‘It’s always so easy for you.’ ‘It’s like it costs you no effort at all.’ ‘Does it even affect you one bit?’ I hear it all the time: I don’t let anything show. By looking at me, you won’t know which races are important to me and what results matter most. But that’s just on the outside.
I have thought long and hard about whether I wanted to share this blogpost with you. Because it’s an honest one. I usually share my joy, sadness or disappointment with the people that are closest to me, I don’t like to do that on camera. But when I crossed the finish line first, last week in Innsbruck, I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. And because that normally never happens to me, it didn’t go unnoticed.
Professional athletes don’t often talk about the pressure that comes with such big events. You’re excited, well trained and ready to go. Period. And that’s exactly why I want to share with you how much blood, sweat (a lot) and tears went into this victory.
This race, the world championship, was different than all the others. In cycling, there are a few races that matter more than the rest. A few big spring classics and stage races, the Olympics and the Worlds. I already won all the important ones, but that rainbow jersey was still missing.
“I realised all too well that this was my best shot ever at becoming world champion.”
The course in Innsbruck was gorgeous, as if it was designed for me specifically. I realised all too well that this was my best shot ever at becoming world champion. It felt like it was now or never. But what started out as a personal goal, and one for the team, slowly turned into a goal for the entire cycling-loving nation.
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I’ve been around long enough to know that cyclingfans and the media can be pretty ruthless. They would only be satisfied with a win for me or Annemiek, and only if we wouldn’t have been racing against each other. The press couldn’t get enough of writing about our supposed battle with each other, I guess people like a competition.
Behind the scenes
And so the world championships dominated my entire year, even if it didn’t show. Cause at birthday parties I would have a piece of cake, but I would still be wearing my recovery socks under my jeans and keep a bidon of water in my bag. I’m not a training beast and would usually get in shape by riding races. But I’ve never had as few race days and as many training as this year. At home we consumed outrageous amounts of fruit and veggies, apart from those few times Sierk Jan ‘needed’ some fries :). Sierk Jan planned my training sessions, motivated me and suffered in my wheel. Behind the scenes we were working our butts of.
“The Worlds were everywhere, but I hadn’t been excited about this race in a long time.”
I discovered mountainbiking was a fantastic new form of training for me, I skipped the Giro Rosa for the first time and I went training in Austria to learn the course for the Worlds by heart. In the meantime, my team was racing without me. Even big races where we sometimes would have too few riders. I felt guilty, but my training sessions had never been better.
The only topic of conversation
September was lurking around the corner and the Worlds were everywhere. In our family Whatsapp-group everyone talked about who would ride with whom and where everyone would sleep, girlfriends tried to arrange a last-minute accommodation. When I was out training, other cyclists would shout: ‘Good luck in Innsbruck!’ and the media revived the same old stories about the Anna and Annemiek-battle. There was only one topic of conversation left. Yes, there had been so many second places at a world championship before, and for this race I was one of the absolute favorites. But I hadn’t been excited about this race in a long time.
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My brain was driving overtime. ‘I’m already nervous, but the race is still a month away. What if I disappoint, what if I’m too tired after all, what if I make a bad decision during the race? What if I waste this chance?’ I’m usually the first to say: it’s just a game. But this time it was different. Sierk Jan was in the Vuelta and we called every night. But in every conversation I was grumpy and it was only with great effort I could say something sweet to him.
“What if I disappoint, what if I waste this chance?”
The Worlds started with one of the most beautiful disciplines in cycling: the team time trial. We had trained hard and were ready to race. It was a great way to end the season together, and so we did, but with silver. I was disappointed, but why? We did everything we could and should be satisfied with our efforts. I barely recognised myself, wondering: is this a foreshadowing of another WC full of second places?
The individual time trial was on Tuesday. This year, we were allowed to have our own team manager with us in the car. I was happy that Danny knows how I like things, and took care of everything. That he’s just as focused as I am and doesn’t ask too many questions when I’m nervous. The time trial went great, everything went according to plan. And I got … second place. Again. I fought through the press conferences. ‘Yes, silver. For the sixth time, I know.’
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On Thursday, I escaped my hotel. We went out to dinner in Innsbruck with family, friends and Sierk Jan. We had a great time talking about everything but cycling. At the end of the evening, a friend asked if I could feel the nerves already. ‘No, not tonight, that’s for tomorrow.’ I tried to say it lightly.
“The tears were of relief, of all the pressure that suddenly fell off my shoulders.”
Saturday. Race day. It’s a miracle that I slept well and was looking forward to the start. Was I excited? No. It was something I simply had to do. But I was more than ready for it. The race went according to plan, except for Ellen and Annemiek crashing. The girls were strong. I felt good, very good. Maybe this could lead to something, I thought to myself. And it did. I became world champion.
The tears were of relief. Of all the pressure that suddenly fell of my shoulders. Because so many lovely people had come here just for me, people who did their best for me, and I didn’t let them down. Because I saw that this jersey didn’t just mean something to me, but also to all those people that worked with me towards this goal.
This was terrible. Terribly beautiful.
And now I’m excited about going out on my bike, in a gorgeous jersey.