Annemiek van Vleuten struggled to hold back the tears as she realised she had become the women's time trial gold medalist at the UCI Road World Championships in Bergen. She jumped for joy and then ran across the road to celebrate with her mother, the two hugging each other in a special family moment, cancelling every trace of the pain of suffering that Van Vleuten faced after her dramatic crash in the Rio Olympic road race.
"Last year my mum watched the Rio race on television, it was her birthday and she was with lots of my family, so it was a really hard day for her," Van Vleuten revealed in the post-race press conference.
"My father died in 2008 and so it was really special to have her here and celebrate the good things of cycling together. We've dealt with bad things together in the past, so it's important to be really happy and proud to celebrate and to also remember my father. When I'm happy, I show it. I wanted to celebrate with my mum and thank her for being there."
Van Vleuten will always be remembered for her dramatic crash in Rio last summer. It left her with a severe concussion and three fractured vertebrae, yet like most athletes, she has put it behind her and moved onto new goals. The world time trial title was one of them.
"I already finished with Rio a month after it. I set a new goal and so Rio and this world title are not related to each other. We have a really good Olympic champion in Anna [van der Breggen, who was sitting next to her as she spoke]," van Vlueten said.
"Rio is not a scar for me. Cycling is about dealing with the ups and down as an athlete. It's a good quality that you need. You have to set new goals and not look back. I'm actually grateful I have the ups as well as the down like one last year. I'm happy to have had an amazing season."
Teammate Anna van der Breggen set the time to beat after starting early under the grey skies of Bergen. Despite heavy rain on some parts of the 21.1km course, Van Vleuten made up time in the final kilometres to set a time of 28:50. She was 12 seconds faster than her compatriot. Australia's Katrin Garfoot took the bronze medal, 18 seconds slower than her Orica-Scott teammate.
Van Vleuten let out several sighs of relief as her time trial victory sunk in, after weeks of hard training, including at altitude.
"I'm still not really back on earth. Phew…" she said with a smile.
"I prepared for this day after the Col d'Izoard stage at the Tour de France. I wanted to be at my best level ever. Now it feels like there's a lot of pressure off, I made it. I enjoyed the hard training and hard work I did and it's a dream come true to finish it off. Now I can wear this jersey for a year and so I think I'll do a lot of time trial training next year to show off the jersey."
Learning the Aussie way of racing thanks to Orica-Scott
The Orica-Scott team confirmed that Van Vleuten would stay with the Australian team in 2018 and 2019 on the eve of the time trial. After pulling on the rainbow jersey, Van Vleuten thanks her team for their specialist support for time trials and helping her to enjoy her racing, Australian style.
"I think my team is one of the reasons why I enjoy cycling more than ever before," she said.
"They're really helpful when it comes time trials, with materials and aerodynamics. They put me in the wind tunnel when I joined the team and helped me improve my position on the bike. I never had a time trial bike at home when I was on a Dutch team. Now I even use it on a recovery day when I'm at altitude and go for a coffee. That makes a big difference."
"I like the Australian mentality of working hard but also relaxing and not taking things too seriously. There's more to life than just cycling. The team is like a family. My coach says that happy cyclists perform better and that's true. I agree."