As Riejanne Markus, Annemiek van Vleuten and Ellen van Dijk rolled out of the start gate for the team time trial mixed relay at the UCI Road World Championships the Dutch were already on the back foot, with Bauke Mollema having dropped a chain, leaving Mathieu van der Poel and Daan Hoole to power through to the line alone.
Things quickly got far worse for the race favourites. No sooner had the women rolled out of the gate intent on making up the time lost through Mollema's mechanical than second in line van Vleuten lost control of her bike, her bike crashed into the barrier and she went down hard onto the ground, leaving her heading to hospital for x-rays and her bike a bent and broken mess.
Van Dijk, the world time trial champion, was lucky not to come down as well as she was tucked in behind Van Vleuten. She rode over van Vleuten's bike.
“At that moment I thought I was also going to crash but somehow I rode over something and I was still alright,” Van Dijk explained after finishing the time trial.
“I thought we had to stop, but it took me a couple of seconds to realise that actually we still had to finish with the two of us, of course.”
Markus waited for Van Dijk and the duo quickly refocused as Annemiek slowly got up and walked gingerly away, wrapped in a blanket and facing an even worse day than Sunday, where she was clearly disappointed not to have done better than seventh in the individual time trial.
Van Dijk and Markus, after a couple of slow turns, tried to quickly return their focus to the task at hand – their half of the 28.2km race. Even with the both the men’s and women’s relay legs being quickly reduced to two riders, they finished in fifth place.
"We were really favourites for a medal today so it's not a secret that we are really disappointed at this point,” said Markus. “I think if you have such bad luck like this it's impossible to say something about it. It's just a really shit day."
There is also more than the mixed relay at stake.
Van Vleuten, the 2019 road race world champion, was one of the favourites the 164.3km elite/U23 women's road race on Saturday, particularly after a season where she has just kept delivering on her key targets, including victory at the Giro d’Italia Donne, the Tour de France Femmes and, just earlier this month, victory at the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta.
The extent of her injuries are as yet unknown, but van Vleuten has a habit of defying expectation and bouncing back when all seems lost. A case in point is the 2020 Road World Championships where she raced just eight days after fracturing her wrist, and came second.
“She for sure will be not too happy,” said her roommate in Australia Van Dijk. “But if anybody can bounce back, it's Annemiek, we all know that.”
However, in the worst case scenario that she can’t line up the Dutch team will not be left wanting, as always packed with potential winners with a line up that alongside Van Dijk and Markus includes Marianne Vos, Demi Vollering, Floortje Mackaij and Shirin van Anrooij.
"We have lots of options ... don't you worry," said Van Dijk.
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Simone joined the team as Production Editor based in Australia at the start of the 2021 season, having previously worked as Australian Editor at Ella CyclingTips and as a correspondent for Reuters and Bloomberg.