Finding new so-called marginal gains is the desire of all professional riders, especially those looking to excel in the race of truth.
Ellen van Dijk's special trick to capture the rainbow jersey in the women's time trial at Flanders 2021? Ride as if the world was about to end.
"I never want to focus on [other riders'] intermediate checks, anything other than myself so I just knew I had to ride my own time trial," Van Dijk said of her world-beating ride. "I had to completely die at the finish, like the world was going to end, to give everything in this time trial. I couldn't have gone faster and I'm always pretty critical of myself, but for sure it was enough.
"My boyfriend told me I’d done a great job but he always says that, I don't really know what it’s worth. I did a good time trial but I also did good time trials in the past few weeks and Marlen [Reusser - silver medal] still beat me [at the European Championships].
Van Dijk was concerned that her early start time would hamper her, as the tailwind picked up as it got later into the afternoon. "I thought [my time] could be good enough for the win but I wasn't really sure about that, and then when I saw [Reusser] faster at the intermediate times I was like 'well this is no surprise', but then it was only three seconds, and then at the finish I saw I was still going to make it, it was all just quite incredible."
This is the second time Van Dijk has won the time trial rainbow jersey but says this next year will be different, she won't heap pressure on herself to perform as world champion this time around like she did nearly a decade ago.
"After 2013 I put a lot of pressure on myself to show in every race that I'm world champion and keep this level, I couldn't even wear the jersey in training [in case] they'd be like 'ah she’s the world champion'," Van Dijk admitted. "I put so much pressure on myself and it was such a shame, I always said to myself if I won it again I’d do it differently and I'll definitely do that now."
Another change Van Dijk says she'll also have to make is to buy some good whites washing powder, as her 2022 season will be spent alternating between the European road champion's jersey and a world time trial champion skinsuit.
"If someone had told me two weeks ago you’d be European champion on the road and world in the time trial..." she said, still a bit in awe of her achievement, her joy in the hot seat and the podium a delight to behold.
"I should buy some good white washing powder I think as it’ll be hard to clean everything."
In between spin cycles, there will be time for contemplation, and Van Dijk seems ready to cherish this jersey properly this time around.
"Eight years ago I was 26, I'm 34 now, I had quite a development personally, it’s normal when you get older that you do that. When I was 26 I really thought if I ever became a world champion that’s my dream come true, and I was happy, but it doesn't define you, I found that out.
"I know now a world title is great, the whole process is great, it doesn't define you in life, a balance is great, and I think that balance helped me to win it this time."
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