The unforgettable 104km solo attack that netted Annemiek van Vleuten the rainbow jersey in Yorkshire two years ago likely won’t be in the cards for the elite women’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships on September 25.
In an interview with Cyclingnews, Van Vleuten said that the Flanders course wasn’t difficult enough for such a dramatic move and that the Dutch team's most viable chance to secure the world title in lay in a different scenario.
“If I look to our own team, I think that Marianne Vos is our biggest contender. This year it will be super hard for the Dutch team to win. At Innsbruck and at Imola there was super hard climbing but in Flanders we will need to use our numbers, and I am convinced that Marianne Vos can win the race, if we make it really hard," Van Vleuten said.
"It’s also interesting for me, Amy [Pieters] and Chantal [van den Broek-Blaak] because it gives us opportunities. It will be an interesting race and the route has some good ingredients for a bit more open race.”
The Dutch national team will field eight riders, including defending champion Anna van der Breggen, former world champions Van Vleuten, Van den Broek-Blaak and Vos, reigning cyclo-cross world champion Lucinda Brand and Dutch national champion Pieters. They will also be joined by Demi Vollering, and newly crowned time trial world champion Ellen van Dijk.
In her 16th season of racing, Vos has been one of the best riders in the world amassing 12 world championship titles across three disciplines – road, cyclo-cross and track – along with two gold medals in road and track racing at the Olympic Games. Three of those world titles were in the elite women’s road race in 2006, 2012, and 2013.
This season, and while racing for her Jumbo-Visma trade team, Vos won Gent-Wevelgem and Amstel Gold Race and secured her record 30th stage victory at the Giro d’Italia Donne between 2007 and 2021. She also won three overall titles in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) took to social media to congratulate Vos on her accomplishments at the Giro d'Italia Donne in July. The Manxman, who equalled Eddy Merckx's 34 stage wins at this year’s Tour de France, referred to Vos as the 'greatest of all time'.
Van Vleuten wouldn’t be drawn into a discussion about the overwhelming enthusiasm of the cycling community and fans alike should Vos win a fourth world title in the elite women’s road race in Flanders, only saying, “For sure the world would love it, for sure Marianne would love it, and also I would love it for her.”
The elite women will race 157 kilometres between Antwerp and Leuven, with the course including 20 short climbs and a total elevation gain of 1,047 metres. The race starts at the Grote Markt in Antwerp and travels south for 55km to two distinct circuits; the Flandrien circuit consists of six climbs and the Leuven circuit includes four climbs.
The field will first complete one and a half loops of the circuit in Leuven, followed by one loop of the Flandrien circuit, and then two and a half final loops of the local circuit in Leuven.
The race will likely cater to punchy sprinters like Vos, Emma Norsgaard (Denmark), Lotte Kopecky (Belgium), and Coryn Rivera (USA).
Van Vleuten said that while the Flandrien circuit is similar to Brabantse Pijl, it is not as difficult, because they only complete one lap. She added that the route could perhaps be compared to a ‘super light’ version of the Tour of Flanders, a race that Van Vleuten won twice, in 2011 and this spring.
Van Vleuten made an audacious 104km solo attack to win the world title on the streets of Harrogate in 2019. She made that winning move over the Lofthouse climb only 45km into the 150km race. Some might be expecting a similar performance again but Van Vleuten said there simply isn’t a decisive-enough climb on the route in Flanders.
"It was a four kilometre climb in Yorkshire, for a 10 per cent [grade] effort, and so you can’t compare this course with that one because Yorkshire was way harder. The climb was way harder," Van Vleuten explained.
“A lot of people think that this is a super hard World Championships but I think a sprinter can win the road race. It has six short climbs, and I don’t think the sprinters will have a problem with those climbs, especially because they are not repetitive.
“It’s about choosing the moment, but there is no specific point in the race where I think I can make my attack, not at all. I see it as a super-light version of the Tour of Flanders. The climbs are also overestimated because, for example, the Kwaremont is way longer and harder than the climbs are here. Also, Brabantse Pijl is a hard race because we do six laps there, but here, we only do that part [Flandrien circuit] once," Van Vleuten said.
“It’s 1,000 metres of elevation in 160km. It can be super hard if we race it hard and it’s still 160km and it’s to the advantage of the Dutch team to make it hard. It can still be a hard race, but it will not be hard because of the course.”
Van Vleuten secured the gold medal in the time trial and the silver medal in the road race at the Olympic Games in July. She also just took the bronze medal in the time trial at the Flanders Worlds on Monday, behind new world champion Van Dijk and silver medallist Marlen Reusser (Switzerland).
Following the World Championships, she will go back to competing with her trade team Movistar in the first-ever edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes on October 2 in France.
“I’m approaching everything after Tokyo as a bit of a bonus and the big pressure is gone,” Van Vleuten said.
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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.
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