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The Dutch world champion has yet to be beaten this year, netting an early win at February’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and backing it up with a dominant hat-trick at last week’s trio of Spanish races. Next in her sights is a defense of her Strade Bianche title in the first Women’s WorldTour race of the year.
Though her trademark ability to ride away from competitors and fly solo to victory may give the 37-year-old an air of invincibility, she does feel the weight of expectation ahead of Saturday’s race.
“For sure I feel pressure because it’s the first World Tour race and it’s something I’ve targeted,” she said Tuesday. “When I target a race I always feel a bit of pressure, because you know you’re good and people know that you want to perform. Even more so at Strade Bianche, because it can be a really hectic race and you need to be well-positioned all the time, which makes me a little bit nervous.”
Van Vleuten will be lining up in Siena as the red-hot favorite, with team staffers making no attempt to disguise that their tactics can be as much about beating Annemiek as anything else. Although the Dutchwoman’s trio of wins in the past week was in lower-tier races, Van Vleuten feels they offered no less of a challenge.
“We already had such a high level with the races in Spain so I don’t expect a really big difference this weekend, she said. “All the teams were there and all the riders were there, so it will almost be the same.”
Van Vleuten will be heading up a powerful Mitchelton-Scott team in Tuscany, with Amanda Spratt and Lucy Kennedy also providing options. While the Australian pair will be on teams’ radars, it’s Van Vleuten that they will be lasering in on – and she has the self-belief to deliver on the expectation.
“I know that I can go into the race with confidence because I know my shape is good,” she said.