Annemiek van Vleuten (MIthcelton-Scott) has recovered from a debilitating knee injury sustained in a crash at the World Championships last year and will return to racing at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on March 3 in Belgium followed by the Women's WorldTour kick off at Strade Bianche on March 9 in Italy.
"I will race Omloop Het Neiuwsblad and Strade Bianche," Van Vleuten told Cyclingnews from her training camp in Tenerife. "I will be doing them in a domestique role and support my team. I think it's good to support my team and to get a little bit of racing in my legs to see where my fitness is and how much longer I will need to be at a level where I can race the finals again."
Van Vleuten secured top honours in the overall standings of both the Women's WorldTour and the UCI World Ranking in 2018 after dominant performances won her the overall titles at the Giro Rosa and Boels Ladies Tour, and the one-day La Course.
She won a second consecutive world title in the individual time trial at the World Championships in Innsbruck, however, a crash during the road race forced Van Vleuten to end her season and go into recovery mode for the next eight weeks.
"X-rays showed that I suffered from a tibial eminence plateau fracture, which is also known as a tibial spine fracture, an intra-articular fracture of the bony attachment to the ACL on the tibia," Van Vleuten wrote in the January edition of her blog on Cyclingnews.
"The injury required surgery to repair. That was three months ago, and I still need physiotherapy as part of my recovery process, but, I no longer need therapy to bend my knee or leg anymore because this part of my recovery has improved well. The treatment has shifted to improving how much I can stretch my leg because it needs to be 100 per cent to walk normally, so this is what we are working towards. The good news is that I have no limitations when it comes to cycling or training."
Just six weeks after her return to training, Van Vleuten joined her colleagues on the men's Mitchelton-Scott team for a nine-day training camp from Portugal to Andalucia where she logged in 1,800km and 30,000 metres of climbing. She is currently training at altitude in Tenerife.
She told Cyclingnews that her knee has not reacted to the long hours on the bike and that she is encouraged by her overall form, given the extent of her injury, but that she still has work to do if she wants to be competitive for victories.
"I think that, right now, I can race, but not race a final," Van Vleuten said. "I haven't done any hard training. The training camp with the guys was really just to accumulate time on the bike, but I haven’t done any efforts, but altitude training helps me get fit at a higher level in general, which is one of the reason my coach and I chose to come to Tenerife."
Van Vleuten said she will definitely be on the start line to support her teammates at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche. Further down the line, she anticipates participating in Tour of Flanders and Dwars door Vlaanderen, within a similar domestique role. Her main goal, she said, has always been to return to winning form ahead of the Ardennes Classics - Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes - all in late April.
"If all goes well, I will probably be at Flanders and Dwars door Vlaanderen," Van Vleuten told Cyclingnews. "My goal is still to be to race for the final at the Ardennes Classic. It will still be a bit early for me at Flanders, but we will see, the target is still the Ardennes Classics. I can be very happy at the moment, with how my training is going."