The countdown to the Road World Championships in Bergen is well underway, with less than a month until competition begins. The Netherlands will, as ever, be the hot favourites to take home a few medals in the women's competitions and Ellen van Dijk has her eyes set firmly on doing just that in the individual time trial.
The hilly course in Norway is far from ideal for a rider who puts in her best efforts on the flat power courses, but that hasn't stopped her from having a red hot go at it in the past.
"For my capabilities, it's a bit challenging but I will give it everything and see how far I come. I also thought the course in Rio was way too challenging for me, but it turned out not to be. I think if I really focus on it then it is possible to do well there," Van Dijk told Cyclingnews.
Van Dijk was speaking ahead of the Ladies Tour of Norway and would go on to win the opening time trial the following day, beating her compatriot Marianne Vos by a second over the three-kilometre course. It was her second straight victory after claiming a second consecutive time trial title at the European Championships in Herning, Denmark - a good sign ahead of the impending competition.
The Boels Rentals Ladies Tour - where Van Dijk finished second overall in 2016 - in the south of the Netherlands will be another chance to test her legs ahead of the Worlds. Outside of racing, she has also been paying visits to the south of the country to utilise the region's hills.
"Of course, I've been trying to ride a bit more in the hills. They are not really long climbs but short and steep climbs," said Van Dijk. "It's never really flat, so it's important to train like that. I'm in Norway now, so I can train a little bit here and then when I come back I will go to the south of the Netherlands and keep training there because that's a bit more similar to it."
Finding the motivation again
Missing out on the World Championship title in Doha last year was another in a string of frustrations at the end of the 2016 season for Van Dijk. What stung the most was falling short in the time trial at the Rio Olympic Games when she was riding strongly. While she had previously thought it too tough for her, Van Dijk was well in contention for a medal when she ran wide on one of the descents. She didn't come off the bike, but the little excursion into the grass was more than enough to drop her off the podium.
Following the event, there were other goals and races to keep her mind focused, but when the season ended it was hard to find the motivation to keep going. In the end, it was her passion for riding that got her back on track.
"It was only after the World Championships where I finished second in the time trial, I was really disappointed," Van Dijk told Cyclingnews. "I didn't have a clear goal anymore, and then you start thinking about it; I was fourth in Rio by a few seconds, I was second in Qatar. I had a really good level, but I wasn't able to get the result out of it that I wanted. In the winter it was a bit harder to find my motivation back, but I really love to ride my bike, and I didn't force myself with any schedules.
"I just enjoyed riding, and I think that is the basis if you need to get back. I really enjoy it still, and then the motivation starts to come back."
Wanting to impress her new bosses and teammates was another great motivating factor for Van Dijk at the start of the season. After three years with the Dutch-registered Boels Dolmans team, she decided to change and move to Team Sunweb. The results came flooding in over the spring with Van Dijk helping to set up her teammate Lucinda Brand for victory in their opening race of the year, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, while she finished fourth.
Wins for teammate Coryn Rivera followed at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Tour of Flanders, before Van Dijk got her first win on the board with time trial and overall success at the Healthy Aging Tour.
"That was really motivating," she said. "It was inspirational for me to be in a new team, a new environment and to see it running so well. After the first race it was already a success, and then you start to get into a bit of a flow. In spring we had a great range of races, and for sure that gives you a lot of energy."
With the season almost done and dusted, Van Dijk is settled into her new home. "I feel really happy in this team now. Boels was also a good team but I feel in my place here and I'm really enjoying it."
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