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Annemiek van Vleuten: I'm more concerned about global health than the Olympics

Annemiek van Vleuten, of the Netherlands, takes the rainbow jersey after winning the elite women’s road race at the 2020 UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire
Annemiek van Vleuten, of the Netherlands, takes the rainbow jersey after winning the elite women’s road race at the 2020 UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Annemiek van Vleuten supports the International Olympic Committee's decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympic Games in the face of health concerns and risks surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. The reigning world champion told Cyclingnews that she is much more concerned with global health than the marquee sporting event.

"I was not surprised. I was already expecting this and actually I was not really concerned about it because I am more concerned about global health and not about the Olympics," Van Vleuten told Cyclingnews

"I felt that if they did not organise it now, it would be organised later at a different date. I think it's good that the decision has been made and that we know now and not later, especially because it's good to have the certainty that it will not be organised."

Van Vleuten is a two-time time trial world champion (2017 and 2018) and won the road race title at the World Championships in Harrogate last September. Since that victory, she has had a major focus on the spring Classics, Olympic Games and the World Championships during 2020. 

She started the season with a victory at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but the professional cycling calendar quickly unravelled with the fast-paced spreading of the coronavirus, or Covid-19.

Due to public health concerns, many of the top-level one-day women's races from March through June were either cancelled or postponed across China, Italy, Belgium and Netherlands: the Tour of Chongming Island, Strade Bianche, the Bevrijdingsronde van Drenthe, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne, Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders, the Ardennes Classics and the Women's Tour. 

The IOC made the announcement to postpone the Olympic Games on Tuesday after weeks of doubt over whether the event could take place as scheduled from July 24-August 9 amid health risk surrounding the coronavirus pandemic

Some nations are under lockdown while others have established a state of emergency with health protocols in place: self-distancing recommendations and staying at home, business, schools, and events are closed and cancelled, and social gatherings of more than five people are not permitted. It is all to help slow the spreading of the virus, give some relief to overflowing healthcare services, and protect vulnerable populations.

'We don't need to be stressed about the Olympics anymore'

"For global health, it is better to postpone the Games. [Hosting the Games] puts pressure on athletes, if it were still happening, so maybe athletes would feel pressure and take risks to keep training, which would also not be good for the situation with the virus. 

"Now athletes can focus, follow the [health] rules and they don't need to be stressed about the Olympics. People are already stressed about being inside [lockdown and self-distancing] and the whole situation with the virus. We don't need to be stressed about the Olympics anymore."

Van Vleuten said the postponement of the Olympic Games is also important to allow for a fair selection process for athletes, and to give athletes a chance to prepare properly for the event during a typical racing and training programme.

"It's also a good decision because it would not have been fair to organise the Olympics at this point because some people are really stuck in their houses, athletes who are in lockdown and can't train," Van Vleuten said.

"I think the Olympics only needs to be organised when everyone has a fair preparation, and, for everyone, it is equal. At the moment it isn't, and also regarding the qualifications, not for cycling nor other sports, it is not OK to take away opportunities to qualify." 

Van Vleuten said the postponement of the Olympic Games will allow the event to be properly celebrated in a year's time without the global concerns over the coronavirus.

"The fourth thing is that, if the event is one year later, we can hopefully celebrate a nice Olympics. If they held the event this year it would not be much to celebrate; it would be a really strange Olympics," she said.

"Hopefully we can have a wonderful Olympics next year with no worries about the coronavirus anymore. I wish that for the future. I think that health is the most important thing and I hope to have a wonderful Olympics next year – this year, that would not be the case – so I think it's a good decision."