Ellen van Dijk points at herself with a questioning look. Who me? She has just completed 34.2 kilometers through the Australian coastal town of Wollongong at that signature cadence of hers, appearing to pedal slower than her competitors, but in reality developing faster speeds, well over 50 kilometers per hour. Now that she’s crossed the finish line and slowly churns out, she sees her keepers waiting with their arms in the air. Yes she.
Van Dijk (35) became world time trial champion early on Sunday morning for the third time in her career, after having been the fastest in 2013 in Florence and in Bruges last year. It was an unexpected victory, she told the NOS afterwards as the gold medal dangled from her neck. She had not raced since the European Championships in August, where she finished second in the time trial, because she was not feeling well. In addition, last Thursday she had to stop her last training session prematurely because her back was hurting, causing her legs to sour.
In other years, the perfectionist in her had been stressed, Van Dijk said, but this year she managed to live the competition relaxed. Her year was already a success after Van Dijk had managed to break the world hour record in May. She had also been able to enjoy riding around in the rainbow jersey for the past 12 months, something that proved impossible in 2013. Then, afraid of all the expectations that come with the championship jersey, she didn’t even dare to train in the jersey.
Also read: The inner struggle of a perfectionist (September 2021)
Even then, Van Dijk did not expect that she could have competed for the title. That had everything to do with the course, which meandered through the center of Wollongong, a city the size of Eindhoven on the east coast of Australia. It was turning and turning, braking and accelerating. In short: really an interval race.
Such a race is normally tailor-made for Annemiek van Vleuten, but the Olympic time trial champion finished seventh on Sunday. She was simply having a bad day, she said afterwards, guessing explanations. Perhaps Van Vleuten was tired after an exceptional year in which she won the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. During that last round, which ended a week ago, Van Vleuten trained extra on the mornings before the stages to prepare as best as possible for this World Cup.
The advantage for Van Dijk was that she did not participate in Spain. This allowed her to travel to Australia earlier to acclimatize and familiarize herself with the course. She moved into a house along the course, together with Van Vleuten, especially for this – away from the rest of the Dutch team, which will be staying in Sydney during the tournament. Van Dijk was also involved in the composition of the time trial suit and in arranging flights and cycling. “I put a lot of effort into it and prepared as best I could, so it’s all the better that it pays off,” she said for the camera afterwards.
Yet Van Dijk called her victory one of the big surprises. “Look,” she said, holding up her medal. She grinned at it, with an incredulous expression on her face. “Yeah, no one will take me seriously anymore if I say something like that when things are going so well.” Van Dijk also knows that she has become the best specialist in the world in the time trial.