World champion Annemiek van Vleuten hopes cycling season can be extended

World champion Annemiek van Vleuten would happily race into November if it means cycling can get going this season once the coronavirus shutdown is lifted.

World governing body the UCI is yet to issue any sort of tentative plan for the women’s season but as rumours swirl about which races could take place and when, Van Vleuten is preparing to go deep.

“Fingers crossed we can organise it and race longer,” the Dutchwoman told the PA news agency. “I think it would be great news for women’s cycling. Usually our calendar is empty after the World Championships in September.

“Maybe it can be a positive. Maybe the WorldTour races that are organised in the autumn for men can be organised for us too. We have a lot of space in the calendar at that time of year.

“I’m always disappointed that the season ends with the World Championships when there is still good weather in October. I hope we can race longer. I’m prepared to race really late this season.”

Suggestions the men’s Vuelta a Espana could be staged in November have raised eyebrows concerning the weather – particularly in the mountains – but Van Vleuten is not concerned by going so late in the year.

“I think we usually stop way too early,” the Mitchelton-Scott rider added. “We race in January and February when you can have really bad weather but in November it is not as cold. I think we can have the drama of the spring Classics in November.”

After winning the rainbow jersey in Yorkshire last September, Van Vleuten worked hard through the winter and hit the ground running, winning her first race of the season – Omloop Het Nieuwsblad – at the end of February.

But with cycling on hiatus due to the pandemic, Van Vleuten has not been able to show off her stripes in a race since, and has seen two of her three primary objectives for the year – the Ardennes Classics and the Olympics – postponed, while September’s World Championships in Switzerland remains on the calendar, at least for now.

As the UCI works out what might be possible for the rest of the year, Van Vleuten is hoping the Tour of Flanders and the Giro Rosa, the biggest stage race on the women’s calendar, can be saved.

“I heard some rumours the Giro Rosa could be in September,” she said. “I would be super keen, I love that race. There have been big improvements from the organisers and I love racing in Italy.

“Also I had really big plans for the Tour of Flanders and the Ardennes week so if they could organise that this autumn I would be super happy.”

The UCI issued new dates for the Tour de France more than two weeks ago having come under significant pressure, but while a tentative calendar for the men emerges the relative lack of clarity for women’s cycling is glaring, with the world governing body saying only it will release something by May 15.

Van Vleuten called that a “missed opportunity” in a blog post, but is more circumspect now, and suggested waiting could actually help women’s cycling.

“Everything is still so unsure,” she said. “Maybe it’s a good thing they have a bit more time to work out what is possible and what is not.”

2019 UCI Road World Championships – Women’s Elite Road Race – Bradford to Harrogate
2019 UCI Road World Championships – Women’s Elite Road Race – Bradford to Harrogate

For now, Van Vleuten is making the most of some unexpected time at home, doing up the garden and helping the neighbours’ children with their homework, but she said the carrot of having the World Championships still on the calendar is huge.

“As long as it’s on the calendar, there is hope,” she said. “It’s good to have a goal to work on and it’s a beautiful goal. It’s a bit far away but I know how nice it is to race a World Championships.

“Hopefully it will be organised but health is the most important thing.”