Annemiek van Vleuten says that she is in better shape than she has ever been going into a World Championships and believes she is a podium contender in both the time trial and the road race. Van Vleuten currently sits well clear of Dutch compatriot Anna van der Breggen in the world standings after a season that has reaped large reward
"I'm really focused on both. I think that I am a medal contender in both," Van Vleuten told Cyclingnews. "I was also in top shape in Qatar last year, but I think that this year I'm in even better shape. Especially as I went to altitude. Before, I was at a good level, but after three weeks at altitude camp I was at an even higher level.
"For sure, it has been a dream for me to win a World Championship one time, and I think that maybe this year that I am really close or I can be really close. I'm going well, and the course suits me."
Van Vleuten has long been a rising star in women's cycling, but last year saw her jump onto the world scene when she endured a horrific accident during the Olympic road race when it seemed that she might be on her way to victory. Since that incident, she has gone from success to success, taking nine victories thus far, including the recent dominant win at the Boels Rentals Ladies Tour and on the Col d'Izoard at La Course. The Rio Olympic Games and the form she had then marked a turning point in her career, but it no longer has an impact on her performances.
"This has no relation to Rio, but I think that this has been the most beautiful year," said Van Vleuten. "In the end, I think that this year has been a better season than I've ever had before. It's unbelievable. It's not that I think that I've changed anything major, but I'm going really well this season. Not only as a climber, like I did in Rio last year, but I've also been performing well in the time trials."
The Boels Ladies Tour at the start of September marked the final pre-Worlds race for Van Vleuten. Prior to that, she headed to Italy for a three-week training camp at altitude, tackling the likes of the Stelvio and the Gavia. After a heavy month-long block, Van Vleuten has been spending the last couple of weeks at home trying to keep the legs ticking over but not going too deep before the big day.
Van Vleuten's Orica-Scott team won't be competing in the team time trial this weekend, leaving the Dutchwoman a chance to focus solely on the individual event this coming Tuesday. Van Vleuten has been one of the riders to beat in the time trials this season with three wins against the clock, including the national championships in June. The Bergen course with its lumpy profile lends its self to Van Vleuten's skillset in comparison to previous years, but if she had her own way she'd take on the much more challenging men's course.
"I would love the climbs to be a little bit longer. I think there are still a lot of girls that can win on this course," explained Van Vleuten. "I would love to have done the men's time trial course because they have an even harder course, but still it's not flat and 250 altitude metres is a lot. I'm also happy about the road course. I'm really happy that it's a harder course compared to last year."
As it is every season, the Dutch women head into the World Championships with a line-up that can put the fear into even the most hardened of racers. In the time trial, Van Vleuten will be joined by former world champion Ellen van Dijk and Olympic silver medallist Van der Breggen. With this trio, it is entirely likely that they could take home more than one medal by the end of Tuesday.
The same can be said for the road race, where these three and three-time world champion Marianne Vos are among the riders set to start in Bergen. Chantal Blaak, Amy Pieters, Lucinda Brand and Janneke Ensing complete the formidable line-up. Whereas in the time trial it will be everyone for themselves, the multitude of stars will have to ensure their approach will align with the overall team goal of winning gold. Van Vleuten believes that shouldn't be a problem.
"It's a really strong team, and I think that we already showed in the Olympics last year that we are really professional and we have one goal which is to take away the gold medal," Van Vleuten told Cyclingnews. "It won't be easy because everyone will look at us because we are such a strong team. It can be hard because everybody expects us to make the race difficult and to make the race, but we have already raced a lot together and we know each other very well."
Van Vleuten is not losing too much sleep over team tactics, saying that she is focusing on what she can control. "People say there are a lot of strong girls in the Dutch team, but I only focus on myself and what I want and that is to be at my top level at the World Championships," she said. "That is the only thing I have in control, and for the rest there is nothing that I can do. I feel like I'm going really well and I'll be at a high level at the World Championships."