Annemiek van Vleuten OK but disappointed after horrific crash in women’s Olympic road race

by Anne-Marije Rook


“I am now in the hospital with some injuries and fractures, but will be fine.”

These are the first public words from Dutchwoman Annemiek van Vleuten after her horrific crash in the women’s Olympic road race yesterday. Her short Twitter statement brings a big relief to the tens of thousands of people who feared the worst after watching her lay motionless in the gutter on the side of the Olympic road race.

The crash that ended the ride of her career

Annemiek van Vleuten on the attack before the treacherous descend.
Annemiek van Vleuten on the attack before the treacherous descend.

Van Vleuten (Orica-AIS) had the ride of her career yesterday as she ascended the brutal Vista Chinesa climb in women’s Olympic road race. The peloton had already dwindled down to a tiny selection of five riders with compatriot and race favourite Anna van der Breggen among them.

Van Vleuten attacked on the second part of the climb and distanced even American Mara Abbott (Wiggle-High5), a two-time Giro Rosa winner and considered the best female climber in the world.

With a technical descend ahead and a flat run-in to the finish, Van Vleuten, a TT-specialist, had moved herself into a very promising race lead with less than 10 kilometres to go.

But on the treacherous descend, Van Vleuten overshot a corner and crashed horrifically.

The 33-year-old flipped over her handlebars and landed on a raised gutter, laying motionless for several minutes as Mara Abbott and the eventual medal winners rode past her.

Status: OK but disappointed

News of Van Vleuten’s condition was slow to come through, and the rumour mill ran rampant. Eventually official sources shared some good news: Van Vleuten was conscious and on her way to hospital for treatment.

Some hours later it was revealed that Van Vleuten had suffered three spinal fractures in and a concussion. She stayed in intensive care for at least 24 hours.

We received confirmation about Van Vleuten’s condition from UCI Vice President Tracey Gaudry who had been in the lead car of the women’s road race and saw it all happen.

“When she crashed people had to literally turn away. It was terrible. Those of us who have come down in a hard way, we all had the gravest fears because it was pretty messy, however, the course was the course,” Gaudry told CyclingTips over the phone. “The riders had all been through the course, they all knew what the course was. It just so happened that it was starting to get slick on the road. When we came through in front of them there was just a little bit of water on the road because it had misted over a little bit. It could have been just a little bit slick where her bike floated. Thankfully she is fine and has come out as well as you could hope for. We are very glad and it certainly reverberated among the women’s peloton.”

Van Vleuten tweeted her first update on Monday morning. While three spinal fractures are not insignificant, Van Vleuten talked mostly about disappointment. “Super disappointed after best race of my career,” she tweeted. “Knowing that this chance is 1 in 4 years doesn’t make it easy.”

Van Vleuten hopes to be dismissed on Monday. It is not yet known how long recovery might take or what the crash might mean for her immediate riding future.

Shock and mixed emotions for her teammates

The Dutch and Americans line up at the front of the race
The Dutch and Americans line up at the front of the race

For viewers everywhere, Van Vleuten’s crash was a horrible thing to witness. For her compatriots and friends in the race, it was the worst. Her Dutch teammates had a lot of mixed emotions at the finish as they won gold yet feared for Van Vleuten.

“You came through that corner and all you saw was something orange. It was scary. I didn’t know who it was,” said compatriot Marianne Vos. “I think everyone saw her lying there and it did not look good. There is nothing you can do at that moment and so just hope for the best. It’s good to hear that Annemiek is OK.”

In a statement from the team, gold-medalist Anna van der Breggen said she had a hard time getting back into the race after seeing her teammate by the side of the road.

“We saw Annemiek lie there and it did not look good. It took a while before I could switch [back to racing]. Only when Emma Johansson said, “Let’s do it for Annemiek’ I was able to turn the switch,” said Van der Breggen

At the finish, the Dutch team’s tireless domestique, Ellen van Dijk, had mixed emotions. She had come in a little while after the leading riders to learn that her team had won gold. Yet she too had seen someone in orange by the side of the road.

“I still cant quiet believe it. I came in a little behind and I saw someone lying there on the descend, and it gave me a tremendous fright,” she told Dutch reporters. “I couldn’t even see who it was and then an ambulance came flying by me with its sirens on and I was worried. The next moment I cross the finish line and I hear Anna has won. I went from one emotion to the other. It’s all very bizarre.”

Orica-AIS teammate Gracie Elvin had nothing but praise for Van Vleuten and knows that of Van Vleuten’s last crash is anything to go by, she will overcome this too.

“She’s one of my best friends,” said Elvin on Twitter. “She’s one of the most positive people on our team. She’s been my biggest fan this year and given me a lot of confidence. She’s super-tough, she was nearly killed last year when hit by a car…she recovered from that and is a really tough lady.”

The CyclingTips and Ella teams wish Annemiek all the best for a full and speedy recovery.

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