Is there a stage race that Movistar’s Annemiek Van Vleuten can't win? It doesn't seem like it this year.
This weekend, she cemented her overall victory at the Ceratizit Challenge By La Vuelta, marking her third stage race victory of the season. And these haven’t been just any stage races: These are the big ones. She’s now won the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, the Giro Donne, and Ceratizit Challenge By La Vuelta—the women's iterations of the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta, respectively.
The Dutch racer plans to retire at the end of the 2023 season. At 39 years old, she’s been racing professionally for 13 years, and racing for 15. She’s won nearly every distinction in road cycling that a rider can win, from victories in these stage races (three overall wins in the Giro Donne, in fact!) to world championships to Olympic medals.
Of course, even the greatest racers are imperfect. Her racing career has had its ups and downs: She had a bad crash at the Olympics in 2016, sustaining a serious concussions. Then, in the Olympic road race in 2021, she mistakenly celebrated a win despite finishing in second place behind Anna Kiesenhofer, who’d launched an attack early in the race.
Still, Van Vleuten’s reputation as a smart, tactical racer is impossible to argue. She does her best work in stage races, often hovering in the top third of the race for the early stages before powering away once the climbing begins. In the Tour de France Femmes back in July, she unseated Marianne Vos, who’d held the yellow jersey for the first five days of the race, as soon as the race hit a climbing stage.
In La Vuelta last week, Van Vleuten took an early lead on Stage 2, putting her nearly two minutes ahead in the general classification. From there, it was all smart racing and preparation for the upcoming World Championships.
As CyclingTips’ Abby Mickey correctly points out, Van Vleuten is best known for her stunning attacks and solo stage wins that cement her overall victory. She tends to attack when the climbing starts, moves into the general classification lead with a solo victory, and then rides smart to finish the race, often sticking with the pack. She knows just how much time she can afford to lose, and doesn’t get distracted by points or climbers jerseys. She’s focused on the overall win, and will play the long game rather than fighting in bunch sprints.
She’s also solid in single day races: This year alone, she won both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Liège–Bastogne–Liège Femmes. When thinking about other women who’ve come close to the amount of victories she’s enjoyed in her career, only Marianne Vos comes to mind.
What does Van Vleuten’s dominance mean for women’s cycling? Truly, women’s racing has never been more exciting. The strength of teams like Movistar, Jumbo Visma and SD Worx among others to actually use tactics in racing, rather than need to rely on a rider or two, has made racing truly come alive in recent years. The level of professionalism across the board in women’s cycling has risen. And riders like Van Vleuten are simply able to take advantage of the fact that finally, women’s racing is being taken seriously enough that we even have publications like this one, touting the dominance of any one rider (well, any one rider who isn’t Marianne Vos. We’ve been writing about her for years).
And of course, this is also the first time in decades that women have had a Tour de France to race—we’ll be watching all of these stage races carefully next year to see if Van Vleuten can defend her triple crown, or if she’ll be unseated in her final year of racing.
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