This time there were no question marks about Annemiek van Vleuten’s celebrations, only exclamations of joy because after the pain of Rio 2016 and the slight embarrassment of last weekend, she is finally an Olympic cycling champion.
The Dutch cyclist dominated an experienced field on her way to winning gold in the women’s individual time trial at the Tokyo Games on Wednesday.
Van Vleuten raised his arms above his head, hugged an official of the Dutch team and burst into tears in almost the same spot on the Fuji International Speedway circuit where he had smiled at the cameras after mistakenly believing he had won the chaotic race of the Sunday.
Then confusion reigned in the peloton, with Van Vleuten and other riders seemingly forgetting that Austrian Anna Kiesenhofer was still ahead and on her way to a gold medal that was just the reward for a devastating solo effort over the last 40 kilometers. .
“I’m number one, right?” Van Vleuten joked moments after his medal-winning run on Wednesday.
Later, while refueling with scoops of yogurt, he refused to be swayed by the circumstances surrounding his silver medal in the road race. So emphatic was his victory in the time trial that few could dispute his reluctance to review Sunday’s mistakes when a gold medal hung around his neck.
“If I went home with a silver medal in the road race, I would still have been a happy person,” he said. “To the people around me, now they will say that I have it all. I knew that after the road race I was in very good shape. [But] everyone was talking about everything else. Nobody talked about my performance. “
In response, Van Vleuten stayed away from social media and listened only to the signals her own body was sending. “The message from the road race was that I was in the best possible shape,” he said. “I let everyone else do the talking.”
Van Vleuten had led by more than six seconds at the first time control, then led it to an incredible 28 seconds at 15km before finishing in 30 minutes and 13.49 seconds. Switzerland’s Marlen Reusser won silver in a time of 31: 09.96, while van Vleuten’s teammate Anna van der Breggen came in at 31: 15.12 to take bronze.
But the importance of her gold medal goes far beyond Sunday, until the road race in Rio, when with the victory, Van Vleuten almost certainly suffered a horrible crash that left her with a concussion and three fractures to her back. short.
It was logical that at Fuji Speedway, he finished his race, as all cyclists have done during these Olympic Games, in front of the delighted spectators in the grandstand.
“It was amazing to see people at the end of the race, it gave me goose bumps,” said Van Vleuten, adding that he had seen enough of Japan on two wheels to want to go back on vacation. “It was so nice meeting some Japanese.”
When asked about his career plans, he said: “Today I was at my best possible level, so maybe it’s not time to stop yet. As long as I continue to improve, I will continue and when my level goes down, I will stop ”.
Anna Shackley, sole representative of the GB team, finished in 18th place with a time of 34: 13.60. “I was feeling good, but I think I was too strong in the long race and suffered a lot, especially on the way up the track,” Shackley said of his second race in four days. “It is a huge experience. This is my first international time trial so it’s a great experience for me. “
With five riders coming out behind her on a technically challenging 22.1km course, Van Vleuten was forced to wait several minutes to confirm that none would come close to matching her time.
Van der Breggen’s preparations for the race had hardly been ideal. On Wednesday, Fuji circuit officials apologized to the Dutch team after the world time trial champion was pulled from her bike by a security guard during a reconnaissance tour of the course. The guard was apparently unaware that Van der Breggen, who fell during the match but was not injured, was a competing athlete.
Kyosuke Takei, who coaches Japan’s only participant in the time trial, Eri Yonamine, said the incident had made him “very sad.” He tweeted: “The organizer has very little respect for the cyclists. I know everyone is working hard in their own place. It was a terrible disaster that I have not seen these days, “he tweeted.
The race will also long live in the memory of Masomah Ali Zada, despite finishing last, 24 places and almost 15 minutes behind Van Vleuten.
The Afghan athlete, who competes for the Olympic refugee team, smiled as she embarked on the first time trial of her career, after just a month of intensive training at the UCI World Cycling Center in Switzerland.
Simply riding a bicycle unaccompanied, something she and other cyclists had never dared to try in Afghanistan, Ali Zada realized her dream of inspiring other women who have been forced to abandon their homes and their sporting ambitions.
“I feel alive. I can go wherever I want. Like birds, I can fly. I am free,” he recently said about his love for cycling. “With the bicycle, I can go to the mountains, to the plains, to discover new places.” And become an Olympian in the deal.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism