Mitchelton-Scott have handed Annemiek van Vleuten an early one-year contract extension, keeping the world time trial champion at the team until the end of the 2020 season. The contract comes as the Dutchwoman revealed she may be below her best for much of the 2019 season as she recovers from a serious knee injury.
Van Vleuten already had a contract in place for next season but Mitchelton-Scott have secured her services for a fifth season, at the end of which she will be 38 years old.
Since joining the Australian team in 2016, her career has shifted gears, and she has captured the world time trial title, La Course, and the Boels Ladies Tour in each of the past two seasons. This season she also won the Giro Rosa and ended the year as the winner of the WorldTour ranking.
"I had a contract until 2019, and I felt very honoured that they wanted to extend my contract to 2020 which was for me very important, I feel so at home in this team and it makes me proud to be part of this team that is really stepping up every year," Van Vleuten said in a statement from the team.
"I have had my best years for sure with Mitchelton-Scott. I felt last year could not be better but this year was even better. I think one thing is the atmosphere in the team, the Australian mentality but also the way they work, they helped me to set new goals and really believe in the riders, especially [coach] Gene Bates. I worked well with him and he helped to set some out of my comfort zone goals, like winning the Giro Rosa and to achieve it together this year, that was very special for me."
Having become the most dominant rider in the women's peloton, Van Vleuten hardly needs a safety net, but she will be able to approach what could be a difficult 2019 season with peace of mind.
The Dutchwoman suffered a complicated knee fracture in the World Championships in what initially seemed a relatively innocuous crash. She has since undergone surgery and posted a video of herself riding a training bike for the first time this week, with the caption 'milestone', but has now warned that the crash may seriously disrupt her 2019 campaign.
"I think for 2019 it will be a really big challenge to get back to the level I had this year, especially after a long time without the bike and physical exercise," she said. "I know realistically my goals should be towards the end of the season but I really want to be at my top shape in the Ardennes. We still have that goal, I know it will be really hard but we won't give up on that."
If there's cause for optimism, it's that the majority of Van Vleuten's successes this year came in the second half of the year. Time trial wins at the Herald Sun Tour and Emakumeen Bira were her only victories before July, while she had a string of near misses in the spring classics, with third at the Tour of Flanders and then - over in the Ardennes - fourth at La Flèche Wallonne and third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, both won by compatriot Anna van der Breggen.
"They told me the recovery process will be long because it is a complicated fracture, because it is my knee and it is very important to bend the knee," Van Vleuten added. "I need a long intensive process of physiotherapy now, especially to start to bend the knee again. I just started this week, it is now three weeks after the operation. It will be a long process to start to walk normally again, stretch my leg and it is still very, very painful to bend my knee. I need to be very patient. I live close to the federation sport centre, I go five times a week, two times a day to the physiotherapist there. It is good I have all the support with the doctors from the federation and with the team, so I feel confident I am in good hands.
"I have had some setbacks, I have dealt well with disappointment before but I find it challenging to again have such a big disappointment and I couldn't really celebrate my world championship title. It is hard, I also missed out on a holiday to recharge the batteries. I have a really long rehab period but I know I can do it. I have to try to see the positives of small milestones, like already this week to start with physiotherapy."