One month after Rio crash, Annemiek van Vleuten returns to racing with dominance

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UPDATE: With a speed of almost 49km/h, Annemiek van Vleuten (racing for the Netherlands) won the 4-kilometre Prologue of the Lotto Belgium Tour on Tuesday, her first race back since her scary Rio crash a month ago.

She remained in the mix for the following two stages and then, on the final day of the stage race today, she showed pure dominance as she attacked on the Bosberg and took off, coming across the finish line solo, an impressive 1’04” ahead of the field.

The stage win today more than clinched her the overall victory, it confirmed that her form is as good as it was before the awful fall in Rio. Van Vleuten won the overall ahead of the two previous race leaders, Rabobank-Liv’s Marianne Vos and Lucinda Brand. What a comeback!

Annemiek van Vleuten. 2016 Lotto Belgium Tour

Original story:

It’s been just one month since we witnessed the horrific crash in the Rio Olympic road race, but Van Vleuten is making her return starting with the four-day Belgium Lotto Tour starting on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

“I’m excited to be back,” said Van Vleuten, who just a few weeks ago was still bruised and battered with a severe concussion and three broken vertebrae.

The Dutchwoman shocked fans worldwide when, on the now infamous descent of the Chinese Vista in Rio de Janeiro, she misjudged a corner and crashed into the concrete curb, flipping over her handlebars and landing awkwardly on a raised gutter. She lay motionless for several minutes and many feared the worst.

But Van Vleuten came out of the crash as well as one could hope for, and is eager to return to racing.

“The doctor has declared me fit enough to start,” Van Vleuten stated in an announcement on her website. “The recovery is going well and I’m well enough to participate again. That is to say, with proper ambitions or rather, no ambitions.”

Since leaving the Rio hospital and returning to the Netherlands, Van Vleuten has been recuperating in Italy, using the sunny weather, quiet surroundings and varied terrain to recover physically and mentally.

“I am so much better since arriving in Italy, both physically and mentally. I am back riding, taking things day by day and enjoying life,” she journalled.

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

Dealing with disappointment

While the physical injuries were not to be taken lightly, Van Vleuten’s real challenge was, and continues to be, dealing with the disappointment of crashing out of a golden performance.

“Crashing out at the Olympic Games, just a few kilometres from the finish line when in the lead and going for gold…that is the toughest challenge I have ever faced,” she said. “Dealing with the disappointment has been far more difficult than recovering physically. The worst was when the doctor told me to take complete rest, with no television, Internet or telephone. I had nothing to do except think about what happened. It was so hard. But in the end, it was just a few bad days and then I started to look forward to what’s coming up next.”

Sight set on the world championships

Van Vleuten says she was not at all apprehensive about getting back on the bike, and she’s taking motivation from her career-best performance in Rio.

“I was in the shape of my life in Rio and I totally surprised myself with how strong I felt. During that race I realised I was capable of more than I thought. I always believed I wasn’t a climber. I was usually the one hanging on, disappearing and coming back. But in Rio I climbed like I never had before. So now I will target this sort of race more,” she said. “It’s amazing to think that at 33 years old you can keep improving. I hope this inspires other people to believe in their dreams and go after them.”

Van Vleuten is using the Lotto Belgium Tour to evaluate her condition and fitness. She hopes to return to Italy for the Giro dell’Emilia Internazionale and the Gran Premio Bruno Beghelli Internazionale in Italy to gear up for the UCI Road World Championships in October.

“At the moment I think this is realistic,” she says.

Lotto Belgium Tour

Now in its sixth year, the Lotto Belgium Tour is a four-day UCI 2.1 event that runs from September 6th through 9th. There will be 22 teams at the start line in Nieuwpoort for a short 4-kilometre prologue on Tuesday before tackling an additional 326 kilometres over three days of racing.

Among the race favourites are last year’s winner, Emma Johansson (WiggleHigh5), Giorgia Bronzini (WiggleHigh5), Marta Bastianelli (Alé Cipollini), Kirsten Wild (Hitec Products), Elena Cecchini (Canyon SRAM), Lucinda Brand (RaboLiv) and Marianne Vos (RaboLiv).

For more information, visit http://www.lotto-belgiumtour.be/en/ and follow the action via Twitter at @LottoBelgTour.

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