Moments that made Annemiek van Vleuten

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Next week marks the end of an era for women’s cycling, nay the whole world of cycling, as Annemiek van Vleuten hangs up her racing wheels.

The Dutchwoman will bow out in front of home crowds next week at the six-day Simac Ladies Tour, a race that she has won two times in her career though she hasn’t ridden it since 2019. With that, she will bring to a close a career that has spanned 17 seasons and has seen both herself and the sport change dramatically.

Van Vleuten has admitted several times this year that her hunger to push herself beyond her limits has waned significantly as the season has progressed, but she still leaves professional cycling as one of its best and toughest riders.

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There is some tough competition in the peloton, but the 40-year-old is arguably the best rider of her generation. She leaves a rich legacy of major victories, but Van Vleuten has also helped to push the sport forward with the way that she approached her racing.

It’s difficult to sum up Van Vleuten’s career in a few paragraphs but Velo has taken a look back at some of the biggest moments of her career. They are some of the moments that made Van Vleuten the rider she has become today.

The discovery: 2007

Like many women of her era, Van Vleuten had a regular life and career before she started racing bikes. She had gotten herself a master’s degree in epidemiology in her youth and when she left university she started working in an office. Van Vleuten did ride a bike while she was at university, even joining a club, but it only became a major part of her life when she joined the WV Ede cycling club after she graduated.

It was at this club that she started to understand the physical capabilities she had and a coach at the club sent her for some testing.

“Tests at Papendal [research instutute] confirmed I naturally have a high VO2 max and power. The student kilos meant that it didn’t have good watts-per-kg results, but that’s something I could work on. The other factors were genetic. I was triggered to continue on this path and see where it would lead to,” Van Vleuten said in an interview in 2020.

Aged 24, she started racing in 2007 and even rode at the national championships where she finished 15th in the time trial. She was 2:13 behind Ellen van Dijk, who had been racing at a high level for a few years already. Her 2007 racing calendar wasn’t big, but it set her on the path to where she is now.

2011 Tour of Flanders

Annemiek van Vleuten wins 2011 Tour of Flanders
Annemiek van Vleuten wins 2011 Tour of Flanders

Van Vleuten continued to work alongside her burgeoning racing career until she finally decided to quit her office job in 2010 and joined the Nederland Bloeit team — which would later become the Rabobank team and is now Liv Racing TeqFind. She was living off €800 a month, but it allowed her to train and race full-time. The result was pretty instant as she racked up her first professional win, plus four more before the year was over.

With a year of consistent training and racing in her legs, Van Vleuten was ready to step it up a notch in 2011. Four race days into her season, she took the biggest win of her career so far with a breakaway success at the Tour of Flanders. In the group behind her, there were some of the best racers in the peloton at the time, including Marianne Vos, Emma Johansson, and Judith Arndt.

“Jeroen Blijlevens, my former DS, said, ‘Now you will see that you will win other races.’ He was right. It was a step up to winning big things,” Van Vleuten said in 2019 interview with Cyclist Magazine.

Van Vleuten didn’t stop her victory streak there and she won a total of three of the nine available World Cup races to take the overall series win.

Rio Olympics 2016

Annemiek van Vleuten attacks at the Rio Olympics Road Race
Annemiek van Vleuten attacks at the Rio Olympics Road Race (Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images)

Van Vleuten’s star continued to rise after that 2011 season, she won her first road race national title in 2012 and then took her first TT title in 2014. Prologue wins at the Giro d’Italia, and the Belgium Tour showed her growing talent against the clock, while an eighth-place finish at the 2014 Giro also demonstrated what might be to come in stage racing.

With a move to Orica-AIS (now Jayco-AlUla) in 2016, aged 33 at the time, Van Vleuten started to dream bigger than she had before. It might seem odd to include a race that left Van Vleuten with a concussion and a broken back as a moment that made her, but the road race at the Rio Olympic Games was a pivotal moment for the Dutchwoman.

Van Vleuten had been on the way to victory when she slipped out on a damp, tricky corner just 10km from the finish line. Disappointment lingered a little for Van Vleuten, who had been on for one of the biggest wins of her life, but it didn’t last long as she realized what she had been able to do up until the point of crashing.

The Olympic Games were not the big result Van Vleuten had been hoping for. However, it signaled to her that she had a lot more to give when it came to climbing courses and provided the momentum she needed towards the part of her career that has seen her join cycling legend.

La Course by Le Tour 2017

Annemiek van Vleuten wins atop the Col d'Izoard
Annemiek van Vleuten wins atop the Col d’Izoard (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The close call at the Olympic Games was soon forgotten for Van Vleuten as she hit the 2017 season running and began raking in victories. By the summer, she had yet another national TT title, two stage wins at the Giro d’Italia, plus her first podium at the race, and a win at Durango-Durango.

So, she was in flying form when she arrived at the 2017 La Course by Le Tour. It was the fourth edition of the race and the first time it had been moved outside of Paris and the riders would be sent up the Col d’Izoard. There was controversy surrounding the race because of its short nature and organizer ASO hastily added a pursuit time trial on the second day to try and calm some of it.

Van Vleuten dominated both days, putting 43 seconds into Lizzie Deignan on the Col d’Izoard and adding over a minute to that the following day in the 22.5km time trial.

In spite of the controversy around the course, the event was televised from start to finish — still a rare occurrence in women’s racing at the time — and it announced Van Vleuten’s talent to the wider world and raised her fame even further.

World Championships 2017

Annemiek van Vleuten took her first world title in 2017
Annemiek van Vleuten took her first world title in 2017

Van Vleuten capped off her big 2017 with a rainbow jersey, beating Dutch teammate Anna van der Breggen to the time trial title on a hilly course in Bergen. Despite her growing prowess, Van Vleuten’s only visit to the podium at a worlds was her silver in the team time trial event in 2013.

The Bergen win was her first individual medal and would spark something of a medal rush for Van Vleuten, who would go on to win an individual medal of some kind at every single worlds after that, except for this year when she suffered a mechanical issue on the final lap that eliminated any chance she had of going for the podium.

Tour de France Femmes 2022

Annemiek van Vleuten won the 2022 Tour de France Femmes
Annemiek van Vleuten won the 2022 Tour de France Femmes (Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP via Getty Images)

The Van Vleuten juggernaut continued relentlessly with seemingly nothing able to stop it, except for Dutch compatriot Van der Breggen. The duo created some memorable battles over the years but with Van der Breggen retiring at the end of 2021, Van Vleuten was out on her own in 2022. Though the gap behind her was closing, Van Vleuten was practically untouchable when it came to the hardest races.

When the first-ever Tour de France Femmes rolled around, it was impossible to look past her for the overall win — even an early stomach bug couldn’t prevent her from getting her hands on the yellow jersey. She dominated in the high mountains, winning at Le Markstein to take yellow and then on the top of the Super Planche des Belles Filles.

This win more than most will be what Van Vleuten will be remembered for when she retires. Her world championships victory with a broken elbow is another memorable moment for her, but it is the Tour de France Femmes where her legend was cemented.

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