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Van Vleuten back on bike after crash but Worlds road race start still uncertain

Annemiek van Vleuten sits on the ground after her crash at the start of the Team Relay
Annemiek van Vleuten sits on the ground after her crash at the start of the Team Relay (Image credit: NOS)

2022 has been a golden year for Annemiek van Vleuten but the gold medal she was looking to crown her season with is now looking out of reach, with her place at the start of the elite women's Road World Championships road race in doubt. 

“It’s quite a huge disappointment as I prepared really well for this. I went to altitude after the Tour and that was all for this,” Van Vleuten told Cyclingnews at the Dutch team hotel on Thursday evening.

The 39-year-old Dutchwoman is giving herself every last chance to start Saturday’s road race as she recovers from the injuries sustained crashing in the opening metres of the mixed TTT at the Wollongong Worlds.

“Not awesome but it could have been worse. After the crash yesterday, I am quite lucky,” she said. “On the bike, surprisingly it was possible, but I could not get out of the saddle. My broken wrist is the thing that is most bothering me and prevents me from standing up and putting pressure on the bars with my arms. I am super disappointed because of this.

“I did not crash because the tyre exploded, it was the chain slip or something. I found out when I rewatched the video what happened. It's super unfortunate. I was making jokes that when I start to wear orange, it’s not my lucky days.”

As a rider who attacks out of the saddle, Van Vleuten laughed when asked if she attempted any seated attacks on her ride.

“No, today I was first to find out if I could ride," she laughed. “I was not thinking about competing on Saturday, just trying out how it was going on the bike.”

Cleared by doctors of doing further harm by riding, Van Vleuten can now decide for herself whether to start or not.

“I started on the rollers and then I thought I could go out on the road and how it is feeling if you hit a bump? Is it safe to ride my bike?” said Van Vleuten.

“Because I don’t want to end up on Saturday in the peloton unable to ride my bike. It must be responsible or make sense to start.”

We don't panic yet

Since Marianne Vos won gold at the 2006 Worlds in Salzburg, the Dutch team has missed the medals once, in 2014. And in 2019 and 2020, they claimed both gold and silver with Anna van der Breggen and Van Vleuten swapping places on the podium on both occasions.

Starting her season with wins at Setmana Valenciana-Volta Comunitat Valenciana Fémines, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, Van Vleuten then completed a calendar year ‘Grand Tour’ clean sweep with the Giro d'Italia Donne, Tour de France Femmes, and Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta.

It was no surprise Van Vleuten headed down under as a favourite to add to her 2019 road title, and 2017 and 2018 time trial titles. After a time trial in which she “underperformed in my watts”, Van Vleuten was all in for the road race but is now uncertain to start, let alone challenge for the rainbow jersey. A saving grace is the strength of her Dutch team.

“We have different scenarios and my strength was one of them. We don’t need to panic. We have more scenarios, more cards to play,” she said of the team that also includes Ellen van Dijk fresh from her third World ITT title.

The women’s 164.3km road race features six laps of the Wollongong city circuit and includes Mt Pleasant.

“You cannot do this steep climb seated,” said Van Vleuten, who likened the ascent to the decisive climb of the Amstel Gold Race, the Cauberg. The race has been on five of the last eight occasions by Dutch riders, most recently in 2021 by teammate Marianne Vos.

“Marianne Vos won a lot of time on the Cauberg and I see this final climb as really similar to the Cauberg,” she said of her three-time world champion teammate.

Elisa Balsamo’s sprint win over Vos in Flanders last year broke a four-year Dutch rainbow streak. And the Italian is one of the riders Van Vleuten and her teammates will be looking to eliminate as early as possible in the race.

“There are some girls in this peloton who have a super fast sprint so for sure we want to drop them on the climbs,” she said. “That’s not giving away too much, that is something quite obvious.”

Whether Van Vleuten is dishing out the pain or suffering in pain on Mt Pleasant on Saturday is not yet obvious – but not yet a reason to panic for the Dutch.

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