Dutch cycling legend Annemiek van Vleuten will take part in the Gravel World Championships in Veneto, Italy, on October 7. Despite having hung up her road racing wheels, the four-time world champion is far from taking a back seat in the world of cycling.
Speaking to Dutch podcast In Het Wiel, Van Vleuten said, “In a crazy mood I said ‘yes’ to that. The team liked it, the sponsors liked it, and I also found it funny to participate.” She will be part of a robust Dutch squad that includes road stars Demi Vollering and Lorena Wiebes, making the Netherlands one of the teams to watch during this off-road escapade.
However, it is essential to note that Van Vleuten’s foray into gravel racing should not be misconstrued as a formal un-retirement. “I have no ambitions in a gravel career, so I think I will end it here,” she said, emphasising that she would not be training for the event. The 40-year-old considers it part of her “farewell tour,” revealing that she seized the opportunity when her team showed immediate enthusiasm for the idea.
Famously outspoken about her dislike of the gravel stage in the 2022 Tour de France Femmes, Van Vleuten is a former Strade Bianche winner and also a memorable Giro Donne stage on the gravel in 2020.
This unique pivot in her athletic journey comes after an impressive year where she clinched victories in La Vuelta Femenina, the Giro d’Italia Donne, and the Tour of Scandinavia. Although she did not reach the podium in her ultimate goal, the Tour de France Femmes, Van Vleuten was pleased with her career trajectory, stating the reaction to her retirement has been “overwhelming.”
“It’s super nice to hear everything and that it meant so much,” Van Vleuten told Velo in an interview. She reflects on the evolution of women’s cycling, pointing out how fans can now appreciate the sport on television, a far cry from its less-visible days. Her inbox has been flooded with messages of gratitude, a testament to her impact on the sport and its followers.
Despite her explicit lack of professional ambitions in gravel racing, this move is tantalising for cycling fans. The event will serve as one last hurrah for those who want to see the “flying Dutchwoman” in action—albeit on less familiar terrain. With her participation, Van Vleuten not only adds a star-studded touch to the race but also creates an atmosphere of excitement and unpredictability.
Will her appearance affect the dynamics of the race, especially considering the absence of defending champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot? Only time will tell. What is certain is that even in retirement, Van Vleuten remains a figure of intrigue, capable of inspiring a sense of wonder and anticipation in the cycling world.