Annemiek van Vleuten loves Colombia.
The Dutch pro has been going to the South American country for off-season training over the last three years and she has fallen in love with it, making many friends along the way. Going to Colombia for van Vleuten is a chance to broaden her horizons and practice her language skills.
She had to delay her trip this winter following her heavy crash at Paris-Roubaix in October, which left her with a fractured shoulder and pelvis. Thankfully, the injury didn’t prevent van Vleuten from going to Colombia and she’s been in the country for two weeks as she laps up the stunning scenery and warm weather.
“My favorite place is Colombia in the off-season because there’s a different culture. People tell me sometimes go to America because I can also do altitude there. But I really like to be in a different culture like Colombia, which makes me smile a lot,” van Vleuten told VeloNews before jetting off to Colombia.
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“I also want to improve my Spanish so it’s also helping to go to Colombia and have some friends there. It’s quite a different culture from the Netherlands. And yeah, I think I can also sometimes learn things a bit about the Colombian culture and how they approach life. With my team, I already feel the culture difference and it also helps me to sometimes realize that in the Netherlands we are maybe a bit stuck in our own culture. It’s nice to get to know some lessons from the other cultures.”
“I love that country and without cycling, I would have never been there, and you meet also too, because of cycling it’s easier to meet people.”
As much as van Vleuten loves riding her bike, she also loves what cycling has given to her and how it has opened her horizons. Many were surprised by her switch the Movistar for 2021 but after racing with a Dutch team and an Australian squad during her career — in addition to taking on a new sporting challenge — she was keen to find her feet in a different cultural setting.
“I love the possibility to meet people from other cultures. I think it’s something that I feel very lucky with this job I meet a lot of people from different cultures,” van Vleuten told VeloNews. “It is one of the reasons why I’m in Movistar because I can ride with Paula Patiño, a Colombian, and I have an American teammate, and the Spanish team is a different culture from my culture, so I feel it makes me more rich person with more experiences. Cycling brings me everywhere. So that’s also for me, a big highlight.
Getting away from the Dutch weather
Van Vleuten’s globetrotting training camps are partly due to her desire to experience the world and see new places, but warmer weather is also a big draw. Even professional cyclists don’t really like going out in the wind and the rain, which her native Netherlands has plenty of.
“In the Netherlands, the weather in November, December, January, February is not the best so yeah, I know if I have to train in the Netherlands in the winter, I’m not so motivated so I also need to leave actually,” she said. “If I was only racing in the Netherlands, I would not love it so much.
“I really like to challenge myself. I know I have some talents for cycling and I like to every day make a plan to develop my talent for the next year in the right moments with my coach and my team. When it comes all together, that’s something really cool.”
When van Vleuten isn’t in Colombia for training, she can be found at her favorite European spot in Italy. When she goes on an altitude training camp, the Dutch climber likes to situate herself in the heart of the Italian Alps, where she has so many potential training routes it’s almost impossible to get bored.
“My favorite is Livigno, or Passo Foscagno, where I usually go for altitude in Italy. It’s only 10 hours from my house and if I have a six-hour ride then I like already excited to the evening before about where and which mountain I will do so I feel like more a tourist maybe,” van Vleuten said. “I really like to plan a nice lap and you can see me already smiling. It’s something that gives me energy and if I have six hours in the Netherlands planned the next day, I’m not so excited.
“I think in Italy it is the combination of really cool mountains, really cool loops I can do there in Passo Foscagno or in near to Livigno. You can do the Mortirolo, the Gavia, the Stelvio from different sides. So, it’s challenging and nice. And then the ride of six hours is going so fast. That gives me energy to come back and get some really nice Italian foods and coffee.”
If you flick through van Vleuten’s Instagram page and you won’t have to scroll for very long before you find pictures of the area’s beautiful scenery. It’s not difficult to see why she loves it so much.