As she stares down the camera of her laptop, Annemiek van Vleuten allows herself to briefly dream of life after the lockdown.
“I’ve already contacted my friends at the place where I go at altitude, on the Passo del Foscagno, it’s the most beautiful place to ride; one day soon I will be there” the Mitchelton-Scott rider and reigning road race World Champion says.
However, in the short-term life is less enjoyable for the Dutch cycling sensation, whose dominance of the sport showed little signing of waning in the very brief start to the 2020 season.
Van Vleuten made just one full appearance in her World Champion’s rainbow jersey in the spring, winning the Omloop het Nieuwsblad with the sort of dominant solo-break that has become her modus operandi of late.
The attack, although marginally less spectacular, was reminiscent of her phenomenal 105km break to win the Worlds in Yorkshire last autumn, and underlined her status as the clear favourite for the major titles up for grabs in 2020.
Why I launched monster 105km solo attack: Van Vleuten on her extraordinary World Championship win
Fast forward two months and much has changed.
“It would be sad if I cannot race in the rainbow jersey again, but I at least have a good record – one race and one win, 100 percent – in that jersey,” she says with a rueful smile.
Given the circumstances you would forgive Van Vleuten for feeling down on her luck, but the 38-year-old’s positivity radiates across the zoomwaves as she explains how she has adapted to the coronavirus environment and effectively adapted her goals and mentality:
“We’ve had six weeks of sun, I’ve done some mountain biking in the sun instead of in the rain and mud like usual, so although it’s disappointing not to ride up into the big mountains I’m still discovering some nice roads in the Netherlands and have found a way to still enjoy it. I’ve taken away all the intensity of my training, so it’s not like I’m massively pushing myself. If it’s raining one day or I don’t feel like training then I stay in my bed or inside, and I’m saving my energy to hopefully peak for September, October and November.”
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Anyone who has watched Mitchelton-Scott’s excellent documentary episode on Van Vleuten’s off-season training will understand that it can’t have been easy to lose the opportunity to race after putting such a heavy focus on preparation. But Van Vleuten says she’s happy to have a break, and believes that her mood is one that is replicated across the women’s peloton.
“Everyone’s a bit on the same page and just trying to stay fit and not push themselves too much, doing what they can inside or outside, depending where they are,” Van Vleuten says.
“I feel a really positive vibe still actually, I haven’t spoken to anyone negative yet, people are still training and I think are good overall. We have some contact within the peloton, sending messages and calling each other. It’s nice to hear how my team-mates are also dealing with the situation, and we’re able to share some ideas on how to stay fit during this period, how to stay motivated – for example with Amanda Spratt I’ve had some nice phone-calls where we encouraged each other and she had some nice ideas of how to stay motivated and use this period in a good way.”
One advantage for Van Vleuten is that her home country, the Netherlands, have not deployed as strict lockdown measures as some other countries in Europe, meaning she has still had the flexibility to get out on both her road and mountain bikes.
But she admits that training, particularly with no definitive goal in mind, isn’t something that comes all-that naturally to her:
I’m a very goal-oriented athlete. I love training, but without a goal I love it a little bit less. But I have good chats with my coach and help from the team with this, offering mental support about how to approach it just like it’s November except with a flying start. There are two positives to this – the weather is good whereas in November it usually isn’t, and you already have good legs so aren’t pedalling squares like you would be after a holiday.
Despite her positive slant on the situation, Van Vleuten is well aware that this is a very difficult time for women’s cycling. Along with the rest of her Mitchelton-Scott employees she has had to take a large pay cut (“I will not talk about how much it is, but it is substantial”) in order to try and help the team survive. And the veteran is also well aware that the impact on sponsors and the cancellation of so many races is unlikely to be good news for the sport.
“This will have an impact on every sector and everything,” Van Vleuten says. “For women’s cycling and for cycling in general it’s a really hard situation. I think it’s not positive, but as soon as we can race again and we can show up for our sponsors again we will pick up and continue on the positive direction that was set before this.
Van Vleuten on training in the rainbow jersey, life in lockdown, and her 'substantial' pay cut
“The saddest thing for us is that our sponsor is really in a bad situation and I really feel for the people that work with him at his company," she continues. "But what made me really proud is that I have the feeling that it brings us as a team more together. For example, every morning we are on a Zwift ride together as a whole team and I really love to see that everybody is still motivated. Everybody is getting paid less but everyone is still there, from the mechanic to the soigneur to the doctors to the people from social media, and I think that shows really good team spirit.”
With a proposed new cycling calendar now out in the open there is something for Van Vleuten to aim for, although she stresses that “health is the most important thing” when asked about the sport’s priorities for the autumn.
So for now she’ll have to return to that dream of warm weather recreational cycling:
I also really like cycling in Colombia, but that’s a bit further away and takes a bit more time in the aeroplane. Italy is really easy, I can just put my bikes in the car and then in 10 hours or so I’m there and good to go. That’s something I can really look forward to.