Annemiek van Vleuten can finally call herself an Olympic Champion.
And from the moment she rolled onto the Fuji International Speedway circuit, as the sixth rider to start, her ride was destined to deliver. While others struggled in the hot and humid conditions, and on the route, with its challenging mid-course climb, Van Vleuten never looked less than steely and sure.
We have seen, on more than one occasion in recent weeks, the potential pitfalls of putting all your eggs in a single sporting basket.
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Sometimes, however, the preparation pays off. Annemiek van Vleuten set her stall out early on in the season, making it widely known that Olympic gold was her one and only target for the season.
After a successful spring, she skipped the early summer racing for an isolated, intense period of altitude training. Before Sunday, we hadn’t seen her on a bike since the Dutch nationals in June.
And all that sacrifice will have made the heartbreak even harder to bear. Road racing is chaotic. It can throw into the mix variables that even the most ready rider cannot control. Namely the tactical choices made by other athletes. The time trial, in contrast, is far more manageable. The focus and the pressure might all be on the individual but, if she can handle it, there’s also far less that can go wrong.
Van Vleuten can certainly handle it.
She was the sixth from last rider to start, in a textured orange skinsuit reflecting some serious R&D investment. At the first waypoint, after 9.7km, she was just over six seconds ahead of Grace Brown. At that stage it was impossible to know how good that time was, but Van Vleuten certainly seemed in control. At the second split, just over 5km down the road, she had extended her lead by 22 seconds over the Australian.
Elsewhere on the course there was joy for Switzerland’s Marlen Reusser, whose commanding final third took her from 5th place into the silver medal position. “That’s the ride of the day for me,” said commentator Dani Rowe.
Contrastingly, Grace Brown’s numbers indicate that she started too hard and it cost her towards the end. Anna van der Breggen, competing in one of her last races prior to retirement, rode steadily to claim a bronze medal to go with the Gold she won in the road race in Rio.
Chloe Dygert, the pre-event favourite, was unable to live up to expectations. Fifty seconds off the pace after the first sector, the American was never at the races. As she clutched her left leg after completing her run, her face was that of someone suffering significant pain.
A more than worthy mention must go to Masomah Ali Zada, the rider who started things off this morning. Representing the Olympic refugee team, she made history as the first Afghan to compete in an Olympic time trial.
But today’s golden girl was Annemiek van Vleuten. No demons left, no regrets, and no worlds left to conquer.
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