After Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten crashed while leading the Olympic road race, I thought she was dead. She fell headfirst into a ditch and appeared to wrench her neck in the process, then remained motionless as her pursuers passed her. No official update was offered for about ten minutes, and given the violence with which she slammed into the curb, I feared the worst. The official diagnosis of a concussion and three fractures in her spine felt severe, but lucky.
That crash happened under a month ago, and this morning at the Lotto Belgium Tour, van Vleuten took the start line for the first time since she fell. Van Vleuten went 48.6 km/h over the 4.9 km prologue time trial and won by seven seconds, which is a very large margin for a race of that distance. She said she was surprised by the win, since she hasn’t fully recovered from falling neck-first into a ditch at full speed a month ago. She’s been training a bit in Italy, but is still targeting the World Championships in Qatar a month from now:
“I hadn’t expected this at all. I only got back from Italy on Saturday,” Van Vleuten said. “My mum had asked me to go on a holiday but I also trained there. The trip to Italy was also good mentally.”
“I trained in Italy, but I didn’t force myself because I had incurred a concussion and my back hasn’t totally healed yet, it still feels stiff.”
She said she doesn’t expect to hold on and go for the overall victory, but racing a bike within a month of a horrific fall then winning is a hell of an accomplishment already.