Annemiek van Vleuten is hopeful, and confident even, that the 2021 professional cycling season will not resemble the likes of her early days of racing.
“When I started my career there were only three teams that would take responsibility in races,” the Dutch rider told VeloNews. “There was HTC Columbia, Flexpoint, a really strong team, and Rabobank, the team of [Marianne] Vos where I also was. Those were the three teams, there were not more teams that would take responsibility. I think women’s cycling needs more teams with more equal strength to keep things interesting.”
Van Vleuten believes that her high profile transfer to Team Movistar, as well as Vos’ to Jumbo-Visma, will serve as moves that lead to more parity and dynamism in the peloton in 2021.
“It’s not just that Vos is going to Jumbo-Visma that will reshape the dynamics of women’s racing, but I’m curious because Trek-Segafredo together with Boels bought a lot of really strong riders,” van Vleuten said. “So, I’m more curious about the balance with that. Boels bought super good riders, and there’s a lot of quality there. That will be interesting to see where it’s going. Trek has a lot of leaders on the team, but they managed it super well last year.”
Could it be that van Vleuten’s own topsy-turvy 2020 season has inspired her vantage point on women’s cycling moving forward?
In 2019, the former world champ emerged as the preeminent challenge to the ongoing domination of Boels-Dolmans (to become SD Worx in 2021) in the women’s WorldTour. She was poised to reclaim that distinction in 2020, but after she broke her wrist during stage seven of the Giro Rosa van Vleuten’s season was effectively finished — except for a stealth second-place finish at road worlds in Imola.
Therefore, 2020 saw a season dominated by the Dutch squad and its captain, double world champ Anna van der Breggen, as well as an equally successful, and brilliantly executed, campaign by relative newcomer Trek-Segafredo.
Those teams will no doubt be back in 2021, with SD Worx adding newly-crowned cycling esports world champion Ashleigh Moolman Pasio to its already insanely stacked roster, and Trek-Segafredo riding high on the coattails of Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini’s hopscotch of 2020 victories.
In fact, van Vleuten could have joined the likes of Deignan and Longo Borghini (and van Dijk and Brand) in 2021, but the Dutchwoman didn’t see the benefit to herself, or to the entire peloton, in that.
“In my reply to Ina [Teutenberg, Trek-Segafredo director] I also said, ‘Let’s keep women’s cycling interesting and don’t put all the good riders in one team,'” she said. “When someone dominates so much it doesn’t make women’s cycling exciting.”
To van Vleuten’s point, the health of the entire peloton has never looked better.
Other transfers will certainly contribute to this wellspring. Belgian phenom Lotte Kopecky will join Liv Racing while decorated American junior world champion Megan Jastrab joins her compatriot Coryn Rivera at Team DMS. Italian Marta Cavalli should strengthen the already robust core of French squad FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, and the dissolution of Équipe Paule Ka has sent its uber-talented riders to Alé BTC Ljubljana, Rally Cycling, Movistar, SD Worx, and Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling.
Van Vleuten says that a diversity of talents on more teams than just a few will ultimately make for more exciting racing.
“In general I like it when the quality in the teams is a bit more spread out in the teams to keep the races interesting,” she said. “I hope that will still be the case next year, because I think this is what we all want, to entertain people at home, not that you’ll already know that one girl from one specific team is going to win.”
As far as her own hopes for 2021? Van Vleuten sees her move to Movistar as loaded with opportunities, from personal wins to helping cultivate the next generation.
“They arrived very organized in the races this year, so maybe it’s time to go for a few more results,” she said of her new squad. “I can’t wait to help a teammate to win a race, and then I can’t wait to see them at the dinner table smiling after I can do a little to help them win a race and share a bit of my experience.”