All eyes were on Annemiek van Vleuten as she soloed down the final decent of the 2016 Women’s Olympic Road Race. After gaining a few seconds on Team USA’s Mara Abbott the Dutch rider suffered an awful fate, heavily crashing on the same wet decent that many of the mens favourites had crashed out on the day before.
Initially the prognosis didn’t look good, as she appeared to hit the ground headfirst and did not get up. The world waited for updates and took to social media in hope of finding good news. Eventually the news came, Annemiek was alive and in hospital having suffered severe concussion and three fractures to her spine. She spent two days in intensive care in a Rio hospital.
Annemiek’s crash wasn’t the end of Team Netherlands Olympic Road Race campaign, as team mate Anna van der Breggen went on to take a bittersweet win.
“I’m really happy for Anna”, explained Annemiek. “I was going for the gold medal, but the second best thing is that someone else from Holland took the win. Anna is great bike rider and she deserves it.”
After an accident this severe most would take a few months off the bike to recover or perhaps even be forced to end their season a little earlier than planned, but not Annemiek. Just one month on not only has she almost fully recovered, she has made her comeback to racing by storming to victory at the Lotto Belgium Tours prologue winning by 7 seconds, taking the final stage win and overall in the GC.
“I’m very, very lucky. I realise that now that now I’m back fit again and don’t have any serious injuries. It was very special for me to make a comeback like that, I’m really happy.”
“Luckily I was really fit when I crashed in Rio. Within a week I was back on my city bike and each day I tried to do a little bit more.”
During her recuperation, the Dutchie couldn’t get riding the World Championships in Qatar out of her mind. When her mother suggested they take a holiday and leave everything behind she agreed, but on the condition she took her bike with her. “I don’t have any long term effects from the crash, just concussion, so I had a lot of rest whilst in Italy which was good for my recovery.”
The world watched in shock as Annemiek’s crash was broadcast on live TV and immediately after, videos began to circulate online. It was almost guaranteed that she would come across the footage even if she didn’t intend to, so she made the decision to watch what had happened.
“I watched it back and realised that it must have been horrible for everyone watching live, including my family and friends. I’m sad that everyone had to see that. It was good to watch it back to realise the impact of the crash. I made a mistake on the corner, I was stupid, I regret that but I’m happy I’m still alive.”
Annemiek had one of her closest friends around her when watching back for the first time, Marianne Vos. “We watched the video together which was nice, she’s really down to earth. We talked about it and she told me I’d made a mistake. It made me accept that it had happened and also how it had happened. It was very nice to watch it with one of my best friends.”
After being so close to Olympic gold, the rider isn’t sure whether she will be on the start line in Toyko. “I’m just taking it year by year, I don’t want to only focus on the Olympics. I don’t feel like I have to make this up or do it again. I’m very proud of how I was riding, it’s inspired me to make new goals for next year. Maybe focus more on climbing or something like that. For now, I hope to be selected to ride for Holland in both the time trial and race at the World Champs.”
Annemiek will next race at the Giro dell’Emilia on September 24th.