Annemiek van Vleuten says ‘winning is not normal…and not easy’ after Strade Bianche victory

The world champion put in another memorable performance as she defended her Strade Bianche title, with the knowledge any race could be the last of the season at the front of her mind

It may be a bit galling for well-beaten rivals to hear Annemiek van Vleuten say winning is neither normal nor easy, but the world champion is not a normal rider, and the way she takes her victories aren’t either.

Having previously criticised major race’s offerings for women, maybe the Dutchwoman was waiting until the final televised 25km to launch the defence of her Strade Bianche title.

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Finding herself behind both a lone leader five minutes up the road in Mavi Garcia (Alé-BTC Ljubljana) and a talented chase group in between, the 37-year-old bridged across to the poursuivants on the penultimate gravel sector before catching Garcia inside 6km to go.

The Spaniard sat on her wheel as long as possible before Van Vleuten left her on the cobbled streets of Siena to cross the line first in front of a sparsely populated Piazza del Campo. Something she thought wasn’t going to happen after team-mate Amanda Spratt found herself in the front group earlier in the race.

>>> Annemiek van Vleuten takes remarkable win at a breathless Strade Bianche 2020

“90km into the race, my team-mate was in the big group and I was like ‘my race is over’, I was very happy for my team-mate as she was in the position to win, but for me personally I was quite disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to use my legs,” Van Vleuten said in the post-race press conference.

However, the call then came from the team car for Van Vleuten to do what she does best – win by herself.

“My team director suddenly said: ‘ok Annemiek, time for action!’ just because before the second last gravel section it was really uphill and was actually the moment I’d [thought of] to attack the group in front, hopefully [if she’d been there]. So I had to attack there to close the gap and it was quite difficult because it was very warm today on the gravel section. You couldn’t see anything, you had to be in the first five riders or you were in the dust.

“It was quite technical and different as to how it is in March, but still beautiful…super hard.”

Having now won five races out of the five she’s lined up for since returning from the coronavirus break, it seems Van Vleuten’s 2019 form is intact heading into the new decade, a record sheet that she says is not normal or easy to achieve.

“It’s funny that people say I win all the time, and I win too many races, but usually I win six, seven races a year, I guess around three are in the time trial.

“Winning is really not normal and what’s now happening to me is really exceptional…so I still cannot believe this.”

Van Vleuten says she’s been impressed by the safety of the races she’s done so far but expects stage races to throw up complications. The fact that each race could be the last for the year, the ubiquitous face-mask-wearing an ominous reminder of the precariousness of the cycling calendar, is not lost on Van Vleuten.

“I feel really safe. Like my team is doing a great job…all the girls in the bunch are tested, and for the rest…I don’t have a lot of contact with other people, we stay just in the hotel, in one-day races I feel super safe. I think it’ll be more challenging for stage races.

“I don’t look much further [ahead], I realise that it can be our last race. We have a saying in the Netherlands: ‘Pakken wat je pakken kan’, which means ‘get what you can get because you never know in this period what will be happening next week’.

“So I just keep on training. And I hope I can show my legs in some races, but we don’t know. The most important is that it’s safe and I think the one-day races made a really good example and hopefully all WorldTour races will follow this example.”

Van Vleuten puts her freshness down to not overdoing it during the coronavirus break, and will have a few weeks to take stock before her next event, the Tour de France’s La Course in Nice.

“I didn’t push myself in the period, I enjoyed riding my bike and that’s giving me a lot of energy and now given me a really nice result. But yeah, winning is not normal. And also not easy.”