wollongong, australia (ct): The week of the 2022 road world championships has not gone according to plan for annemiek van vleuten. the Olympic champion did not live up to her expectations in Sunday’s individual time trial. and in today’s mixed team time trial relay, the Dutch star had just come down the starting ramp when disaster struck.
what happened to cause van vleuten to hit the pavement so abruptly?
local broadcast commentators were quick to say it was a collapsed wheel. others saw the blown tubeless tire and assumed that was the cause, something van vleuten also first blamed via twitter but has since corrected. Some online commentators suggested that Van Vleuten had taken his foot off the pedal, leading to a disaster. and then there was that broken rear derailleur that pointed to a transmission issue.
The cyclingtips team on the ground has played the video of the accident enough times to overtake baby shark as the most viewed video on youtube. we have enlarged the photos to the point where the pixels became puzzles. and then we have discussed it in detail.
Based on the evidence, we point the blame at an unexpected chain jam.
the photos show that van vleuten pushed off the starting ramp on the big chainring and a big cassette sprocket. however, a split second before he tossed it aside, that chain was on its way to the small chainring, aka the wrong one. From here on, the chain obviously gets stuck, causing van vleuten’s weight to unexpectedly become unbalanced, as if he had suffered a broken chain.
From here things happened fast, with van vleuten’s weight thrown over the front of the bike. the unwieldy time trial bike became uncontrollable, letting go of the left foot, but it was all happening too fast and the bike hurtled into the barriers.
That tire just blew out the rim from the impact of the barrier. inside, a mess of latex sealant waited to mislead onlookers as to the actual cause of the accident. as van vleuten sat on the ground in shock and pain, her bike was pushed away from her, revealing a rear derailleur ripped from the rack; something that, as far as we can tell, was the result of being run over by ellen van dijk. it’s amazing that van dijk has managed to stand tall.
what’s not clear is what caused the chain to jump off the big ring of van vleuten’s sram red axes drivetrain. that transmission features a rear derailleur equipped with a clutch for chain safety. similarly, no sprint load would cause the chain to jump off its rings.
one theory is that van vleuten may have had a slight pause in cadence, at which point the chain at the bottom could drop enough to come off the chainring. however, that seized derailleur would reduce this chance, and so would the low-drag zipp freehub. and furthermore, the footage shows no signs of hesitation in his pedaling.
My original theory was that van vleuten’s hands accidentally pressed both buttons on the base bar to initiate a double shift when she was looking to shift just one sprocket. possible, but van vleuten is a seasoned pro on a time trial bike and her hands don’t seem to be on the buttons.
And I, and the rest of the cyclingtips team, were a bit stumped by this one. we know that the bad luck was related to the big chainring chain skipping, but the specific cause is unknown.
Meanwhile, we sent healing vibrations to annemiek van vleuten, who suffered a broken elbow from the accident.