The alien is nearing the end of his penultimate season as a cyclist. It has been an unprecedented journey in recent months for Annemiek van Vleuten. Triumph in the women’s Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and in the Spanish Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta.
Three in a row. In the WC, the goal was the same. Gold in tempo, gold in team tempo relay and gold in the road race.
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Already on the pace, the dream of another hat-trick was smoldering. It was only 7th place at Van Vleuten. Three days later came the team tempo relay.
50 meters after the starting ramp it ended. A freak roll sent Van Vleuten to the ground and straight to hospital. The remaining teammates edged into 5th place after losing a critical rider.
At the hospital, Van Vleuten was diagnosed with a fractured elbow. But the break was stable enough that she can still ride the women’s road race on the night of Saturday.
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Critical rise in sitting position
However, the whole dynamic has changed. Van Vleuten was nicknamed The aliens because she is simply so superior at her best that no one in the world can follow her.
“Okay, there the aliens have attacked. Then the rest of us can start our competition”, was the wording of a description Van Vleuten received from a rival after victory in the Giro d’Italia a few years ago.
But even an alien is affected by a broken bone. The body uses a lot of energy to heal itself and the pain comes faster.
She stands for the start, but is not optimistic. An explosive round in Wollongong is difficult to bring with a broken elbow. The critical Mount Pleasant in particular could become uncomfortable for Van Vleuten.
– I am super disappointed because of this. You can’t do that climb while sitting on the seat, Van Vleuten said after the injury was a fact.
Up to stomp standing, as she loves to do when she attacks. It will now be almost impossible for Van Vleuten.
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A more open ride
Several people in the cycling community have commented on what a weakened Van Vleuten would mean. A 39-year-old in top form always means rock-hard cycling and the right of the fittest. Then it will be Van Vleuten’s right 9 out of 10 times.
Now it suddenly opens up for many who only dared to dream of a place on the podium.
Italy, Australia, Denmark and several others. Perhaps also for little Norway, who is standing with Anne Dorthe Ysland, Ingvild Gåskjenn, Katrine Aalerud, Mari Hole Mohr and Marte Berg Edseth.
But even with Van Vleuten weakened, the Netherlands will be big favourites. Van Vleuten is one of seven riders in the team. All seven are real medal candidates.
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The best cyclist of all time on the women’s side, Marianne Vos, has dominated since she won her first WC gold in 2006. Last year she was close to her fourth gold, but was beaten at the finish line by Italian Elisa Balsamo.
Thus, the Dutch golden streak of four in a row was stopped.
Now, suddenly, the explosive Vos is once again a golden card in a race that can now be more explosive than exhausting given that compatriot Van Vleuten is in a slightly weaker state.
So far, the WC dream has become a bit of a nightmare for the dominant Van Vleuten, who herself became world champion in 2019. But no rivals have probably written her off completely.
No one can suffer on two wheels quite like Annemiek van Vleuten. She has overcome many worse obstacles than a broken elbow.
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