Van Vleuten makes rapid comeback from devastating Olympic Games crash
Dutch rider takes commanding victory in Lotto Belgium Tour prologue
Only a month on from a devastating crash while leading in the final kilometers of the Olympic Games road race, Annemiek Van Vleuten is back on top, winning the 4.3km prologue of the Lotto Belgium Tour by a massive seven second margin.
Van Vleuten, who was on her way to the gold medal until she crashed on the descent from the Vista Chinesa in Rio de Janiero last month, spent the last three weeks recuperating from three fractured vertebrae and a concussion in Italy, and credited the trip to her rapid recovery.
"I hadn't expected this at all. I only got back from Italy on Saturday," Van Vleuten said. "My mum had asked me to go on a holiday but I also trained there. The trip to Italy was also good mentally."
The Dutch rider said she has put the disappointment of having her Olympic medal hopes dashed by the dramatic crash, and said she has refocused her goals on the UCI Road World Championships in Qatar and the prologue victory in Belgium came as a surprise.
"I trained in Italy, but I didn't force myself because I had incurred a concussion and my back hasn't totally healed yet, it still feels stiff. To win a prologue you don't need to be in top shape though, it's different when it's a long time trial. Still, this victory came as a surprise."
Whether or not she can hold onto the overall classification remains to be seen, considering she is racing not with her trade team but with a young Dutch national team.
"In 2014 I won the overall classification of this race and also then I just got back from Italy. This stage win doesn't change the expectations I had for this edition. I'll see how it goes, day by day. The Dutch national team only counts four riders: Janneke Ensing, two young riders (Aafke Soet en Arianna Pruisscher) and me. I can't expect the team to control the race and defend the jersey."
But another stage victory could be on offer on the day the race heads over the Muur van Geraardsbergen, the famous climb from the old Tour of Flanders route.
"I'm very much looking forward to the stage in Geraardsbergen on Friday. In won the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2011, the last year the Muur was part of the route. I like to ride there. This four-day stage race really fits into my build-up to Qatar. I only will race in Italy afterwards. I need this Lotto Belgium Tour to get race rhythm. I hope it will be a hard race," Van Vleuten said.
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