WOLLONGONG, Australia (VN) — The Netherlands went into the mixed team relay at the UCI Road World Championships as one of the major favorites, but the day ended in disaster with mechanical problems scuppering both the men’s and women’s squads.
Bauke Mollema dropped a chain during the men’s run and managed to tangle it in his cranks as he tried to get it back on. By the time he stopped and picked up a new bike, his two teammates were long gone.
Despite the early mishap, the formidable women’s team was ready to roll down the start ramp and make up for lost time, but a crash sent Annemiek van Vleuten flying and unable to continue riding.
It was up to Ellen van Dijk and Riejanne Markus to complete the full lap without her, eventually guiding the team to fifth place.
“We went to the start and we heard that the guys had some bad luck so that was the first disappointment of the day. We said to each other to just make the most of it and maybe we can make up the time and just ride as fast as possible,” Markus said.
“Then, at the start, everything went wrong. I did the start and I heard a lot of noise behind me and I saw Annemiek crashing and luckily Ellen avoided it. It was a big disappointment and I think that everything that could go wrong went wrong.”
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Markus was the rider set to do the first which meant that she was leading the line of riders with Van Vleuten in her wheel. Newly crowned three-time world champion Van Dijk was the third in line when Van Vleuten came tumbling down.
It wasn’t entirely clear what caused Van Vleuten to go down but she would later updated an initial Twitter message saying that it was not a puncture or blown tire that had resulted in the crash.
Van Dijk barely avoided hitting the deck herself as Van Vleuten’s bike went spiraling across the road, and she unclipped as she went over the back of the bike.
“We started and we were going full gas. I don’t know exactly what happened with Annemiek, I thought her chain came off. I also know that she had a puncture, but I don’t know if that was because of the crash,” Van Dijk said. “I don’t know what was first. In that moment, I thought I was also going to crash, but somehow, I rode over something and I was still upright. I thought we had to stop and then it took me a couple of seconds to realize that, actually, we had to finish with the two of us.”
On my way to the hospital for x rays of my right side. All bruised and especially worried about my right elbow/arm. My front tire exploded and I crashed.
— Annemiek van Vleuten (@AvVleuten) September 21, 2022
There was a brief pause as Van Dijk looked unsure as to whether or not to continue, but she eventually clipped back in and got moving again. There was still a possibility of salvaging something from the day.
“First I thought I also thought that I was going to crash, then I thought I hope she’s OK, then oh I’m stopping, then oh we need to continue and then oh we’re not going to win this TT. But still we were going full gas with all we had,” Van Dijk explained.
“Riejanne waited for me after the start and then she did a little longer turn and then I thought, we go. My first turn was a little less hard and then I was in the zone and it doesn’t matter if you are two because you are already suffering anyway. You go a bit slower, but you’re suffering anyway.”
Despite losing a rider right at the start of the run, Markus and Van Dijk were actually able to climb some places in the standings by the finish line. The men were seventh fastest at the end of their run and the women brought that up to fifth place, losing only a small amount on the teams that had far smoother runs.
“I heard we just lost 12 seconds so that’s quite nice actually and it was an honor to ride with Ellen because it’s really nice to ride with the world champion, but it was not our day today,” Markus said.
Doctors later confirmed Van Vleuten suffered a “stable” fracture to her elbow, and she’s on standby if she can be able to race Saturday.
She is the overwhelming favorite for the event and losing her would be a big blow to the team, though they still have some very strong contenders even without Van Vleuten, should it come to that.
“Maybe it would change but we have lots of options in the Netherlands, so don’t you worry,” Van Dijk said.