Friday 25 May 2012

Van Vleuten Victorious in Valkenburg, Vos injured

Sharon Laws led the race for a long time
today - if it has been a little cooler, she
could very easily have been the winner
In addition to Stage 1 at the Exergy Tour, Friday brought us the Parkhotel Valkenburg Classic, the 86.7km race that starts and ends in the Limburg city and takes the riders up and over some of the toughest climbs in the area - none of which are very high, but many of which enter double-digit gradients.

Marianne Vos (Rabobank) and Sharon Laws (AA had gained a 55" lead just 15km into the race - a familiar sight to the rest of the field, who have become well-used to the 25-year-old  Rabobank star's tendency to get away early on and then dominate the remainder of the race just like she did here in 2007, 2009 and last year. Laws, however, is an opponent even a rider as talented as Marianne cannot take likely, especially after her stunning performances in Flanders earlier this season; if she could keep up, another Vos victory was far from guaranteed should the race prove destined to end in a test of physical strength. Then, a few kilometres further on, Vos had a  a crash - one of the official motorbikes on the parcours turned out to be slower than the Flying Dutchwoman and failed to get out of the way quickly enough.

She was rapidly back in action, but not before Laws opened a 45" gap between them. Seeing Vos in trouble spurred several hopefuls into action and before long the Dutch rider was trying to make up the gap and hold off a sixteen-strong chase group. She made it back as Laws was slowed by the first ascent of Cauberg, but was visibly suffering and apparently hoping the 2'45" lead they now had would see her through.

By the time they got around to the third ascent, Vos was looking somewhat recovered and the two riders played cat-and-mouse, taking it in turns to put one another to the test and gauge their strength. Annemiek van Vleuten (Rabobank) and Lucinda Brand (AA Drink) had now escaped the chase group and were attempting to bridge to their team mates. Unfortunately for AA Drink, the heat had taken its toll on Laws and she was beginning to lose pace; meaning that even with Brand to help her they stood little chance when their rivals turned up the gas.

Annemiek van Vleuten
Van Vleuten neither intended nor expected to win, but made the most of the opportunity that fate had given her and attacked with 500m to go. "Our team manager Jeroen Blijlevens called me in the last couple of kilometres to say I was very close to the leaders," she explained after the race. "So I went for it, without consulting Marianne because there was insufficient time." Chances are, Marianne will be among the first to congratulate her.

Laws was third and recorded the same time as van Vleuten,  followed 15" by Emma Pooley who crossed the line alone ahead of her team mates Chantal Blaak and Lucinda Brand (+1'47") and, in eighth, Shelley Olds - an incredible five AA Drink riders in the top ten.

Vos seemed orifinally to have escaped anything serious: "I've grazed my shoulder and arm, an my right arm is giving me some trouble. I'll have it checked out," she told reporters. However, by 16:00BST rumours had begun to circulate online that she'd suffered a broken collarbone; the news being confirmed by Rabobank's press officer a short while later (and she rode Cauberg FOUR times...and responded to Laws' attempted attacks? Just how good is she?) Often called the best cyclist in the world today, Vos will undergo further tests on Tuesday to investigate the fracture (described by brother Anton as a "good" break, so it should heal quickly) and help decide whether surgery will be required. She'll now need to concentrate on making a full recovery in time for the Olympics and, if she's taking part this year, the Giro Donne; but she'll obviously be unable to race the Dorpenomloop Aalbrg, which passes through her home village Meeuwen, and will probably miss the Emakumeen Bira, RaboSter Zeeuwsche Eilanden and other races. Meanwhile, the fact that she did so well today despite her injury suggests she might do very well indeed in the World Championship road race this year, which takes place on an almost identical parcours. Very best of wishes for a speedy recovery, Marianne.

Top Ten
  1.  Annemiek Van Vleuten Rabobank 2h31'18"
  2.  Marianne Vos Rabobank ST
  3.  Sharon Laws AA ST
  4.  Emma Pooley AA +15"
  5.  Chantal Blaak AA +1'47"
  6.  Lucinda Brand AA ST
  7.  Adrie Visser Skil-Argos +2'22" 4
  8.  Shelley Olds AA ST
  9.  Annelies Van Doorslaer Kleo ST
  10.  Pauline Ferrand Prevot Rabobank ST

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