How do you challenge yourself when you’ve already won it all?
Find yourself a developing team, and try to help the next generation.
When Annemiek van Vleuten went looking for a new team over the winter, she did so with the ambition of finding a squad of young riders to develop and support.
In an ideal world, she would help to find her successor.
One of the best riders of her generation, the Dutchwoman wanted to use her racing acumen to help guide the next generation. She found that with her new Movistar team, the newly minted women’s team she joined over the winter where she’s quickly begun dishing out lessons learned from more than a decade at the front of the sport.
“It’s not my main motivation to go this team, but it gives me energy,” van Vleuten told VeloNews. “I’ve been training with Katrine Aalerud in Tenerife and we were doing some all-out effort training together.
“I can see her developing herself and I have been sharing some stuff and to train together gives us both energy. It gives me way more benefits than only training by myself. So yeah, that’s a positive.”
Great champions are often more than what we see on the bike. They bring more to their team than just trophies and victories. The best leaders have an innate ability to boost any team they ride for and raise the level of everyone else around them.
Van Vleuten fits that description perfectly.
The Dutchwoman delivered on the bike with Movistar’s first-ever win at the Tour of Flanders at the start of April, plus victory at Dwars door Vlaanderen, and GC success, and a stage, of the recent Setmana Ciclista Valenciana.
However, she’s also delivering off the bike, dispensing advice to her younger and less experienced teammates. From showing Aalerud the ropes in Tenerife, to giving tips and tricks to others, van Vleuten has been keen to give help her new teammates.
Several, including Aalerud and rising sprint star Emma Norsgaard, have already use the word “inspired” in relation to van Vleuten.
“She’s acting as the best leader of the team, on and off the bike,” Movistar Women team manager Sebastián Unzué told VeloNews. “One of the things that surprised me most about Annemiek is how willing she is to help other riders improve.
“Her attitude with young riders and the way she wants to work with them and make them better is just something that has surprised me from the start, and she has a brilliant attitude,” he said.
“She’s got a brilliant personality and the harder the challenge the more excited she gets about it. It’s an attitude that you only see in great champions. That’s what she is, and she is showing this year that she is one of the best in the world.”
Don’t look at the power meter
Movistar women’s team is well established within the peloton after forming ahead of the 2018 season. They were among the first eight teams to register as WorldTour in 2020, but Unzué has been quite candid about how the team was lacking in a leader.
Women’s teams are still relatively small – Movistar’s 14-rider roster is one of the largest – and budgets are minuscule compared to their male counterparts. Movistar could afford just one big leader to bring them into 2021, and it was crucial to find someone who could help to nurture and guide the team.
“It was vital but that’s something that is not easy to find,” said Unzué. “It is really hard to find people with that willingness to give more. We’ve always had the philosophy that the leaders of the future grow better next to big leaders.
“We had it in the past with Miguel Indurain and Pedro Delgado on the men’s side, and also with Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana. I think it fits really well with the mentality of the team, which is having leaders that are not only leaders on the bike but off it. I think she ticks all the boxes.”
First HIT session of the season done. Found perfect 'all out efforts' (HIT) trainingpartner @KatrineAalerud on @canyon_bikes speed max tt bike. Kill each other, make each other strongher and smiles after we are finished 🤣🤢😵🤯😝🙈@movistar_team pic.twitter.com/47vm1ullcA
— Annemiek van Vleuten (@AvVleuten) February 10, 2021
So, what sort of advice do you get from a prolific winner? Well, don’t look at the power meter for one.
“The need to do training more by feeling,” van Vleuten told VeloNews. “A lot of girls are super focused on their power meter, but I usually train for a few minutes all out, and doesn’t matter what kind watts they are.
“You do it hard, super hard, the maximum. And, when you do that, you also develop the feeling of what you can do, and what you are able to do also in races. So, I think that’s super important.”
It’s not just the benefit of van Vleuten’s knowledge that will help the relatively young team grow but it is the new experiences that they will gain from riding for one of the best in the peloton. From helping to set her up for victory at the Tour of Flanders to defending the overall race lead in Valencia, van Vleuten’s teammates are learning as they go along.