Van Vleuten to make her return to racing earlier than expected at Omloop Het NieuwsbladSat 16 Feb 2019
World time trial champion Annemiek van Vleuten has made a faster than expected recovery from her knee injury, sustained after a crash at the 2018 road world championships, and will kick start her 2019 season next weekend at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
After fracturing the knee and detaching the ligament, extensive rehabilitation was needed and Van Vleuten was forced her off the bike for seven-weeks.
It has been a long and tough recovery process for the Mitchelton-SCOTT rider but she has once again displayed relentless determination, working hard with her daily rehabilitation to be able to return to the peloton just five months later, for the team’s first European race.
A high then low
Despite coming off her best season to date, where Van Vleuten claimed a consecutive world time trial title, finished the season as the world number one ranked female rider and individual women’s WorldTour series winner, 2018 ended with one of the biggest challenges of her 36-year-old´s career.
The Dutch rider has dealt with numerous setbacks and injuries throughout her career but believes this one was one of the hardest to deal with
“In total it was eight-weeks before I could ride my race bike again, but after seven-weeks I could do a little bit on the home trainer or the town bike,” Van Vleuten explained. “People were sometimes talking about my Rio injury but this one was for me very hard. The injury itself was harder than Rio, there was more impact.
"Rio looked very bad, it was big because in the end I couldn’t go for the win but also in Innsbruck. That’s what made it very hard, knowing my shape was super good and it was a course that suited me very well. I also didn’t have any guarantees that I will be back at the level I had last year, I am a bit older and sometimes it is harder to come back after injury.”
With huge ambitions and goals for 2019, Van Vleuten had to completely reassess the future, strip things back to basics and set new small realistic targets.
“Before the injury we had the goal to be at top shape for the Ardennes this year because I was never really at my top level in the Ardennes,” Van Vleuten said. "When I was injured I didn’t have any goals anymore apart from rehab goals, like first to bend my knee, the second step to go on the bike again, then the third step to go on the bike outside, so very small steps.”
“I am proud of how I approached the rehab. I went full gas with my rehab, I could go three times a week to physiotherapy but when I heard they were open six-days a week, the physiotherapy at the national sports centre in the Netherlands, I thought well if I can go six-times then I'll go six-times."
Originally, it was predicted that Van Vleuten would return to racing around the Ardennes but exceeding all expectations, the Mitchelton-SCOTT rider will pin a number on her back straight away at the team’s first European race of the season, the 123km Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, followed by the first Women’s WorldTour race of the season, Strade Bianche.
“I just had to give everything for the rehab and see then see how it was going. I wasn’t really stressed about when I would return and the team wasn’t which also really helped me. But then when I felt ok and strong and my knee wasn’t reacting to training then I said to Martin (Vestby - sport director) maybe I could join the team at Nieuwsblad,” Van Vleuten continued.
“I am not at all nervous but I am excited because I had such a long time training now. The people say you are so fit but I have had eight weeks without training and then eight weeks now with the bike, so that’s not really long. So I am really excited to be back to racing again and also Nieuwsblad is a very beautiful race and Strade Bianche, they are both every unique races.
"I can say in all my career I have never missed one time Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, I have raced every edition since 2008 onwards. So it will be my 11th time and I am excited to go and support my teammates."
Willing and ready to work for her teammates, Van Vleuten is excited to head back into the bunch to test her fitness level but also to use this opportunity to help and give full support to her teammates in a domestique role.
“It is a good opportunity for me to help my teammates,” Van Vleuten continued. “I don’t have or feel any pressure from the team so it is a good opportunity to race for the team, they all raced so hard for me last year so it is nice to give something back to them. They had an awesome Australian summer so I am excited to see how they will be at this race.”
“For me personally being back in the bunch and doing my job for the team will be the most important thing and a success for me."
Photo courtesy of Getty Images