Tour de France Femmes: Annemiek van Vleuten is feeling cool under pressure

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No name has been mentioned as many times as Annemiek van Vleuten’s as a favorite to win the Tour de France Femmes.

The Dutch rider made it clear many months ago that it was her goal to win both the inaugural race in France as well as the Giro Donne. After victory in Italy last month, she is one … and perhaps not done.

Van Vleuten’s win in Italy was proof to both the peloton and herself that she has the form to achieve her goal. The victory also underscored the Dutch woman’s ability — and aplomb — in dealing with pressure.

“The good thing is that I can deal with pressure,” the Movistar rider told journalists during a press conference on Saturday afternoon. “I’ve been to the Tokyo Olympics, other pressure-filled moments, so I know I can perform well with pressure. Winning the Giro took a little pressure off my shoulders because I knew I was in good shape. Pressure actually gets the best out of me.”

As for being a marked woman during the eight days in France, Van Vleuten said that it’s mostly the final two days — the mountainous stages 7 and 8 — that will test her attitude toward dealing with the pressure of being a Femmes favorite.

“I will wake up with some pressure those days for sure because I know those are my days to go for it, where I need to be aggressive or at least go all in,” she said. “Maybe that’s not the nicest way of waking up, but knowing I usually perform really well with pressure, it’s a double feeling. I need a bit of pressure.”

Van Vlueten said she has more than just her good form coming into the Tour; other variables, she said, are within her control. Movistar’s Tour squad is nearly the same as its Giro Donne squad, with the only change being Colombian Paula Patiño subbing in for Jelena Erić. Even the team chef is back.

Van Vleuten said that the consistency is key.

“This team is quite new with targeting stage races, and we had some challenges to find each other and get into routines. We have almost the same team as the Giro so we’ll  just continue the process we started. The staff is also the same, which takes away some stress. Our chef is even the same. It’s back to the Giro family and we continue in France. Surely we came out of the Giro with a positive spirit and lessons learned. It’s nice, it’s like a development we started and we continue with that.”

With a solid team and staff behind her, Van Vleuten said that she can better focus on the task at hand each day. While she spoke confidently about the mountain stages, she acknowledged that the first six stages of the race — four flat and two hilly — might actually be the ones that test her the most.

“The first six days, it will ask for me a lot of focus,” she said. “I don’t have a lot to gain there but more to lose. It’s not my favorite way of racing, but for that I have some tricks in my head and I think I’ll do fine.”

During the press conference, the amount of questions posed to Van Vleuten about racing were matched by journalists asking her opinion on being a part of the much-hyped inaugural race.

She first tried to downplay the significance of the event — “I think there were already a lot of beautiful races on the calendar, let’s get it started before we make it so big already” — yet she also acknowledged the significance.

“I think in general the most important thing for me, from a commercial point of view is that we’re apparently interesting enough to organize an eight day stage race,” she said. “We came from a point where organizers felt sorry for us and felt pressure to organize and weren’t really keen. Now we’re at a point where it’s interesting because we have enough spectators and now we seem interesting. I feel proud I was a part of this process and because our racing has developed and got more interesting.”

Despite her resistance to the hype, Van Vleuten isn’t immune to wanting to be the first woman to don the maillot jaune. When asked what races are most important to her this year, she didn’t miss a beat.

“For sure the Tour de France because I haven’t won it and it’s the first opportunity to win it.”


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