Seventeen years ago I received my first racing bike for my seventh birthday. A blue and white ‘Jan Jansen’ with toeclips and the saddle at it’s lowest setting, resting on the frame. I could barely get on it, but after a few tries I got the hang of it and I could even start riding at the local club.
After a few weeks of ‘training’ I crashed, and broke my helmet in half. From that moment my Mum decided that I was still too young. I didn’t get a new helmet, my bike was sold and I started doing other sports. Gymnatics, swimming and athletics. But all the time I looked on enviously at my older brothers racing at the weekends. I also wanted to race!
When I was nine I finally got the chance. My brother had outgrown his old bike and he got a new one. I told my dad about my desire to race and a year later I was on the start line of my first local crit. The whole race was about 12 kilometers long. After the first lap I was already dropped and once the race finished I was lapped twice, but I loved every minute of it. In the two years that followed it didn’t change much. Cycling was fun, but racing was awesome. After those two years my dad asked me if maybe I wanted to quit, because I wasn’t really that good. Quit? Why? He told me I could try for one more year if I really wanted to keep going. So, the first race of the new season I won my first race. In a bunch sprint. I never heard my dad talking about quitting again.
When you start riding your bike at such a young age you learn very quickly what it means to fall and get up. Because you will fall, hard. The first time I had a hard crash I was riding a cobbled rainy crit. A boy in front of me braked on the cobbles, slipped and fell. I was katapulted over him and landed flat on my face. That was the second time my helmet safed my life. Luckily I just got some nasty road rash on half of my face and light concussion.
Back then you maybe didn’t ride your bike for a while and everything was fine. That changed when I entered the U16 category. You start doing bigger races and some races become more imortant then others with the nationals being the most important race of the season. In my second year U16 I was going very well and I was really excited for the nationals. But five weeks prior I got my first real injury. We were doing a crit which ended in a bunch sprint. My chain came off at full speed and I crashed in the middle of the peloton which resulted in a collarbone fracture that needed surgery.
One week before the nationals I felt that my shoulder was getting better and I went to the doctor to ask if I could race again. He gave the green light on two conditions. Don’t crash and don’t raise your arms. So when we did the final sprint to the finish in that years nationals, I avoided the big crash which took out half the peloton, and didn’t put my hands in the air when I won the race. Doctors orders.
When I became a Junior it was the first time I realised what other girls were doing. I almost didn’t train and got labeled as a lazy sprinter. Also during that period I became really aware about the importance that weight plays in cycling. It is a vital factor which can lead to physical and mental struggles, especially in young teenage girls. Personally I think it is important to let young girls develop fully before deciding which weight they need to have as an athlete. It can be a restricting factor in an athletes development and have big consequences in their future.
I also learned a lot in and outside the sport. I did my first training camps and international races. Those experiences are still very special to me. In the same period I started my bachelor in Physical therapy. This had always been a big goal of mine, to be involved in cycling as a Physio. So the next four years I combined my studies with cycling. When it was time for me to move up to the Elite level I couldn’t get a contract with a pro team. So I chose to ride for the Dutch club team Jan van Arckel, they had a great programme and some strong riders to learn from.
For three years I trained for eight to ten hours a week and did a full time bachelors. But my main focus were the races. We were able to ride big races like Het Nieuwsblad and Gent-Wevelgem, but we also did lower level national races where we learned how to ride as a team and to try and win the race. It was a really good learning experience about positioning, reading a race and teamwork.
In my last year of school I had a little more time on my hands, so I could train a little more. I got some good results in big races and won the national championships for club riders on the road. After that I signed my first pro contract with Lotto Soudal and finished my bachelors in the same year. I got straight to work as a Physio for Cyclinglab.cc, a company that specialises in training, science and healthcare for cyclists. This was right up my street. Now, three years later I am still doing the same thing, but things have changed in women cycling. The professionalism has gone up massively, and it keeps evolving every year.
I am very thankful to have had the experiences that cycling has given me, and is continuing to give me. It is really exciting to work with such passionate people in the sport like the Drops riders and staff. I hope to be part of the sport for a long time and to continue my journey.
Because after all, I still love racing!