In June 1667 the Dutch Navy launched an audacious attack on British warships moored off the Kent coast. Having taken the town of Sheerness, they bombarded Chatham and Gillingham before capturing HMS Royal Charles, the British flagship.
Next week eight Dutchwomen could mount a similar smash and grab, capturing the rainbow bands from under Yorkshire noses.
In recent years the Netherlands has been by far the strongest nation in the women’s peloton. Five of the current top-10 ranked riders are Dutch, as are four of the top trade teams. At last year’s World Championships in Austria they won three of four women’s titles, including both elite jerseys.
And that’s without Marianne Vos. The three-time champion has been on fire this summer, and such has been her form over the last 12 months it would be folly not to have her at the top of any list of favourites for the title on September 28.
Current leader of the Women’s WorldTour (one of the few titles she is yet to win), Vos has 10 victories since the start of June. Her three stage wins in Norway recently were all different — a bunch sprint, a solo break and a hill-top duel — and while she may not climb like she used to, she is clearly back to her all-conquering, versatile and consistent best.
But Vos isn’t the only Dutchwoman at the top of the sport. Absent from the Euros were two of the world’s best climbers. Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen were first and second respectively at this year’s mountainous Giro Rosa. The former is the reigning time trial world champion, the latter wears the rainbow bands on the road. Barring injury, both will be among eight Dutchwomen lining up in Bradford next week.
However, it is fair to say the Dutch women’s team has sometimes been less than the sum of its parts, and the idea the best way to beat them is to let them beat themselves has been floated many times. There was plenty of speculation over Dutch tactics in the women’s race at the recent European Championships. Why was Vos driving the peloton when she had compatriot Amy Pieters among a three-woman breakaway?
Was it a lack of communication? A lack of trust in Pieters’s sprint? Or had teamwork broken down among a squad stacked full of leaders, all of whom felt they had a chance of winning?
Direct questions on the subject are answered with obfuscation. “We had a tactic and I think it worked really well, so we were happy with that, everybody’s guessing about an explanation,” Vos tells Cycling Weekly.
The fact remains that seven of the eight women who started the home race in Alkmaar had the skills to win. The fact also remains that Pieters took the jersey, backing up national team victory in the new-format mixed relay team time trial, which will make its World Championship debut in Yorkshire.
However, those questions over team unity mean victory may not be as simple as just having the strongest group of athletes. Last year there were reports that riders were told anyone not toeing the party line would never represent the Netherlands again.
“I think it got taken out of context, it’s not true,” Dutch federation’s women’s coach and selector, Loes Gunnewijk tells CW. “All the girls love the orange and just want to perform and go for the win, that’s always the task and the goal.
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