The past months, Elise Vander Sande, fourth at the Belgian Championships last year, has ridden her first races in the Lotto Soudal Ladies shirt. The 23-year-old Belgian combines this first season in a UCI team with a job as physiotherapist. In this interview she opens up about how she has experienced the first part of the season.
How do you look back on the first half of the 2021 season?
Elise: “With mixed feelings, because I both had ups and downs. It’s a huge step to go from a club team to a UCI team and to participate in WorldTour races. I knew this would be an enormous change, but still I had underestimated it.”
“It’s not possible for me yet to set a performance at the WorldTour races. Races of the level of the Lotto Cycling Cup, like the Ronde de Mouscron (1.1), are races that give me a boost. At first, it will be in that type of races that I will be able to show myself and to achieve good results. That’s a logical step of course, I am still learning and growing as a cyclist. Although that doesn’t mean that I’m not looking forward to the WorldTour races. On the contrary. Strade Bianche is one of my highlights of the past months. It is one of the most beautiful races that exists! It was a wonderful opportunity to participate. I really felt comfortable on the gravel roads!”
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What has been another highlight for you?
Elise: “I already referred to the Ronde de Mouscron. That was a fun race to do. Together with the team I was able to animate the race and I have contributed to the team’s success. We all wanted to help Alana Castrique to conquer the jersey of the rushes classification and we achieved that goal. There was a very good atmosphere that day!”
“And at a certain point finishing a race was also a highlight for me. Because, of course it doesn’t give you a good feeling when you need to abandon a race.”
How do you cope with those more difficult moments?
Elise: “I try to learn from those. How slow it may go, I am setting steps forward. I try to learn something from every race and every experience. What did I do right, what did I do wrong or what can I do better?”
What has sports director Annelies Dom taught you?
Elise: “At the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad I crashed and had to return to the bunch in between the team cars. That was quite stressy, because I didn’t have any experience with it. Annelies then urged me to train on it and she gave me a few pointers. I trained to become better, by simulating it behind a scooter. Annelies has also made me become mentally calmer in cobbled races. In the beginning I was always very nervous to be riding towards the cobbled sections. Annelies has shared her experience with me and together with her I have tackled my problems.”
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Can you give another example of something you need to work on?
Elise: “At Bruges – De Panne I knew that, because of the wind, there would be a big danger of echelons at the Moeren, but I had already been dropped by the time we got there. There I learned that I already need to move up before we get to a crucial point on the course, because otherwise it might be too late.”
You combine your career as a cyclist with a job as physio. How do you manage that?
Elise: “I work in a group practice, together with five colleagues. I mainly treat people with a back or neck injury, after they had surgery for example. I don’t have a specialization yet, but I would like to follow a course in the future. The past months I worked 20 hours a week, but in the second part of the season I will work 11.5 hours a week. I had a busy schedule the past months. I often took a day off the day before a race, but still I didn’t always have sufficient time to rest. That’s why I want to reduce my hours.”
Does your knowledge as a physio also have advantages for you as a rider?
Elise: “It’s an advantage that I know my body so well. Even though a training is scheduled, sometimes it’s better for your body to rest. And with my background as a physio I also realize that. My knowledge also helps me in winter to do stabilisation exercises as injury prevention.”
Next week you go to Livigno with the team for an altitude training camp. What do you expect?
Elise: “It’s the first time I will go on altitude training camp and I have no idea how my body will respond. I am curious to see which effects it will have. And I am also looking forward to being away with the team for a few days.”
Pictures: Facepeeters & Photo News.