Road

Annemiek van Vleuten aims to defend title at Liège-Bastogne-Liège

After sitting out La Flèche Wallonne Féminine on Wednesday, the former world champion will return to racing with a broken wrist.

A podium finish at the world championships shows it can be done: Annemiek van Vleuten plans to keep racing despite a broken wrist.

Although silver wasn’t the medal that the former world champion wanted in Imola on Saturday, she was able to celebrate the fact that her broken wrist, suffered in a crash during the seventh stage of the Giro Rosa, wasn’t an issue.

“During the race, it also went very well and I didn’t really think about my wrist for a moment,” van Vleuten said. “So I was able to race completely. Unfortunately, I was no longer in my Giro form, as I had before my crash. Of course, you hope against your better judgment that you will still have those good legs from the rest of the year, but I was just a little less.”

The Mitchelton-Scott rider opted to sit out La Flèche Wallonne Féminine on Wednesday. While van Vleuten was resting, her compatriot Anna van der Breggen debuted her new jersey in Wallonia and also racked up her sixth-straight victory at the Belgian classic.

Van Vleuten said that she had always planned to give her wrist some extra rest after worlds, and that racing in Imola did not cause any setback to her recovery.

“I have had another check in the hospital and that all looked good,” she said. “Next Friday the stitches will be removed and I will have a new check. Based on that, we also look at what is sensible to do in the near future.”

Van Vleuten has her fingers crossed that she will get the green light to defend her title in the Ardennes. Last year, she attacked on the Côte de la Redoute with 26km of racing still remaining for a solo victory in Liège. At one point, she built a lead of over two minutes on a strong group of chasers. This year’s course suits her just as well.

The 135km route starts in Bastogne and finishes in downtown Liège after taking in a rapid succession of steep hills, among them the Côte de la Redoute, Côte de la Vecquee, and the often-decisive Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons.

The weather could also create a sense of deja vu during the race. Last year, the peloton was soaked with cold rain for the majority of the 139-kilometer race; the forecast for Sunday calls for temperatures in the 50s, a 50 percent chance of rain, and 20 mph winds.

2020 has been a banner year for the Mitchelton-Scott rider. Donning the rainbow stripes, she stormed into the season with five wins in a row, a second-place national championship finish, and gold in the European championships. In spite of all the setbacks of the 2020 season, from COVID-19 to her recent injury, van Vleuten remains positive.

“Even though it was a strange year with Covid-19, I really had a dream season in that jersey and I look back on it with a very good feeling,” she said.