Annemiek van Vleuten: Queen of late drama
Mitchelton-Scott's Annemiek van Vleuten has made the last-gasp chase to the line her calling card. She tells The Bradley Wiggins Show the women's peloton is providing plot twists that prove every one of its World Tour races should be on TV.
Sunday's Amstel Gold Race was so very nearly a double-Dutch thriller. Before Mathieu van der Poel's astonishing "gotta-want-it-more-than-your-last breath" sprint to the line in the men's race, Annemiek van Vleuten left it late in her thrilling effort to chase down a solo break from Canyon-SRAM's Katarzyna Niewiadoma. Fireworks at the finish. Perhaps Van der Poel has based his own tactics on those of his compatriot's?
But the devastating late dash that delivered Van Vleuten victory at Strade Bianche at the beginning of the spring and – famously – in La Course last summer would be good enough only for second this time, with CCC-Liv's Marianne Vos rounding out the podium. Van Vleuten simply ran out of road.
"Yeah, [it was a case of] running out of road," says Van Vleuten. "And Kasia Niewiadoma played a bit of poker, I think, but she did really well because she was the isolated rider in the group and together with my teammate Amanda Spratt – and actually with the whole team – we wanted to make the race super-hard, so she was super-strong. And for me it's better if it's a long, or a bit of a longer climb, but still very explosive, but Kasia Niewiadoma showed that she has the most explosiveness in her legs before the finish line.
It was a scene not dissimilar to the denouement of last summer's La Course, in which van Vleuten reeled in Boels-Dolmans rider Anna van der Breggen in the final few metres after a thrilling chase on the descent from the Col de la Colombière.
"[It was like] I'd refreshed my memory of how it felt in La Course – what it's like to race like that," Van Vleuten explains. "I was thinking about that when I was on the last two kilometres after the top of the Cauberg [1,200m long, with an average gradient of 4.7 per cent – though it maxes out at 12 per cent].
Van Vleuten was quoted after the race as saying she was "proud that this race was on live television. People want to see it. Really sad that ASO don't take us, and the rules, seriously, by not broadcasting Fleche and Liege live."
Asked to expand on that point, she clarifies: "I'm not proud – I was just proud of the race, that it was an exciting race and I was just happy that it was on television. And I think it's also proving the mistake of the organisation of Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege not to have live TV coverage for our race. Today we proved that we should be on television and that it is exciting to watch, otherwise people are missing something and that a lot of people want to watch the women's race. It's nice that they organise it really well, but it should at least have a live stream so people can follow it.
"It makes me very sad that the next race is not but shout out to the Amstel Gold Race – they had a really awesome stream and live TV coverage."
'If we don't add value, don't put on a race'
"Live TV coverage of every race – it's ridiculous that for the next two World Tour races [Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege] there's no live TV coverage. It would be nice to have, next year, a Paris-Roubaix for women. It would be epic to have a lot of races of the guys' also organised for us, though this is already improving. Spain is doing a great job with the Emakumeen Euskal Bira, in the Basque Country, in May. So there's more and more races organised for us... which is an important step."
Asked if the model of running the women’s race alongside the men’s so that crowds effectively have two races for the price of one – as well as attracting a bigger crowd for both races – is preferable to having standalone events for the women's peloton, Van Vleuten holds up the Amstel Gold Race as an example.
"The Amstel Gold Race is showing that the races can really add something to each other," she says. "I also felt today at the team presentation that a lot of the audience were not only there for the men who were racing, but for the women's race specifically. And people watching on the Cauberg and on the side of the road had double entertainment because we also raced there. This formula works super-well and can hopefully be a formula for other races.
"It's not that we have to copy the men's races, it's just very nice to have the Monuments organised for women. You have the Tour of Flanders [for example], and you don't need to explain what kind of race you are racing. But it's also good to have standalone women's races. The [OVO Energy] Women's Tour is a really good role model – they organise an awesome race, live TV coverage and a lot of spectators come specifically for women's cycling. So it doesn't need all the time to be on the same day."
Van Vleuten is, however, clear a race should only be organised if it is going to add value.
"One thing I'm very convinced about is that if organisers don't see that we add something, then please don't organise it for us," she says. "It's like in Amstel Gold Race, it's nice that they see that we add something. I'd love to see that happen more, but not because 'Oh it's so sad – we need to organise something, let's do it.' I have the feeling that is happening a bit with the Tour de France. But I can understand because the Tour de France is so big... but it could be good if the Tour de Suisse, for example, or the Dauphine were to step up and say: 'We want to organise this also for the women's peloton – a stage race there. That could be also something really good. But I'm still hoping also for a Tour de France for women – but maybe on a different date."
Racing on home roads last Sunday was something Van Vleuten tells us she made sure she took time to enjoy. Home fans would have enjoyed their day out, too, particularly with Van der Poel's astonishing win.
"I watched the final and it was unbelievable that he was first closing the gap and then winning the sprint from that group," she says. "He's an unbelievable athlete and what I admire the most in him is that he shows he is having fun on the bike, not too much stress yet and is an exceptional talent.
" It's very cool to watch and very good for cycling in the Netherlands."
Whatever Van der Poel might achieve this season, after the Ardennes Classics Van Vleuten will concentrate on the Giro Rosa, which will see a stage finish on the Passo di Gavia for the first time. "A super-hard addition," says Van Vleuten. "I'll need my climbing legs there. But longer climbs than the Cauberg will suit me better, maybe. After that, the World Championships – I'd love to have a third world title in the time trial, no one has achieved that before. The road race isn't as hard as last year, unfortunately."
With van Vleuten's colleague Simon Yates having a second crack at the Giro d'Italia next month, a second Giro Rosa victory for the Dutch rider could leave Mitchelton-Scott tickled pink in Italy this summer. One final important question, then: can Van Vleuten tell the Yates twins apart, or does she still sometimes struggle the same as many of us watching on the Home of Cycling?
"I had some problems with that," she says. "But then I found out they wear different shoes, which was helping. But at the dinner table, it was still hard to see – but finally I managed to see some difference in their faces. But it took me some time. Also, Simon is a bit more talkative and Adam is a bit more quiet. Then again, Adam has had some really good results this year, so maybe this is also helping him a little bit more. But they are both amazing athletes."
You can hear Annemiek's question for Brad below. The Bradley Wiggins Show will return on Monday May 13 for a look back at the opening weekend of the Giro d'Italia.