Ahead of the 2022 UCI Road World Championships, Cyclingnews is taking a deep dive into the key teams for the elite road races. Here, we put the Netherlands under the microscope.
The Dutch women have enjoyed unprecedented success in recent years, taking six rainbow jerseys in the past decade as well as five silver medals. The run came after a five-year mini-drought which saw Marianne Vos collect five second places.
Since then, Vos has won twice to go with Anna van der Breggen‘s double, as well as titles from Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and Annemiek van Vleuten. All in all, the Netherlands are easily the most successful country in the history of the women’s road race, with 13 golds and 17 silvers.
It’s a different story for the men, though, with no rainbow jersey since Joop Zoetemelk’s title in 1985. Before that, names such as Jan Raas, Hennie Kuiper, and Jan Janssen contributed to the seven wins the men have taken.
Since Zoetemelk’s triumph there have only been three podiums, and only one in the past two decades – Dylan van Baarle’s silver last year.
- Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar)
- Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma)
- Demi Vollering (SD Worx)
- Floortje Mackaij (Team DSM)
- Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo)
- Riejanne Markus (Jumbo-Visma)
- Shirin van Anrooij (Trek-Segafredo)
- Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck)
- Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers)
- Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo)
- Daan Hoole (Trek-Segafredo)
- Pascal Eenkhoorn (Jumbo-Visma)
- Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious)
- Jan Maas (BikeExchange-Jayco)
- Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert)
On a stacked team, 2019 world champion Annemiek van Vleuten is the obvious reference point. The 39-year-old has enjoyed another dominant season, winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Liège-Bastogne-Liège before going on to do the treble and winning the Giro d’Italia Donne, Tour de France Femmes and Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta.
She’s not the most likely name to win from a bunch sprint but if she manages to get away on Mount Pleasant then the rest of the peloton likely won’t see her again until the finish.
Marianne Vos is a triple road race world champion but hasn’t won the title in nine years having taken that famous run of second places in recent years. At 35 another veteran, she has eight wins to her name in 2022, including two stages apiece at the Giro and Tour.
She is arguably the top sprinter in the peloton – along with fellow Dutchwoman Lorena Wiebes, who isn’t racing – and will be hard to beat if she makes it to the finish in the lead group.
Demi Vollering is the third leadership option for the women, the 25-year-old set to take up the mantle at the top of Dutch cycling in the coming years as the mega-stars retire. She has collected podiums throughout the season and could have more wins – including at Liège and the Tour – had Van Vleuten not been around to take them.
As it is, De Brabantse Pijl and Itzulia Women are her big victories of the season, and she’s shown that she has more than enough to compete for glory in Wollongong.
World and Dutch time trial champion Ellen van Dijk will be a key rider, too, even if her chances at winning are more limited by the tough, hilly course. Expect to see her pushing a hard pace at the front of the peloton at some point during the 164km race. The same goes for Floortje Mackaij and Riejanne Markus, other riders who could be among the leaders at a less-strong nation.
While the women – once again – have a variety of options to call upon, the men have a clearer hierarchy with Mathieu van der Poel firmly at the top. The 27-year-old has big wins to his name this season at Dwars door Vlaanderen, the Tour of Flanders, and the Giro d’Italia opener, though at the Tour de France his form was way off for reasons unknown.
He’s unbeaten in three out of four races since making his return at the end of August, winning two small races in Belgium as well as the GP de Wallonie. Whether he’s quite in Worlds-winning form remains to be seen, however.
Beyond Van der Poel, the team can rely on several big names but none who would be placed in the absolute top tier of favourites. Dylan van Baarle in the reigning silver medallist and Paris-Roubaix champion, though on a hilly course with the steep final ascent of Monunt Pleasant coming just 9km from the line, it’s hard to imagine him at the front unless he had already snuck into a strong breakaway move.
The likes of Bauke Mollema and Wout Poels are also major names who have proven their worth in the hilly Classics in the past, with wins at the Monuments of Il Lombardia and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on their palmarès.
However, at 34 and 35 years of age and at the end of a season in which they haven’t been in sparkling form, it would be a surprise to see them in any type of contention.
On the women’s side the strength in depth is obvious, with three potential race winners on the squad giving them more options than any other nation in the race.
Van Vleuten and Vos count among the two top favourites in the peloton and, while Vollering has been talked about less, the Dutch team have multiple options to race and can employ different strategies throughout.
With so many top riders packed into the team, the leaders of other nations will likely have to work together to counter the collective strength of the Netherlands, a tough ask on a hilly circuit where the situation can change from kilometre to kilometre.
Unlike the women, the men can focus on one leadership option, with Van der Poel the undisputed leader and the only rider on the squad among the top favourites overall. That means that the squad can head to the start with a clear strategy for the 267km ahead, with riders like Mollema, Poels, Van Baarle, and Van der Hoorn all likely to be set in their tactical roles from the start.
However, that doesn’t mean that members of his support squad won’t be able to head out into the breakaway or go with attacks later on, if they can. In a race where most teams also have a singular leadership option, it’ll be no different for the Dutch men.
The only real weakness that the Dutch women have is they might just be too strong, if such a thing is possible. With three possible winners in the team, other nations will be looking to them to do the work for most of the race, and for Van Vleuten, Vos, Vollering, and Van Dijk to lead the way in chasing down attacks, should they miss any moves.
We’ve seen before that the team doesn’t always work in perfect harmony when others look to them, with Olympics road races last summer the prime example of that, plus the Worlds to a lesser extent. That shouldn’t be the case again next week, though, with the women hopefully having learned the lessons of the past. Beyond the potential for disharmony, however, there seem to be very few weaknesses in the team.
For the men, it all depends on Van der Poel and his form. The team leader hasn’t tested himself against a WorldTour-level peloton since the Tour de France, where he was mysteriously off colour.
Since then, the 1.Pro one-day race of the GP de Wallonie is the biggest test he’s undergone, winning handily in the final sprint ahead of fellow Worlds favourite Biniam Girmay (Eritrea). He has two other wins to his name in recent week, too, though they both came at national-level races in Belgium.
If he’s in top shape then it’s all good, but if possible doubts over his level from the Tour manifest themselves once again during what will be his longest race since April, things could go south quickly.
As ever, there are more doubts about the Dutch men’s chances of success than there are about their female counterparts. At the end of the week it would certainly be more of a shock if the men, rather than the women, went home with a rainbow jersey – as opposed to the other way around.
Envisioning a scenario in which one of Van Vleuten, Vos, or Vollering doesn’t go home with another rainbow jersey is harder than the alternative, and honestly it would be another surprise if they were to go without.
With the squad the women have at their disposal, anything less than the win should be a disappointment. On the men’s side, you sense that another medal – whatever colour – would be a successful day out against the likes of Van Aert, Alaphilippe and Pogačar.