What caused Annemiek van Vleuten’s crash? 

It was undoubtedly dramatic, but let’s take a closer look at what’s actually to blame.

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WOLLONGONG, Australia (CT) – The week of the 2022 Road World Championships hasn’t gone to plan for Annemiek van Vleuten. The Olympic champion didn’t meet her expectations in Sunday’s individual time trial. And in today’s mixed team time trial relay, the Dutch star had only just set off down the start ramp when disaster struck

What happened to cause Van Vleuten to hit the pavement so abruptly?

The local broadcast commentators were quick to say it was a collapsed wheel. Others saw the blown tubeless tyre and assumed that was the cause, something van Vleuten also first blamed via Twitter, but has since corrected. Some online commenters suggested Van Vleuten had pulled her foot from the pedal, leading to disaster. And then there was that torn rear derailleur which pointed to a drivetrain issue. 

It all happened so fast.

The CyclingTips team on the ground has been replaying the crash video enough times for it to overtake Baby Shark as the most watched YouTube video. We’ve zoomed into photos to the point where the pixels became jigsaw puzzles. And then we’ve argued about it in detail. 

Based on the evidence, we’re pointing the blame at an unexpected chain jam. 

Photos show that Van Vleuten pushed off from the start ramp in the big chainring and a large cassette cog. However, a millisecond before she was thrown sideways, that chain was on its way to the small chainring, aka the wrong one. From here, the chain quite obviously jams, causing Van Vleuten’s weight to unexpectedly be thrown off balance, not unlike if she had suffered a broken chain.

The chain started on the big ring, somewhat cross-chained with the rear cassette – however, such a gear combo is nothing out of the ordinary.

From here, things happened fast, with Van Vleuten’s weight thrown over the front of the bike. The hard-to-handle time trial bike became uncontrollable, she unclipped her left foot, but it was all happening too fast, and the bike dove toward the barriers. 

That tyre only blew off the rim from the impact of the barrier. Inside, a mess of latex sealant awaited to throw on-lookers off the scent of the actual cause of the crash. As Van Vleuten sat on the ground in shock and pain, her bike was whisked out of the way, showing a rear derailleur torn from the hanger; something that, from what we can tell, was the result of Ellen van Dijk riding straight over it. It’s amazing Van Dijk managed to stay upright.

The torn rear derailleur and exploded tyre are both symptoms of the crash. Neither were the cause.

What remains unclear is what led to the chain jumping off the big ring of Van Vleuten’s SRAM Red AXS drivetrain. That drivetrain features a rear derailleur equipped with a clutch for chain security. Similarly, no sprint load would cause the chain to jump from its rings.

One theory is that Van Vleuten may have had a slight pause in cadence, at which point the chain at the bottom could droop enough to be kicked off the chainring. However, that clutched derailleur would reduce this likelihood, and so would the surely low-drag Zipp freehub. And plus, the footage shows no sign of hesitation in her pedal stroke.

My original theory was that Van Vleuten’s hands accidentally pressed both buttons on the base bar to initiate a double shift when she sought to shift just a single sprocket. Possible, but Van Vleuten is a seasoned pro on a time trial bike and her hands don’t appear to be on the buttons.

And so I, and the rest of the CyclingTips team, are left a little stumped on this one. We know the bad luck was related to the chain jumping from the big chainring, but the specific cause remains unknown.

In the meantime, we’re sending healing vibes to Annemiek van Vleuten who suffered a fractured elbow from the crash.

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