Van Vleuten created waves in the women's peloton with the announcement that she was to leave Mitchelton-Scott after the five most successful years of her career at the Australian team. She took 40 wins during her time at the team, including two overall wins of the Giro Rosa and a host of one-day races, including La Course twice, Strade Bianche twice and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
“After five years sometimes it’s good to change because the change gives you new energy," said Van Vleuten in a wide-ranging interview with El Peloton. "Maybe changing the material is not ideal, but I could feel that it was time for me to leave Mitchelton-Scott, to make some space there for other riders to step up. Otherwise, it might start to feel like a process of copy/paste."
"I think it’s also really nice for Amanda Spratt to step up into a leader’s role, Grace Brown is showing she’s already a top rider, so if I was staying there it would be maybe less good for the development of the Australian riders that are there."
Van Vleuten's departure came amidst the racing and financial downturn of the coronavirus pandemic, with the tough situation and subsequent comments from Mitchelton-Scott teammates saying that they understood her reasons for leaving suggesting that there may have been negative reasons as well as the development opportunities and feeling of staleness for van Vleuten's departure.
What was to be decided was van Vleuten's destination, with the 38-year-old star with her pick of where she'd like to land, with women's powerhouse Trek-Segafredo foremost in terms of prestige and winning record. That didn't attract van Vleuten, who preferred a harder challenge.
“With such an awesome squad, Trek-Segafredo wouldn’t need me,” said van Vleuten. “I would’ve really loved to be part of the Trek team, because they have an amazing philosophy, as well as the equality they have achieved between the men’s and the women’s team.
“If they didn’t have such a strong roster already I would have signed immediately because then it would be also a challenge, but the way they are now it wouldn’t be a challenge anymore.”
With Trek-Segafredo already featuring the likes of Lizzie Deignan, Elisa Longo Borghini and Ellen van Dijk, van Vleuten feared that her adding her own ability to the squad would create a boring dynamic within the women's peloton.
“When Trek approached me, one of my questions was, ‘What do you expect from me to add to the team? Because your team is already full of stars,'” van Vleuten said. “In my reply to Ina [Teutenberg, Trek-Segafredo director] I also said, ‘Let’s keep women’s cycling interesting and don’t put all the good riders in one team'."
“When someone dominates so much it doesn’t make women’s cycling exciting. My heart is also passionate about making women’s cycling more interesting, and not making it less interesting.”
The move to Movistar was a surprise at the time, with the squad best known for plucky rides and performances from its homegrown Spanish riders rather than consistently contending for major races.
Van Vleuten's passion for the sport shines through, not just in looking to create a more interesting competitive balance in the present, but also in the development of riders for the future with the Dutch star excited for the future of the sport with the prospects at the Spanish team.
"With Movistar, it also helps that they have young talents,” she said. “It’s a driving force for me to have young talents around who can develop. It gives me extra energy to be able to help, to be a little part of that development.
"I see a lot of talented girls in Movistar. For sure I want to perform myself too, but I’m really looking forward to working with a young, talented team as well.”
Though there are perhaps other reasons that van Vleuten has opted to shift teams, with the southern European climate and culture attractive for the Dutch woman.
“I also have to say that one of the reasons why I joined Movistar is that I feel I have some Mediterranean blood somewhere – I feel really at home in the south of Europe, more than in the north," said van Vleuten. Culturewise I feel more at home with Italian and Spanish mentality: the way of thinking, the way of enjoying life, the sense of humour."