SHE was already one of the most decorated riders in the women’s peloton, but for Annemiek van Vleuten the crowning glory came in Harrogate on Saturday afternoon.
Twice a world time-trial champion, her hopes of a hat-trick had been scuppered four days earlier when she finished third behind American Chloe Dygert – the new kid on the block – and another Dutch star Anna van der Breggen.
Was that evidence van Vleuten, who will turn 37 on October 8, was finally past her best? The answer in the elite road race was an emphatic no.
Breaking away on the Lofthouse climb, van Vleuten rode 104 kilometres on her own to win by 135 seconds from van der Breggen.
“This is the most special win,” said van Vleuten, who praised spectators for their support, particularly in Harrogate.
“After last year in Innsbruck, the disappointment I had there – I couldn’t celebrate my world title in the time-trial at all after breaking my knee there and also on a course that I felt was my opportunity.
“I was crying because that was my only opportunity to be world champion. Then the finish of the off-season was so poor it makes this title more special. I can really enjoy it now.”
Of her decision to attack so early, she revealed: “I felt super good and [thought] it would be maybe really stupid to ruin my legs with a solo, but my coach said Anna is behind you and they’re not chasing hard so go for it. You get inspired to go for it and I gave it a go, but I also played it a bit smart, not to give everything in that first part and take time on the climbs.
“One hundred km solo, I couldn’t believe that would be possible. After [Tuesday], I thought I have to take my world champions kit out of my closet. That made me sad, but then I thought: ‘No, there is one more opportunity on Saturday and maybe I won’t have to take them out’.”