Revenge is a dish best served cold, but Annemiek van Vleuten’s not interested.
Van Vleuten has a complicated relationship with the Olympic Games after crashing out in Rio while looking set to take victory. Despite the disappointment, her performance in Rio helped to firm up the belief she had in herself as a climber and set her on a journey to become one of the sport’s most dominant riders.
Come Tokyo, many fans and members of the media — and even those she knew closely — looked at the Olympic Games in Tokyo as an opportunity to set the record straight. After coming close to victory in the road race, van Vleuten got the gold in the time trial with a blistering ride.
“I think it was almost more for the outside world that they’re now satisfied, I would say,” van Vleuten told VeloNews. “For me, my career without this gold medal was almost still the same. But it was more the media was like, oh, yeah, you should finish it off. Also, other people said to me that it was revenge in Tokyo, and I was not interested in that.”
That’s not to say the gold medal wasn’t a special moment for van Vleuten, she lists it has her season highlight. She cut up much of her summer schedule to get herself in shape for the Olympic Games, but van Vleuten had done so much in the five years since Rio that she didn’t have anything to prove to herself or anyone else.
Rather than the single moment in Tokyo, the pleasure was in executing a long-term plan.
“What was special was that I made the target again to be at my best possible level and I nailed it,” van Vleuten said in a video call. “My career without his gold medal is also beautiful. I’m really proud of and yeah, it’s super nice, it’s a bonus to have also this gold medal.
“But for me, not much changed. I’m super happy to have it and now the story has come to a nice ending, with Rio and now Tokyo. But for me, there are so many more races where I’m super proud of winning, like the Tour of Flanders this year, for example.”
Settling down at Movistar
Van Vleuten is spending the first part of her off-season recovering from the broken shoulder and pelvis she picked up at Paris-Roubaix Femmes. Despite the sting in the tail of her 2021 campaign, van Vleuten’s year has been almost pitch-perfect.
From winning her second Tour of Flanders title some 10 years after her first, to smashing the Olympic Games time trial in Tokyo. There was of course the mishap in the road race, but van Vleuten could ultimately ride away from the event happy.
Her dominance was such this year that she romped away with a 600-point winning margin in the Women’s WorldTour competition, despite being forced to miss the final two rounds and skipping the Giro d’Italia Donne in the summer. All of this has happened while she settled into her new team at, Movistar.
“It exceeded my expectations. When I look back to the first team camp in January, I felt like a girl that’s going to the first day of school,” van Vleuten said. “I felt really uncomfortable, and I also didn’t speak the language around, everyone was still speaking Spanish, but right away I had the feeling that I found a new family.
“It gives me new energy to put myself out of my comfort zone in a new culture. I had a great time with Mitchelton-Scott, but it was time to move after five years. It also helps to still enjoy your cycling career, and you get some new energy meeting new people, a new culture, and a new way of thinking.”
Next year, van Vleuten will be more established within the Movistar set-up, having had a year to settle in. Unlike the men’s squad, which is in the midst of an overhaul, very little will change around the Dutchwoman and her teammates as just two new riders have been signed for 2022.
The promising 21-year-old climber, Sarah Gigante was snapped up in August on a three-year deal while sprinter Arlenis Sierra was added to the roster in October. Van Vleuten spoke to VeloNews before the Sierra signing was announced, but said she looks forward to watching Gigante develop and hopes she can help her grow as a climber and time trialist.
“Our team is already super strong. So, for me, it was not that I found we need more strength in this team because I think we have a lot of young talent, for example, Sara Martin, I’m super excited about her, she will show more,” van Vleuten told VeloNews.
“It’s the same with Sarah Gigante, it’s nice to have her on the team. I like to work with young people and to help them develop a bit. She is maybe a bit kind of the same type of rider as me. So maybe she can take over my place a bit. She seems like a rider with a strong time trial and also a good climber. She can also go for GC. She’s still really young and so she has a lot to develop, and hopefully, I can add something.”