Van Vleuten: ‘Fall in Rio didn’t just bring me bad things’

In a series of thirty personal conversations with Olympic athletes we count down the CCeit Olympic podcast to Tokyo 2021. Henry Schut and Jeroen Stekelenburg will visit athletes who are preparing for next year‘s Olympic Games. In a personal conversation they will discuss life as an athlete and the preparation for the global event.

The guests are the crème de la crème of Dutch top sport, and in most cases also medal candidate in Tokyo. This week Jeroen Stekelenburg will talk to Annemiek van Vleuten, much-winner, who hopes to become European champion on the road in Plouay today.

Stekelenburg speaks to Van Vleuten during its seasonal preparations. She has just returned from Colombia, where she is experiencing an ultimate form of freedom by bicycle. “The adventure lures me. Going outside my comfort zone, triggering myself. Five or six hours of training in Colombia is different than in the Netherlands.

“A different environment, different company, different culture, different food, a different place to stay. When you train at an altitude of 2200 meters, everything is very green. I do wonder what that is like. I look it up. Other natural phenomena, fruit that I’ve never seen before, I google it.”

Flat after the conversation she wins Omloop het Nieuwsblad. But then, just like the whole world, the cycling peloton comes to a standstill because of corona. In the mean time it gets a bit going again. Van Vleuten wins the Strade Bianche with force majeure. The fact that the Games have been postponed for a year makes little difference to her. Because so she says herself: her dreams haven’t changed. Only the date is different.

“I’m not really the type who wants to put one cross in his diary in a year. I find it very unfortunate to reduce a year to an Olympic year. You’re doing all the other competitions on the calendar too short. As a cyclist you have so many beautiful races. But the Olympics are once every four years. That’s where I want to be at the start in the best possible shape.”

Rio de Janeiro

Four years ago, in Rio de Janeiro, she fell into winning position hard. A crash of which everyone still knows exactly where he or she was when it happened. “A lot of people still remember how I fell there. I didn’t. I still have on my retina what I can remember. The fact that I lost everyone uphill inspired me to set new goals and challenges. It hasn’t just brought me bad things.”

“In Rio I did wonder: would I have been happier with a gold medal around my neck? Then you’ll see the relativity of cycling. Also because of the death of my father of course. Then you know that in life there is more important than winning gold medals. Then you’ll realize that happiness is in other things. What was the answer to that question? I wouldn’t have been happier. It would have saved me a really bad time.”