By Martyn Herman
TOKYO (Reuters) – Dutch favorite Annemiek Van Vleuten says winning the Olympic road race at the Tokyo Games on Sunday would rank below her three world titles because she is facing a lower-quality field. Only 67 riders will start the women’s race, which is considerably shorter than the men’s event and will not tackle the iconic Mount Fuji climb.
“The level of such an Olympic competition is qualitatively the lowest level of all races during four years,” Van Vleuten told reporters in the build-up to Sunday’s contest. “Half of the good riders are at home. Many countries only send one. Many I don’t even know.
“I have made it a mission to point this out to people, to wake them up, to put its importance into perspective. “You did the women short. Fortunately, the rule has changed.” Equality in women’s cycling has been a running battle in the sport, and a women’s Tour de France will finally return next year after years of campaigning by the likes of Van Vleuten’s Dutch teammate and former Olympic champion Marianne Vos.
Governing body the UCI has said that the 2024 Paris Olympics will have 90 riders in both the men’s and women’s road races. “At the next Games, the men’s and women’s peloton will be the same,” said Van Vleuten, who crashed heavily at the Rio Games in sight of victory. “Great, goal achieved. But I still think a world title is more important than an Olympic one.
“A gorgeous jersey, achieved in a strong field of participants, with national teams in normal size. Let me put it this way: the Olympic title is half a percent below it. “But it’s still special because it’s once every four years. The game is widely watched. It is therefore also a moment to showcase women’s cycling, even if it is not representative.” The women’s road race is 137km long with 2,692 meters of elevation gain. (Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Peter Rutherford)