Annemiek van Vleuten, the leader of the UCI Women’s WorldTour from April’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes until the Ladies Tour of Norway at the end of August, came back from a break with a stunning victory in the prologue of the Boels Ladies Tour in her home country, the Netherlands. In doing so she has ignited the countdown to the UCI Road World Championships at the end of September in Yorkshire, Great Britain.
Van Vleuten is the reigning UCI World Champion for the individual time trial but even though that gave her the right to be last on the road it didn’t guarantee she’d win the prologue of the Boels Ladies Tour.
As the leader of Mitchelton Scott reached the starting ramp in Sittard in the cycling mad region of Limburg (the UCI Bike Region of Limburg-Valkenburg has also hosted several UCI Road World Championships, the latest in Valkenburg in 2012) the time to beat on the 3.8km course marked by sharp turns and a short uphill section in the middle was 5’10” by Lisa Klein (GER) of Canyon//SRAM Racing. The local favourite didn’t get carried away by the encouragement of her fans. She bettered Klein’s performance by six seconds, which meant a dominant victory over her compatriots: Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb), third at 7’; Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam), sixth at 9’’; and van der Breggen’s team mate Amy Pieters ninth at 11”.
Nobody knew exactly what to expect from van Vleuten, whose previous appearance in a UCI Women’s WorldTour event was at La Course by Le Tour de France in Pau on 19 July. In the meantime, she missed out on the Prudential RideLondon Classique, the Postnord UCI WWT Vårgårda West Sweden team time trial and road race, the Ladies Tour of Norway and the GP de Plouay – Lorient Agglomération WNT Trophée as she opted for a training camp in Livigno, in the Italian Alps, to gear up for the end of the 2019 season.
“You don’t really know how you will come back from altitude and especially on this course with so many corners,” - Annemiek van Vleuten
“You need to accelerate a lot and that’s not something I did a lot in the last four weeks at altitude climbing all the mountains. But I usually have a good feeling when I come back from altitude and also, I could see my numbers at altitude were really good, so I had confidence coming here.
“But days like that this is not nice to wake up because you feel this pressure, if you know you’re good in something you feel more pressure. On this course if you make one mistake for example before the steep hill, or you make a mistake in the wrong gear, yeah, you lose it, so that makes it more exciting.”
Mitchelton Scott’s Sport Director Martin Vestby was full of praise for her performance. “It was more or less a perfect ride from Annemiek,” the Norwegian commented. “She’d done quite a lot of work beforehand and re-conned the course, so she knew it perfectly. There’s always a bit of pressure as well, starting in your home country with the World Champion’s jersey, but she did everything perfectly.”
Van Vleuten knew that skipping some UCI Women’s WorldTour events could jeopardise her leading position in the individual ranking. In fact, Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) took the lead in the series after the Ladies Tour of Norway and the two Dutch ladies were separated by just 100 points (1467 and 1367 respectively) before the Boels Ladies Tour with Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon//SRAM Racing) in third place on 1220 points.
There are two remaining UCI Women’s WorldTour events after the Boels Ladies Tour: The Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta in Spain on 14-15 September and the Tour of Guangxi Women’s WorldTour in China on 22 October.