Not all sunshine and rainbows

Not all sunshine and rainbows

Ellen van Dijk reflects on a rollercoaster 2021 season and explains her ambitions and belief in the team for 2022.

A season of mixed emotions

BRUGES, BELGIUM – SEPTEMBER 20: (L-R) Silver medalist Marlen Reusser of Switzerland, gold medalist Ellen Van Dijk of Netherlands wuth world champion jersey, and bronze medalist Annemiek Van Vleuten of Netherlands, pose on the podium during the medal ceremony after the 94th UCI Road World Championships 2021 – Women Elite a 30,30km Individual Time Trial race from Knokke-Heist to Bruges / #flanders2021 / ITT / on September 20, 2021 in Bruges, Belgium. (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Last year was full of emotions. I had a lot of ups and downs. Maybe even more downs at the beginning of the season. I had trained hard all winter; everything had been going well and I felt ready for some nice racing but then I got Covid-19 in the Spring. I found out I had it just after Flanders and so while I had been able to do some good racing before that, I couldn’t really do what I wanted to. I didn’t have the opportunity to try and win one of the big Classics or be there with the team in the final of one of those races to help someone else win.

That was a hard time for me. Adding to that, I found out I wasn’t selected for the Olympics – another really big goal of mine – and I also had someone very close to me die suddenly in an accident, so it was a really difficult and upsetting period.

After going through all of that though, I started working towards the end of the year with Europeans, Worlds and Paris-Roubaix.

Europeans was really, really cool and the Worlds was the biggest dream that came true but after that we still had Paris-Roubaix, and I wanted to perform well there. It was a lot packed into three weeks and after I won the TT at Worlds, I think mentally I wasn’t in the best state to race well at Roubaix. I think when you’re not super sharp going into a race like that, things go wrong, and we saw that happen in my case. It was definitely a bummer – and I’m still dealing with the concussion from that crash – but, even in the moment I was so happy with my wins that it wasn’t as big a deal as it might have once been.

Channelling frustration

I think I was able to use a lot of my disappointment from the early part of the season and turn it into motivation, channelling that energy and frustration into something positive.

From the moment that I got Covid-19 and then when I found out that I wasn’t going to go to the Olympics, I remember thinking that my season was now only about this block at the end of the year, and I was really only focusing on that.

I was at a lot of races in the lead up just working for the team and trying to get my level back up to where it needed to be again because I was missing some form. It took a lot of work, but it was great to have those goals in my mind all the time, to wake up thinking about them and be able to say to myself that these are going to be my races. That was what really kept me going and gave me that little bit of extra energy. In hindsight, I can say that although I’m still disappointed not to have been selected for the Olympics, it maybe was a good decision in hindsight for Worlds.

Got my mind set on…

The Classics.

These are my favourite races so, to answer the question ‘what are my season goals?’ simply, that would be it. Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, and Paris-Roubaix are all races I really like, and these will be what my focus is on in the first part of the season. I want to be in great shape at these races and have a good result in at least one of them. That’s the big target.

We then have the Tour de France Femmes, which will be super exciting for us and that will be an important goal for us as a team and I’m really looking forward to that before I once again look towards both the European Championships and Worlds.

It’s nice to have races that underpin the different phases of the season and I think I will have that with the Classics in the Spring before a short break, then the Tour and another short pause before finishing off with those two big Championships again. 

Teamwork makes the dreamwork

The strength and depth of our team is incredible. We are so strong together and it really feels like we could do almost anything together. Once again, I think we are going to have a super cool dynamic, especially with Elisa Balsamo joining us. We’ve always had to attack and make a race hard and with Elisa [Balsamo], we’re going to have that extra card to play. Leah [Thomas] will also be a really great addition to the team and although we will miss Ruth [Winder] and Trixi [Worrack], the Team has done a great job at replacing that talent and so it’s really exciting.

The atmosphere in our team is also really good and that’s important. Most of us have been racing together for four years now so we really know one another, and things come more easily. We know each other’s strongest points and our weaknesses, we also have a lot of respect for each other, and I think that is one of the core things that needs to be right in order to be a successful team.

The greatest gift

I’m still trying to decide between racing Strade Bianche, which I really love, and Healthy Ageing Tour [now Bloeizone Elfsteden Fryslan], because there’s a time trial there and I obviously love them too. There are not so many time trials in the calendar, so you have to really search for them, which is a bit of a shame.

The last time I won the title, eight years ago, I didn’t like racing in the rainbow stripes so much. I really felt the pressure a lot and I thought I should win everything but now, I am just trying to enjoy it as much as possible. I feel like I won that special race and now I get to be reminded of that day all year which is great. Of course, I hope to do great again and I’m training for that and I’m doing everything for that but if I do not win in the rainbow jersey it’s not going to ruin my season, or my life, like I thought before. It’s more a kind of a beautiful present that I get to wear all year.