By taking her second set of rainbows in such a surprise fashion, Annemiek van Vleuten achieved the "best win" of her career, said Adam Blythe afterwards on the latest edition of The Breakaway.
Having suffered a broken elbow in the team time trial on Wednesday, Van Vleuten was not expected to be able to contest the victory. She said before the race that she was unable to ride from out of the saddle, which meant she would neither be able to climb in her customary fashion, nor engage in a full-throated sprint, should the race come down to it.
The Dutch star was therefore expected to ride in service to Marianne Vos, but Vos was dropped on the final climb while Van Vleuten was able to stay with the second group on the road, and was ultimately near the front when the race came back together.
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Nonetheless, her difficulties on the climbs were visible for all to see. She did not attack the only time the race tackled Mount Keira, as she might have, and then was not with the gront group of five climbers who got themselves a gap on both the last ascents of Mount Pleasant.
When two groups became one at the flamme rouge, she was at the back before sailing by them all with five hundred metres to go. They hesitated, she suddenly had enough of a gap, and the race was over.
"We’ve never seen her ride like that," said Blythe. "We’ve never seen her a domestique for one. We’ve never seen her be distanced on a climb and then come back and go “Bang!” For me that’s even more impressive than sheer power.”
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Dani Christmas agreed: "If you’d told people at the beginning that Van Vleuten was going to win, I’m not sure anyone would have picked this would be the way she’d do it. It’s unbelievable.”
“For the last however many hundred metres they’ve been gearing themselves up for a sprint," added Christmas, by way of explaining how easily Van Vleuten was able to go clear. "There is that moment of hesitation and as soon as there’s a gap, no-one wants to close it. Everyone looks at each other and she’s gone.”
For Dani King, Van Vleuten it was a move of opportunistic brilliance: “That group only caught up to the front with a kilometre to go and she just thought she’d take her chance. She surprised them as much as us. They didn’t have time to react or decide what to do.”
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Blythe wondered if she even expected to do it herself: “I think she caught herself by surprise. She came across the line, and there was no celebration, nothing. She was just like ‘Have I won?’”
“Just when you thought Annemiek van Vleuten had showed us every single way she could win a bike race," said Orla Chennaoui, "she only goes and surprises us all over again.”
As well as a second road race rainbow jersey, which she will wear for her retirement season in 2023, Van Vleuten ends the season having won the general classification at the Tour de France Femmes, the Giro Donne and the Madrid Challenge.
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