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VN Awards: Female cyclist of the year

Annemiek van Vleuten. Who else?

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Annemiek van Vleuten is aging like a fine wine. Now 38, van Vleuten scored major victories throughout the season, and she was unquestionably the best female road racer of the year. Only Anna van der Breggen came close to van Vleuten’s impressive haul of victories.

Van Vleuten has flourished since 2016, when she switched her focus from classics to climbing. Her rise to the top came at Team GreenEdge, so it was a surprise to see her switch allegiances to Team Movistar for 2021 and keep her momentum.

The move was a risk, but van Vleuten has never been one to shy away from risks. What Movistar lacked in results it made up for with solid support riders. Van Vleuten became the team’s star rider to rally around.

Van Vleuten didn’t look her usual dominant self at Strade Bianche in March, but any concern that she had lost her form was batted away as she stormed to victory on her third day of racing. She rode away with Kasia Niewiadoma to set-up a two-up sprint to the line at Dwars door Vlaanderen that she never looked in doubt of winning.

It was a sign of things to come for van Vleuten and she went into the Tour of Flanders with lots of momentum. When she signed with Movistar over the winter, De Ronde was the race team manager Sebastián Unzué most wanted to win. There was no denying van Vleuten when she soared off the front on the Paterberg. The win cemented Movistar as one of the top teams for 2021 and quelled any of van Vleuten’s naysayers.

As impressive as van Vleuten’s limited cobbles campaign was, the second part of her season was even better. She decided to pull out of the defense of her Giro d’Italia Donne title and the preceding La Course by Le Tour so that she could focus fully on the Olympic Games. It was another big call for van Vleuten that would ultimately pay off.

While many will remember her misguided celebration in the road race, the way she dominated the rest of the big names behind Anna Kiesenhofer shouldn’t be forgotten, nor should her blistering performance in the time trial. Her performance in the time trial to obliterate a strong field was possibly one of the best in her long career.

Commanding wins at San Sebastian at the Ladies Tour of Norway have added to a strong second half of the season. The message is clear: Annemiek van Vleuten isn’t slowing down anytime soon.