pro cycling was rewarded with a new four-year Women's WorldTeam licence this year, which is a strong sign that the team's management is fully committed to developing their programme to reach the highest level. The licence also shows that the team can meet the heightened financial, ethical and professional requirements that go along with being among the top-tier of teams.
Movistar Team Women have also committed to building a more international roster in the future that can handle the demands of racing all the events on the Women's WorldTour. This year's roster includes Katrine Aalerud (Norway), Aude Biannic (France), Jelena Eric (Serbia), Barbara Guarischi (Italy) and Paula Patino (Colombia), along with a core group of Spanish riders that includes Lourdes Oyarbide, Alicia Gonzalez Blanco, Sheyla Gutierrez, Eider Merino, Gloria Rodriguez and Alba Teruel.
The team has strong riders for all terrain – climbing, sprints and the Classics – but what it is lacking in its jump up to the top tier of teams is a rider who can consistently win races on the Women's WorldTour – and that is a void that Van Vleuten could easily fill.
Van Vleuten has an expressed love of racing in the Basque Country of Spain, and seasonally commits to racing event, such as last year's Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa. She made a point of restarting this season, which was halted for five months due to the coronavirus, at the three one-day races held in the Basque Country in July: the Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa, the Vuelta Ciclista a Navarra and Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria, where she won all three events before going on to win Strade Bianche.
In short, Movistar Team Women could potentially offer Van Vleuten a world champion's salary range over a two-year period, along with a world-class management infrastructure, sponsors and equipment, which is all run in conjunction with the men's outfit. The team can also provide her with support riders solely committed to backing her efforts in the one-day races and stage races.
The Dutch press have also speculated that the new Jumbo-Visma women's team is targeting Marianne Vos and Van Vleuten as co-leaders, beginning in 2021.
The men's WorldTour Jumbo-Visma squad successfully developed from the former Rabobank programme, where Vos raced between 2012 and 2016 and Van Vleuten raced between 2012 and 2014.
News of Jumbo-Visma launching a women's programme first surfaced in January, with dead-end links to Boels Dolmans, when they were in search of a new title sponsor. The Dutch news outlet Cycling Opinions, then reported in July that the Jumbo supermarket chain was interested in creating a women's squad, with support from expected new bike sponsor Cérvelo in 2021.
Team manager Richard Plugge has identified Esra Tromp, who currently runs the Parkhotel Valkenburg team, to lead the women's project. It has also been reported that Martin Vestby, who currently directs Van Vleuten's Mitchelton-Scott team, is expected to take on a director role.
Vos has reportedly already signed a two-year contract with the new Jumbo-Visma team, but Van Vleuten's involvement with the programme has not been substantiated. Van Vleuten was also reported to have said that her initial contract negotiations did not include a Dutch team.
A Dutch programme might seem like a good fit for Van Vleuten, and sharing leadership roles with Vos would certainly be a winning prospect for Jumbo-Visma. The pair successfully share leadership roles on the national team.
They are both big-name riders with outstanding palmarès. However, Van Vleuten spent several years, during her early career, as a support rider for Vos at Rabobank and is currently enjoying leadership at select races during the prime of her career.
Van Vleuten's move to Orica-AIS team, now Mitchelton-Scott, in 2016 has proved to be one of the best decisions she has made in her career. She had previously spent years racing for DSB Bank-Nederland bloeit and Rabobank, largely in a support role for compatriot Vos.
She left Rabobank in 2015 and spent one season with Bigla – now Equipe Paule Ka – before signing with the Australian outfit Orica-AIS the following year.
It is at Mitchelton-Scott where Van Vleuten developed into the rider we see today.
The team had confidence in her to ability to grow into becoming one of the world's best climbers, time triallists and overall contenders. She has also been given the freedom to train and organise her racing programme to suit her needs, which has paid off for the team with important victories.
Over the last five years, and with support from Mitchelton-Scott and the Dutch national team, 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 continued such dominance this year with solo victories at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa, the Vuelta Ciclista a Navarra, Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria and Strade Bianche – a winning streak in the rainbow jersey that has yet to be broken.
The question is, then, why would Van Vleuten consider leaving Mitchelton-Scott?
A possibility might be because Van Vleuten was one of many riders that took a substantial pay-cut during the COVID-19 pandemic, which impacted sponsors, events and teams, in order to help keep the Mitchelton-Scott team afloat.
In addition, the team went through some instability when it announced that the Manuela Fundación would take over sponsorship, only to have the deal fall through. Van Vleuten later said she was concerned about Manuela Fundación taking over because it might affect the culture of the current team. Team owner Gerry Ryan has since confirmed that he is committed to financially backing the team, reportedly for another two seasons.
Van Vleuten is also at the end of a contract year, and combined with the possibilities above, that all may have opened the door to negotiating with other teams and looking for new opportunities. Whether she stays at Mitchelton-Scott or leaves for pastures new, Van Vleuten is right: she will be fine, and a valuable asset to any women's team.
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