Annemiek van Vleuten looked strong enough to win another title at the UCI Road World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland on Sunday but, after being in contention in the final kilometers as she worked for her Dutch team-mate Demi Vollering, suffered a puncture and was out of contention.
Sitting in eighth place, Van Vleuten put her disappointment at the puncture out of her mind and had plenty of time to soak up the adoration of the Glasgow crowd, many of whom had come from Holland, and enjoy her last Worlds her career.
“I love the people of the UK, they have a special place in my heart,” Van Vleuten told reporters after the finish. “It wasn’t nice to have a flat tire on the last lap. I can’t be angry or disappointed, I felt like ‘I’ve got to enjoy this.’
Van Vleuten spent the final 200 meters waving to the crowd as she was unable to catch seventh-placed Elise Chabbey (Switzerland) and her ninth-placed team-mate Riejanne Markus was more than a minute behind.
“Thank you for all the people – I felt they realized it was my last world championship, so it was a nice end to my last world championship.”
The season has been up and down for the 40-year-old. She dropped out in the Classics, came back to win La Vuelta Femenina and the Giro d’Italia Donne, but then suffered a crushing defeat in the Tour de France Femmes and dropped just off the overall podium to fourth.
She could easily have been written off when she was in a group chasing nearly a minute behind the front peloton after a bike change, but managed to bridge with Spain’s Mavi Garcia to be a real factor at her final Worlds.
“It was the same last year with the broken elbow” – suffered during the medley time trial of the team relay in Wollongong. He ran with the fracture, and, in the closing kilometers, he caught the leading group and powered past to take the win.
He brought that same never-say-die mentality to Glasgow. “Last year I was thinking, OK, you can still help Marianne Vos become a World Champion. So let’s start the race. And at least I’ll go home with a better feeling then I became a World Champion.”
“I’m very proud that in my last world championship, I was still in the mix, really fighting for the win and helping my team. The energy is still there.”
Despite the result and still at top level, Van Vleuten reiterated her firm intention to retire at the end of the season.
“I’m still full of energy and want to do my best – I still had that attitude. I’m proud to say goodbye to the sport like this.”
Women’s cycling has undergone huge changes since the start of Van Vleuten’s career, so much so that she said “I could write books about it”.
“I started in 2007. And then 2008 was my first UCI team, we traveled in a caravan with all the bikes on the back. We traveled from the Tour of Limousin and to Sweden with this camper. It was a crazy moment. “”
“When I started it was an amateur sport and now it’s a professional sport. And I’m proud to have had a little part in it.
“I think I’ve helped raise the bar a bit for women’s cycling to be more professional – I’ve always been the first to go to altitude, now everyone goes to altitude to prepare.”
“I’m happy to have been a part of the whole journey and also feel good to leave the sport now that it’s at a very high level. He will definitely take more steps and continue to develop.”
Van Vleuten still has to close out the season with the Movistar team and will finish her career at the Tour of Scandinavia and then the Simac Ladies Tour closer to home.
From then on, he promises no more interval training, just easy walks and coffee stops.
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