Farewell to Annemiek van Vleuten, the inspiring and powerful force behind so much of cycling’s progress

Annemiek Van Vleuten reacts crossing the finish line as her last race as professional rider during the 25th Simac Ladies Tour 2023 in Arnhem

Sign up to our free sport newsletter for all the latest news on everything from cycling to boxing

Sign up to our free sport email for all the latest news

Thanks for signing up to the
Sport email

When thinking about the cycling career of Annemiek van Vleuten, multiple tributes could be written on her accolades alone, of which there are an abundance.

Two world road race titles, two world individual time trial titles, Olympic gold (time trial), Olympic silver (road race), one Tour de France, four Giro d’Italia, one La Vuelta (and two Challenge by La Vuelta), two Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes (2019, 2022), two Strade Bianche Donne (2019, 2020), and two Ronde van Vlaanderen (2011, 2021) describe a few of Van Vleuten’s accomplishments over the career which amassed 104 wins.

The person behind the achievements, the woman from the Netherlands who is fiercely passionate about riding her bike, has had a far broader impact on the sport than can ever be truly quantified.

Van Vleuten has inspired countless people across generations and the globe and for many was the catalyst that sparked a love of cycling.

This ability to influence those whom she may have never even met with her success speaks volumes in itself but is merely the surface level when it comes to the impact she’s had on those around her.


Tour de France Women Cycling

“To see her go so deep in training and in racing, that is something that you don’t see people do everyday. From all my teammates, there are only a few that I have seen so dedicated and having so much pain as Annemiek, and that was actually sometimes a little bit heartbreaking.

Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video

Sign up now for a 30-day free trial

Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video

Sign up now for a 30-day free trial

“Especially when she had that iliac artery endofibrosis that she had a few operations for, that was a period that she had so much pain in training but also in stage races. She was crying on the bike because her leg hurt so much because of this injury and she was quite worried if it would ever be better or if it would be the end of her career.

“After we went to different teams and I retired from cycling, I really see her more as a very empathetic friend. She’s a very caring person and she’s still very focused on herself but she’s always a person that remembers to send you a message or is very thoughtful about whatever is happening in my life.”

Spending large amounts of time training at altitude, occasionally joining the team camps of the equivalent men’s team, Van Vleuten pushed herself to previously undiscovered limits to become a cycling great.

“We had a few people like that in the past, of course Marianne Vos was someone who set a benchmark, but I think the big difference between Marianne and Annemiek is that with Marianne you just saw that she is natural, she has so much talent and she trained a lot but she was also a very different kind of athlete than Annemiek,” Slappendel described.

“With Annemiek, she trained so hard and so much more at altitude than anyone else, that made a lot of riders believe that if they put so much more effort into their training then they can also get to a certain level. Annemiek was not that natural or a talented rider like a Marianne Vos or an Anna van der Breggen, she is really a self-made champion. She is an example of how much you can do if you invest in it yourself,” she added.

Injuries, illness, and adversity weaved their way through Van Vleuten’s star-studded career and behind every tale of victory, there have been plenty which have been tinged with anguish. A horror crash during the 2016 Olympics, a broken elbow days before the 2022 World Championships and illness at the start of the 2022 Tour de France are some of the many setbacks she faced.

Movistar women’s team manager Sebastián Unzué spoke fondly of Van Vleuten’s inspiring mental strength, key to returning from such setbacks.

“Her work ethic is outstanding but what makes her unique is her mental strength. She can take her body and her mind to levels that others cannot reach,” he told The Independent.

Tour de France Women Cycling

“She’s gone through many many setbacks in her career but the story just keeps repeating itself and she comes back stronger. What allows her to be so solid in those tough moments is her mind, she’s incredibly strong mentally.”

As a natural consequence of her inner drive to succeed, the mindset she lives by has had a profound influence on those around her.

“Annemiek, she’s one of those very unique people,” Unzué said before pausing for a moment. “I would say that I think she has the capacity of making those around her better. The way she pushes herself and prepares, it goes to such a level that the others [in the peloton] feel the pressure of having to respond the same way.

“She makes the riders around her better, but she also makes the staff better. When she arrived to the team three seasons ago she changed everything for us. We went from going to some races to just survive, to practically going to the most important races of the season with the main favourite or one of the main favourites. The effect she had in the team is hard to measure but it’s incredible, huge.”


Some of those who have been most impacted by Van Vleuten are her teammates, most recently those who she’s raced alongside at Movistar. On the day of her final race, she gifted her teammates and the Movistar team staff a rainbow jersey each.

Van Vleuten’s commitment to not only her own success but also that of the team has allowed others to begin to flourish. At this year’s Tour de France, Liane Lippert and Emma Norsgaard both took a coveted stage win and will be key to the progression of the team as it continues without Van Vleuten next season.

“For her, it was also really relieving to see the other girls winning and stepping up, because it also took some of the weight off her shoulders to perform better and better every day in the Tour de France. The feeling that I have is that sometimes she’s even happier when other teammates win,” Unzué said.

“She’s extremely ambitious, but she can also enjoy seeing others succeed and that’s what great leaders are made of. There are very few great leaders, but I think that Annemiek is one of them.”

Danish rider Norsgaard has been at Movistar with Van Vleuten since they both joined in 2021. At the age of 24, Norsgaard has a bright career ahead of her, which Van Vleuten will have played a key part in the early stages of.

“It’s hard to put into words how she is as an athlete,” the Tour de France Femmes stage six winner said, reflecting on her teammate’s career. “Coming to Movistar with her, I’ve learned a lot having her as a teammate. She’s special but in a way that we can all learn.

“She enjoys all the victories of the team and she’s really good at giving advice and giving me motivation for the races. She was super happy at the Tour when Liane and I won a stage, so you really saw that she’s also happy for her teammates.

“Having confidence in myself is one thing that she’s really trying to put into my head and teaching me that the mental side is just as important as the physical.”

Further afield, others in the sport have felt the ripple effect of the impact of Van Vleuten’s career. Dutch rider Femke de Vries of team GT Krush Rebellease Pro Cycling has felt particularly influenced by her.

“Annemiek had a big influence on my cycling career, she made me believe it is still possible to reach the top when starting cycling later in life. I also discovered cycling during my studies at university. Furthermore, she has a positive mindset and when I read or see interviews, it is inspirational to always keep believing,” said De Vries, who raced in Van Vleuten’s final professional race.

“In the Netherlands, she is a real cycling hero, she is a public favourite because of her way of racing and her positive interviews. At local races, she was very approachable, always keen to help. She showed that women are capable of training harder, longer and faster than expected.”

Van Veluten’s professional career drew to a close on the 10th of September at the Simac Ladies Tour which holds a special place in her heart for many reasons. The prologue of this year’s course started 5km away from her hometown, and the final stage finished only 15km away in Arnhem, which is regularly on her training routes.

She was the final rider to cross the line on the final stage as she took the time to soak up the atomsphere of a home crowd, many with homemade banners which paid tribute to her illustrious career.


Before the start of her final race as a professional, Van Vleuten shared a touching tribute to the origins of such motivation and drive.

In a post on Instagram she shared a photo of herself standing next to her late father before she took part in what is now named the Simac Ladies Tour for the first time, then called the Holland Ladies Tour.

In part of the post, she said: “Unfortunately he only saw me in my first 2 years of racing (2007/2008). My driving force to get the best out of myself, try to focus on the positive things and focus on what I have in control: credits go to my father and to my mother.”

After her final World Championships race in Glasgow, Van Vleuten spoke of her motto ‘accept, adapt, and move on,’ a phrase that was often brought up when talking to those who know her.

“It’s part of my career, accept, adapt and move on. You can get really angry about a flat tyre but you can’t do anything about it,” she said while talking about the mechanical issue that ruined her podium chances.

“It’s better to make the best out of it, the same with the broken elbow. Last year I was thinking at the start of the race ok, I can still help Marianne Vos to become World Champion and at least I can go home with a better feeling, that was my mentality last year with my broken elbow, and then I got World Champion.”

Annemiek van Vleuten celebrated time trial gold after her disappointment in the road race (Martin Rickett/PA)

Van Vleuten’s last race appeared to be one which provided a perfect finale to her career, however, she openly admitted that she had an alternative ending in mind when planning her retirement.

‘Looking at the UCI calendar I was really almost begging for Lombardia for example because then I would have gone again to altitude to prepare for Lombardia,” she told The Independent.

“I love Italy so that would have been a really nice way to say goodbye. Our [women’s cycling] calendar needs revision because we don’t really have an autumn. We have a really nice spring, and then not much after the stage races, but the guys have a nice autumn calendar and I think it would be also nice if they had a women’s edition. Next year, Lombardia! For me it’s sad that it’s not there, so that’s why I’m finishing like this.”

While the sport still has some way to go in many areas, it is undeniable that it has come on in leaps and bounds since the start of Van Vleuten’s career.

“I started in 2007, and 2008 was my first UCI team. We travelled with a campervan with all the bikes in the back, that was a crazy time,” she said with a laugh.

“I’m super proud that I have been part of the whole development of women’s cycling, and I think also I helped a little bit to raise the bar a little bit for women’s cycling to get it more professional. I was always the first one to go to altitude and now everyone is going.

“I’m happy that I’ve been part of it for the whole journey, it also feels good to leave the sport now that it’s at a super high level. I’m sure it will take more steps and continue to develop, but when I started it was an amateur sport, now it’s professional. I’m proud to be a little part of that.

Van Vleuten leaves an immense legacy to future female riders

“The more people ask me if I have doubts about retiring and are begging me to continue, the more I think it’s a really good moment to stop. It’s nice if people want me to continue, it’s better than them asking when ‘when are you going to stop’.


“It makes me proud because it gives me the feeling that I still entertain people. I’m proud to say goodbye to the sport like this.”

While cycling will have to inevitably ‘accept, adapt, and move on’ as Van Vleuten bids farewell to the professional side of the sport she’s dedicated over 15 years of her life to, all that’s left to say is dankjewel Annemiek; cycling will forever be indebted to your greatness and your impact.

Source: Read Full Article