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World Championships: Fifth for Van Vleuten 'a miracle' after broken vertebrae

The past two months have been a rollercoaster for Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten. In August, a horrific crash at the Olympic Games had left many watching fearing for her life and resulted in three broken vertebrae. Fast forward to the elite women time trial at the UCI Road World Championships, and she claimed fifth place just 25 seconds behind the winner.

The result brought closure to a challenging part of her career and allowed her to release the emotional stress that she didn't even know she had.

"When I look back now, I think with what happened to me," she told Cyclingnews, taking a moment to compose herself as the weight of the last two months came rushing through.

"I now realise when you asked me. I've been through so much. It's all now falling off me. I was really focusing on this event, and it wasn't hard for me to focus after Rio because Rio also gave me a lot of positive energy and I really hoped that the miracle would continue today so I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't make the podium."

Van Vleuten blamed being too conservative for missing out on a medal, saying that watching some of the under 23 riders go out too hard on Monday had worried her. But when you consider what she has been through it is hard to understand how she could possibly be disappointed but it is also an insight into the determination that had her winning bike races just a few weeks after the incident.

Van Vleuten had been in the form of her life in the Olympic road race as she dropped all of her rivals and looked set to claim the biggest victory of her career.

However, she was caught out on the tricky descent, like so many had before her in the men's race, and ended up being thrown from her bike head first into one of the deep gutters that lined the road. She was left with concussion and three fractured vertebrae and the bitter disappointment of losing out when she had been so close to victory.

"It's already a miracle that I was even thinking about a rainbow jersey, and fifth place is still a good performance," she laughed, realising the oddity of her statement.

Following her crash, Doha was the furthest thing from her mind, and she went on holiday with her mother, taking in bike rides when the mood took her. She was back racing just a month later at the Lotto Belgium Tour, where she took overall victory and two stages.

"The first week, I wasn't busy thinking about Doha at all," she explained. "I didn't think that it was possible, I only started thinking that it was possible in the Lotto Belgium Tour where I did very well, and then I thought great I've still got my Rio shape so let's continue and it really me for this one. I gave everything for this one."

Wishing for a Dutch echelon

The time trial isn't quite the end of the tale for Van Vleuten, and she will now look to help her teammates to glory in the road race on Saturday. In Kirsten Wild, they have one of the big favourites, but they also have three-time world champion Marianne Vos and sprinter Chantal Blaak. Despite having the odds stacked in their favour if it were to come to a bunch sprint, Van Vleuten says she would have loved a much harder course.

"I think there are some more countries with some strong sprinters but for sure, when you look at our team, we have a dream team I think. Still, it's flat, and it's a criterium race so it's hard to play all our cards and our strength on this course," she said.

"I would love to have a Dutch echelon and have it up on the side. It would make it a bit more interesting, and it would be a chance to show that the women are also able to have some gutter action. It would make it better for the people to watch on television because there are not people to watch here."

The Wednesday after the road race, Van Vleuten will officially begin her off-season with a trip to Australia for the mountain bike event, the Crocodile Trophy. Without the pressure for results, she refers to the trip as a holiday. Following that, she will take the more traditional holiday route by relaxing with some of her Orica-AIS teammates away from the bike.

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Born in Ireland to a cycling family and later moved to the Isle of Man, so there was no surprise when I got into the sport. Studied sports journalism at university before going on to do a Masters in sports broadcast. After university I spent three months interning at Eurosport, where I covered the Tour de France. In 2012 I started at Procycling Magazine, before becoming the deputy editor of Procycling Week. I then joined Cyclingnews, in December 2013.