Despite the horror crash which ended Dutchwoman Annemiek van Vleuten’s Olympic bid, teammate and eventual Gold medallist Anna van der Breggen was not surprised by her compatriot’s recovery.
Having dropped Mara Abbott (USA) on the descent, van Vleuten was leading the race and in a strong position to win gold. However she crashed on one of the tight bends which characterised the descent.
After hitting her back on the high kerb, she he tumbled into a road side drainage ditch, lying motionless, causing viewers to fear the worst. She sustained severe concussion and spinal fractures in the incident.
However, less than a fortnight later the 33-year-old was able to ride her town bike and after a period of training was back racing. Again representing the Netherlands as opposed to her Orica-AIS trade team, earlier this month van Vleuten won the prologue, a stage and the general classification at the Lotto Belgium Tour.
“I sort of expected it,” van der Breggen told Cycling Weekly of her compatriot. “If you saw how fast she was on the bike. I have never seen her climb like that, it was really special. It’s sort of a miracle, but she is really tough. That is Annemiek.”
Van Vleuten was not the only victim of the descent. The day before Geraint Thomas (Great Britain), Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) and Richie Porte (Australia) were just three riders who suffered injury after crashes on the same stretch of road, causing some experts to question whether the road should have been used at all. Van der Breggen, however, is less sure.
“It was not a dangerous downhill,” she explained. “It is more that it was a downhill just before the finish of the Olympics, so you take a risk, everybody does. It was a downhill you take at really high speed, but you really have to remember where the sharp corners were, and when you are on the edge it is difficult to remember.”
Having passed van Vleuten and despite a reputation as a poor descender, Abbott maintained her lead until the final 150 metres, when she was caught by the eventual medallists. Van der Breggen was impressed by the American’s performance.
“We thought that Mara maybe didn’t have so much chance, but she did really well,” said van der Breggen, one of the pre-race favourites. “We didn’t know what her advantage was and I thought it was going to be impossible, then we saw her on the boulevard and I thought maybe it was.
“She did a good job, but 150 metres, that was close.”
Both van der Breggen and van Vleuten will represent the Netherlands at the World Championships in Doha next month, with both women selected to take part in both the road race and time trial.