Speaking ahead of the opening race of the spring classics, Omloop het Nieuwsblad, van Vleuten was keen to talk up the cobbled and Ardennes classics while many others in the women's peloton prepare for an Olympics tilt.
“I think spring is probably the biggest goal,” said van Vleuten. “It’s tough sometimes as the media always wants to talk about the Olympics and there’s a lot of pressure around that.
“In Europe, there is more attention paid to the winner of the Tour of Flanders and all the history around it."
"It’s special to wear the orange (the Netherlands national kit) around and represent the country, but I haven’t been selected yet and it’s one of those things where there’s so much put on one race.
“It is a goal, that and the world championships in Switzerland which has a really nice mountainous scenery and great courses.”
Van Vleuten boasts a consistency in the classics that is unparalleled, finishing in the top 10 of the Tour of Flanders since 2010, and regularly on the podium of the Ardennes Classics, Fleche Wallonne, Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, winning the latter solo in 2019. She also won Strade Bianche in spring last year, although not officially a 'classic' in the historical/traditionalist sense.
It’s all part of an improvement in the coverage and audience reception of women’s cycling in recent years, a movement with van Vleuten at the forefront.
More fans by the side of the road and online/TV coverage of major races are the most obvious improvements in recent years, with actual performance levels also rising.
“It’s really special being out there on the road with all the fans,” said the world champion, “it gives you that little extra bit of energy. It’s great with it being on live TV as well, I know my family and friends are watching me and I can try to do well for them.
“You look at time trial speeds improving over the last five years and Strava times on the hills, a climb like the Mur de Huy, the top 10s are much faster than years ago.”
Van Vleuten takes a lot of confidence in her major objective of the season, coming from an off-season where she has racked up the kilometres training around the world at altitude.
“I think it’s been my best yet,” said van Vleuten, “there were no injury worries and I had a great time training in Colombia and then going back for a training camp with the men. I enjoyed it a lot, especially training in the rainbow jersey, which gives that extra bit of motivation."
At 37 years of age, her rivals might have hoped she might be starting to decline.
“I get with my coach at the start of each season and joke maybe it’s time to start saying that I’m not going to get worse,” said van Vleuten.
A recent Mitchelton-Scott video, ‘What it Takes’, focused on van Vleuten and the training camps she participates in with the men’s part of the Australian WorldTour team, and featured a quote from former women’s team director Gene Bates.
He said that the trickiest thing for van Vleuten was setting high enough goals as her talent was near limitless, but the occasional contrarian van Vleuten was keen to define things on her own terms.
“I’m not sure that I agree with that,” she said. “I’m not going into a year saying I will win this race or that race, I go in every season trying to ride to the best of my ability.”
With the coronavirus outbreak threatening a number of races, the recent UAE tour being cancelled because of it, van Vleuten hoped that the early season of racing would remain unaffected, giving her a chance to show her current form on the world stage.
“I’m really looking forward to these next races, there’s a bit of talk around Strade Bianche maybe being cancelled with the coronavirus. There’s not much to do about that but it would be a pity as I don’t want to waste my form.”
Watch the Tour of Flanders, Paris Roubaix, Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege LIVE on SBS Viceland and SBS On Demand. Details TBC