Reigning time trial world champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) is also one of the best climbers in the women’s peloton. Yet van Vleuten has yet to win one of the hilly Ardennes classics. We recently caught up with van Vleuten to talk about her ambitions at the Ardennes races, and her rivalry with Dutch squad Boels-Dolmans and its star rider, Anna van der Breggen.

We have a longer interview with van Vleuten in the upcoming June issue of VeloNews magazine.

VeloNews: This year you’ve placed a lot of emphasis on the hilly Ardennes races. You have not won any of these races yet despite your accolades. How would you describe your relationship with these races?

Annemiek van Vleuten: I love them, and I target them every year, and every year I’m not at the level I am in from May on. I am a slow starter into the season. I am at the highest level at the end of the year. Maybe it has something to do with that after the off-season I don’t touch my bike for four weeks. Maybe that period is too long for me. I don’t know. I think it’s very good mentally and physically, and I’ll still do it. But I like to enjoy my life without the bike for at least one month a year. Those races are really high on my wish list. Actually, together with Strade Bianche and these races, I had a talk with my coach and said I wanted to be at my best level in the Ardennes. We tried to make a plan for how to achieve that. We had to change the plan completely after I broke my leg. Something happened this year and I think that I’m in a better level than in years before. I look forward to these races.

VN: These races have been dominated by Boels-Dolmans in the past. Tactically they’ve been able to control things. How do you plan to win these races knowing they’ve been so strong?

AVV: Well, I feel like my level is the best I’ve been in the last eight years, if I look at my numbers. I think my team is also developing. Amanda Spratt, who was silver medal in the world championships, has stepped up. My team is growing and growing and in the UCI ranking, we are now the No. 1. Boels is a team, they play with their numbers. They are tactically strong. and it makes it interesting. I think it’s a good thing that they play so tactically strong. It’s good for women’s cycling that we see we’re stepping up. Sometimes we see that the tactics of women’s cycling is a little behind. It makes it more interesting to have Trek-Segafredo having a strong team. So now we can play with six, seven, or eight big teams in the final. When I started, it was just three teams. There was Flexpoint — my team — Rabobank, the team of Marianne Vos, and now there are six or seven teams who can take the responsibility.

VN: You will again race against Anna van der Breggen this week. We’ve written about your rivalry with Anna over the years. You’ve competed on the national team with Anna and battled her in the races. How would you describe your relationship with her?

AVV: I think we are really good colleagues. We have a lot of respect for each other, and respect in that Anna is a different type of rider and a different type of personality compared to me. We both are at a top level and both achieve our goals but in a different way. I think we have a lot of respect, but also we send each other messages. I just followed her in the Cape Epic, and I said, ‘Oh good luck.’ I also followed every day what she was achieving there together with Annika Langvad. It’s cool to follow her and I think its also good for women’s cycling to have a bit of rivalry, maybe. I wish that Anna was from a different country because that would make it sometimes more interesting, and less annoying for the both of us. People from the media like to set up a big rivalry between Anna and me. Yeah, for sure we want to win the world championships, but we were also not happy with how the media was writing about it. Maybe for women’s cycling, it would be better if we were from different countries. I think Anna is a top athlete and I think she also thinks about me the same. I think also there are so many strong women, and that’s why we were a bit annoyed about it. It looked like it was just Annemiek and Anna, but there are so many strong girls on the uphill. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Kasia Niewiadoma, and I think you underestimate the level of women’s cycling if you say it’s just about me and Anna.

VN: These races often require a strong explosive effort to win. Where are you with your explosive efforts as we enter these races?

AVV:  I think I’m still a little behind with that. It’s maybe also something you lose after such an injury, and it’s hard to have that back. I’m not the most explosive rider in the peloton — I’m also not the worst. What my coach believes is it sometimes comes down to how much you suffer before you approach the Mur de Huy, and that general fitness is where I’m focusing more. To arrive at the climb as the rider who suffers not so much means you have fresh legs to attack on the Mur de Huy. … That is why I’m doing these altitude camps. I’m focusing to gain general fitness. That is where I won Strade Bianche. I was happy it was a hard race, and I know that was my advantage to make a difference on the last or second last climb. If I had gone on the first climb, I wouldn’t have been able to ride away from everyone.