A cyclists’ professional career usually starts at a young age. Often when they are barely twelve years old, future champions begin competing with peers in junior competitions. There are some exceptions, however, as some young competitors start later. Annemiek van Vleuten is a case in point.
From football player to cyclist
Annemiek van Vleuten had other sports interests besides cycling. She played football until she was 23, but had to stop after a knee injury. In order to keep active, she bought a bicycle, and in 2006 she started riding with the TCW’79 touring club in Wageningen. She enjoyed riding and got her racing license in 2007. The following year she became more serious and placed second at the UCI World Championship time trial for students. She then finished third in a time trial of the Tour de Limousin. In 2009, she switched teams to DSB-Bank-Nederland Bloeit, the same one that Marianne Vos also rode for. And so began her serious cycling career, at the age of 27.
Naturally, most riders this age start seriously and go for the wins, but most regular riders have already been competing for years and have a load of experience. Van Vleuten had to learn everything right away, yet she quickly followed the lead of other riders.
Van Vleuten broke through in 2010. She was allowed to ride on her own merit and secured her spot with a final classification in the Route de France, taking the overall victory against top class riders like Judith Arndt. Van Vleuten was racing well ahead of each stage. As a result, she made her appearance at the UCI Women’s Road World Cup a week before she turned 28. She placed 6th there.
The following year Van Vleuten was on fire. In the spring she won the Tour of Flanders, and her name was established. It continued to be a great year for her, as she also won the GP Plouay and Swedish World Cup Open de Suede Vårgårda. Following these performances she earned a World Cup win.
She just gets better every year
Van Vleuten has improved her performance with each passing year. In 2012, she became Dutch champion at the National Road Race Championships, and was second in the time trial. During the Olympics, she demonstrated her strength as a team player by riding with Marianne Vos, who then won the Olympic title.
Van Vleuten’s hunger for success, however, was still increasing. She kept going, despite the fact that she suffered from many injuries, mainly due to problems with her left femoral artery. Her victories, however, did not translate into the position of clear-cut team leader at Liv Cycling, where she had ridden for six years. She then moved on to join Swiss team Bigla Pro Cycling Team in 2015, where she was given more opportunities to ride for personal success. In 2016, she tranferred to the Australian-based squad Mitchelton-Scott and her victories have since piled up.
So, for the last three years we have watched Van Vleuten get better and better. She won several prologues and time trials in 2015 and 2016, including another title at the Dutch National Road Race Championships in 2016.
In 2017 Van Vleuten won her first Women’s time trial at the UCI Road World Championships, and she rode impressively in the Giro Rosa, which is the most important multi-day competition for women. There she placed third in the general classification, and won the points classification, becoming Queen of the Mountains at 34 years old.
It seems that Van Vleuten rides stronger every year she competes. In the past year, she has won almost everything that could be won. For example: she won the Giro Rosa and took three stage wins; she triumphed in the Holland Ladies Tour with three more stages; and she managed to be in the spotlight with the victory in LaCourse by Le Tour de France (where she managed to beat Anna Van der Breggen in an epic comeback); and she also won the Veenendaal Classic. In addition, she stood on the podium at the Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. She is clearly unstoppable. Maybe we will see her also take the title at the 2018 World Championships?