Although her crazy high-altitude training camps and fiercely competitive racing style might bely it, Annemiek van Vleuten wants you to know that there is more to her life than cycling.
The former Dutch world champion recently spent a few weeks of her off-season underwater – by choice – around the Caribbean island of Curaçao. Although she spent most of her time SCUBA-diving and exploring the island off-bike, van Vleuten admitted that this trip was a little different than most of her travels.
“When I go on holiday, people think I always want to ride my bike, but this year was the first year I rode a bike in 12 years on a holiday just because I wanted to see a little Curaçao by mountain bike,” van Vleuten told VeloNews.
Van Vlueten’s many followers on social media are likely accustomed to seeing images of her SCUBA diving, hiking in the rainforest, and doing all manners of activities that do not involve the bike. Every offseason, it seems, van Vleuten leaves the cycling world behind and travels off to some tropical locale to snap FOMO-inspiring photos of her having fun.
“I can relieve people that I’m not addicted to bikes, not at all, I see the three weeks holiday as an amazing opportunity to do other stuff,” she said. “So I go SCUBA diving or maybe a hike or at least not a bike. In Curaçao, it was the best option to see a little more of the island, but it really was the first time.”
Van Vleuten’s other off-season forays have included trips to the Philippines, Bolivia, and an uninhabited island off the coast of northern Queensland, Australia. In addition to never taking a bike with her, van Vleuten said that she rarely takes much else.
“Usually I just take a backpack, and take as little as possible, like 5-6 kilos maximum,” she said.
Van Vleuten also says that, aside from picking a point on the map, she prefers to travel with as few plans as possible. She credits her minimalist travel style to her best friend Kim, who “motivated me to book nothing and just go with the flow, so that’s now also what I love to do. I don’t open the Lonely Planet [travel guide] on the plane and when we arrive we don’t have any clue where we will sleep at night.”
That approach is a far cry from the structure and order of the life of a professional athlete, which makes it hard to believe that a cyclist as decorated as van Vleuten would indulge in, and in fact, prefer it. However, van Vleuten says that it’s precisely this approach to travel that builds her curiosity and resilience in new situations in all aspects of her life.
She calls it “getting out of my comfort zone.”
“I think that’s also a little bit why I signed a contract with Movistar,” van Vleuten said. “It’s a Spanish team. I’ve been on a Dutch team, an Australian team, and I think it’s time for a new challenge and a new ‘going out of my comfort zone.’ Staying with Mitchelton-Scott would be staying in my comfort zone. I had an awesome time, but I look forward to learning something new. New language, new culture, new habits. That’s also something that gives me a lot of energy apart from riding my bike.”
Even van Vleuten’s infamous training camps include an element of the unknown. Last year, she had an experience in Colombia that reiterated the power of putting herself out there.
Before her trip, van Vleuten had only been in touch out with Colombian pro Diana Peñuela through the Internet, but she reached out to ride when she touched down in South America.
“I didn’t know her at all, and now she’s a good friend,” van Vleuten said. “Because of her I met all kinds of other people in Colombia, and I think I feel very rich that in my position I can meet more people from different cultures. And you learn a lot. So, that was a very amazing experience for me in Colombia, to go sometimes a bit out of your comfort zone.”
Van Vleuten has said that her move to Movistar in 2021 stems partly from a desire to keep the dynamics of the peloton interesting rather than bolstering an already robust team like Trek-Segafredo. However, she’s also firm that she wanted to join a team that challenged her in other ways.
“It would be very much in my comfort zone to go to a Dutch team or a culture that’s more near to me or where they speak my language,” she said. “So, I also see it as something that will cost me some energy, but in the balance, it will give me more energy,”
“Going out of your comfort zone makes you a person with more experiences and knowledge and different views about how stuff is going on in the world.”