“I’m so proud," van Vleuten said Tuesday, after narrowly beating her compatriot van der Breggen by just a second to clinch the 2018 edition of La Course.
"It's unbelievable. With 200m to go I still thought I got second but then I saw her dying," she said.
Van der Breggen had extended her lead and it seemed all but over for van Vleuten.
But on the final straight van der Breggen ran out of gas and van Vleuten powered past with just 10 metres to go to defend her 2017 title.
"I knew I was in good shape but she's a really good cyclist. It was tough but so beautiful to win this way," added van Vleuten.
Giro Rosa victory
The 35-year-old overcame her fatigue from winning the Italian stage of the Giro Rosa race last Sunday, the most prestigious women's stage race, to keep her dreams of victory alive.
"I always kept on dreaming and believing in myself," she commented. "I could've given up with 500m to go but I always believed it was possible."
Van Vleuten thrashed it out with 112 riders from 20 teams along the difficult mountainous 112.5km course from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand in south-east France.
Observers afterwards said that the female riders had set the barrier high for the men's Tour de France stage 10 that resumed on Wednesday.
There are 21 stages in the men's race, whereas La Course, which uses part of the route of the Tour de France, is only a single mountain stage.
Women in cycling say there should be at least a five- to 10-day race minimum by now. However, sexism and finance--notably the lack of funding for a women's tournament--remain barriers.
Van Vleuten says she hopes her performance, will be "a super showcase for women’s cycling".