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Van Vleuten relaxed but regretful as rainbow jersey gets left unworn

World champion joins criticism of UCI after women's calendar left to one side in initial 2020 racing roadmap.

Dutch world champion Annemiek van Vleuten was hoping to proudly wear her rainbow jersey at the Ardennes classics this week. Instead, she’s backed off her training and left without race targets as she waits out the coronavirus lockdown in the Netherlands.

“There is currently no race calendar,” van Vleuten wrote in a post on her blog, Monday. “When the games were canceled, we immediately removed all intensive training from my schedule. I don’t have to do it again until there is a race date.”

Before coronavirus shut down all racing, the Ardennes classics and Olympic Games had been at the center of van Vleuten’s world champion year. However, with the 2020 Women’s WorldTour calendar still a blank, she has no idea what she will be targeting if racing resumes this fall. “When we go back to racing we have to see,” she said. “Then I will also see which races I focus on.”

Having been racing at the top level since 2008, van Vleuten doesn’t feel the pressure to be on top of her game year-round, even with a rainbow jersey hanging in her wardrobe. With the possibility of racing carrying on through to November, for now, van Vlueten is opting to spare her bullets.

“The goal is to keep fit without having to worry about myself,” she wrote. “So if I don’t feel like it for a day, I won’t go! And if it is going to rain for a week, I may take a rest week.”

“Now I think it is especially important not to wring yourself out mentally,” reads the blog post. “The season can sometimes be very long… that is why it is good not to burn yourself completely mentally now.”

The UCI has been under fire from the women’s peloton in the last week from a perceived lack of recognition in the governing body’s response to coronavirus. While the men’s calendar now has some slight structure after the UCI’s confirmation of Tour de France dates and a blueprint for the season to follow that, the women’s calendar will remain blank until May 15 at the latest.

On Friday, a number of van Vleuten’s senior racing colleagues signed an open letter to the UCI from the women’s union, The Cyclists’ Alliance, calling for further collaboration between the two in future season planning. Van Vleuten added her voice to the debate on her post, saying:

“The fact that the men’s calendar is already partly known and that the women’s calendar is not yet known at all means that a discussion arises immediately. I always try, but certainly in this crisis, not to worry about things that I cannot control. I leave that to the media. Worrying about this is all lost energy. But it does indicate how the UCI is doing. You always hope to be positively surprised. Let’s say: missed opportunity, UCI.”

Van Vleuten has had only one opportunity to represent her jersey this season, but took it with both hands, winning solo at Omloop. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

The early season racing stop and uncertainty over the year to come have put a drastic halt on van Vleuten’s ambitions to back up a stellar 2019 which also saw victory at the Giro Rosa, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Strade Bianche. The Dutch star isn’t only missing the opportunity to represent her rainbow jersey, but also losing out on a strong winter’s training, a block of work that propelled her to victory in her one and only race of the 2020 season.

“When I started my season on the last day of February with the victory in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, my first thought was not that this would be my last game for the time being,” she wrote. “I think I have never started the season with such a good starting level. It was my best winter ever in terms of preparation.”

“It took me a while to “say goodbye” to my goals that I set. I was really looking forward to the spring races… It hurts a bit this week [the week planned for the Ardennes classics] that I can’t show the jersey now!”

Like the rest of the peloton, van Vleuten is getting accustomed to riding indoors on Zwift, and after initial doubts, she’s a convert. “The indoor trainer was really my biggest enemy,” she wrote. However, with a top range smart trainer and a virtual peloton to ride with, she admits, “it’s really fun.”

It may not be the same as having a rainbow jersey on your shoulders in the hills of the Ardennes, but for now, van Vleuten’s special rainbow-edition Tacx NEO trainer will have to do.