Van Vleuten notched up a near-perfect performance over the race’s 22.1km, and only Switzerland’s Marlen Reusser could get within a minute of her.
Since Sunday’s road race, there’s been plenty of discussions and recriminations about what went wrong for the Dutch and van Vleuten’s unfortunate celebration. There has also been criticism from some quarters in the press and on social media for how the situation was handled.
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However, van Vleuten switched herself off from the outside world in order to put everything she had into the time trial.
“This has nothing to do with Sunday. I closed myself from social media, and the message I took home from the road race was that I was in my best possible shape,” van Vleuten said in her post-race press conference. “I left everyone in the media … I left the Twitter account closed. I let everyone talk but the message I took from it said: ‘I nailed it again to be in my best possible shape ever.’”
The slightly chaotic and confusing end to the road race Sunday has largely overshadowed van Vleuten’s performance.
While it often seems like silver should be a bit of a disappointment for a team such as the Dutch, it was still a strong performance from the 38-year-old.
She had taken a different route to the Olympic Games compared to many of her rivals, choosing to skip the defense of her Giro d’Italia Donne title and only rode the national time trial and road race championships at the end of June.
Hard work pays off
A little over a month ago, van Vleuten still had some work to do after being bettered by nearly a minute in the time trial nationals.
Silver behind Anna Kiesenhofer, who rode the race of her life Sunday, showed her that the hard work in the last few weeks had paid off.
“I knew after the road race that I was in really good shape, and no one believed. They were talking about different stuff but not about my performance, but in my heart, I knew that my preparation had been optimal and that I was in really good shape here,” she said.
“If you know that you’re really close to the gold sometimes you tend to think only about the mistakes you can make on this quite technical course, about the corners, about if it starts to rain or it’s slippery, or that you make a mistake. But I was in a good flow today and I was not thinking about mistakes. I was turning it around, like, ‘Where can I gain time?'”
There was no consideration for negative splits for van Vleuten, who was clocking the fastest times at all of the intermediate checkpoints. As she neared the Fuji International Speedway, it was abundantly clear that van Vleuten had done more than enough to cement place on the Olympic Games honor roll.
It was a fitting moment in van Vleuten’s Olympics story, which has provided more ups and downs than some experience in a career.
Crashing out of the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 while on course to take gold was a huge disappointment for van Vleuten but there were plenty of positives to take from the race.
She had confirmed herself as one of the top climbers in the peloton, which began a journey that would take her to Tokyo as one of the overwhelming favorites.
Van Vleuten ripping up the bunch to ride to victory has become part of the norm in recent years and though she has always been a strong rider, it wasn’t always that way. The path to Tokyo began in Rio and van Vleuten is certain that she hasn’t written the last chapter of her story.
“I think it will sink in tonight maybe, not at the moment,” she said. “My story started in Rio, but the story has not ended yet, because I will not stop. But this is really beautiful.
“My plans were until now. But I have a contract for next year, and there’s also a Tour de France for women next year, so that’s nice. I signed for two years at my team Movistar. I still love this (cycling). The time for me to stop is when my level goes down, and today I think I can say that I was at my best possible level. Time to stop is not really close.”