That time when Boels-Dolmans sent the sprinters to Bira

Not so long ago, May was a pretty relaxed month in our calendar.  Most of the riders would take their midseason break just now, recovering from a busy spring and preparing for the second part of the season. I used to do the same.

But since, women cycling grew. And what was the most relaxed and easiest month of the year suddenly became one of the busiest with big races happening (nearly) at the same time all over the world. If you try to gain some Miles and upgrade your flight status May has literally been designed for you. With Worldtour races in China, then America and finally in Spain you could have travelled once around the globe by having to race your bike.

Picture: spending more time in air then on earth

I checked, no one dared taking the challenge this year.

The new look of May is reflecting one of the major problems womenteams and race organizers are facing. On one hand everyone wants to see all the most famous men races organise a womenrace as well. But on the other hand we often forget that there might eventually not even be enough girls to race all those races once they are on schedule. With most UCI womenteams only having maximum 15 riders, far from the 30 riders team of a menteam, it might be enough to race a double program, but very obviously will never be enough to race a triple program.

Picture: Yes we are ready for Paris-Roubaix!

So teams need to make choices. Choices in order to protect their rider’s health by allowing them to rest as well from time to time. Choices in order to stay competitive by sending well prepared riders to the different races. Choices in order to keep your only 6 staffmembers fresh, alert and productive.

Picture: trying to negotiate an extra day of rest April 07 2019
16th Women Elite Ronde van Vlaanderen / Tour des Flandres (1.WWT)
One day race: Oudenaarde õ Oudenaarde (159.2k)
Photo: Eloise Mavian / Tornanti.cc

It is only natural that the major UCI teams will choose by priority the World Tour races over the smaller UCI races. Not only because they have to race the WWT races, but also because they quiet simply give more exposure. And sponsors are paying to get exposure.

Having WWT status gives you a certain security to attract most of the big teams. Majority of the teams raced 2 out of the 3 WWT races held in May, one team even raced the 3. Boels-Dolmans aligned a team at both Tour of California and Bira. We skipped California last year because we had several injured riders and as a consequence were running out of riders, but the team was back this year. Our climberteam enjoyed their time over there taking impressive uphill stage win and GC win before deciding to stay a little bit longer for an altitude trainingcamp.

Picture: California treated us well this year

Which left us without climbers for another climber race, Emakumeen Bira. Usually I say that we always try to go for the win with Boels Dolmans, stage or GC win. But this time we travelled with a different mindset to Spain. We kindly laughed at ourselves calling us the sprinter group conquering the Basque mountains. Against the real climbers from Michelton-Scott and Trek Segafredo we kind of knew we wouldn’t stand a chance for the GC, so we took it step by step, going for smaller goals which were stage win on the easiest stage, stage podiums for every other stages or more if possible. It was fun racing once with less pressure and no high expectations, just doing your best and see where it brings you at the end of the day. It was a good week, but I hope our climbers will be back for the Giro.

Picture: When the speaker in Bira asked us who our leader was…May 21 2019
32nd WWT Emakumeen XXXII.Bira (2.WWT)
Team Presentation
Photo: Eloise Mavian / Tornanti.cc

But with so much WWT in May the risk of seing a sprinterteam in a climberrace is only a minor risk. Because it is not all about WorldTour races. Unfortunately May isn’t a really nice month for being a non WorldTour race unless you are called Tour of Yorkshire offering really good pricemoney to the riders. Too bad for me, my homerace Elsy Jacobs, seems to suffer every year a little bit more from the overbooked calendar in May. A few years ago all the best teams would travel to Luxembourg to race this 3 days stage race, but especially this year most of the big teams decided not to race. They were either racing in China or preparing their travel to the States.

Boels-Dolmans was one the teams that decided to skip the race and I got quiet a lot of criticism for that at home. I was obviously disappointed as well when I discovered our race schedule. I have been performing well here the last couple of years also because I had a good team around me. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to count on them this year made me realize pretty quick I probably shouldn’t focus too much on this race this year.  On the other side I do understand that we can’t race every race. Maybe it was just unlucky that it was my homerace we had to skip and not someone elses, but truth is our north American riders had already been traveling to the States some while ago and 2 more would join them during the weekend while others had their mid-season break planned in that week. On the end I prefer being part of a team that respects its riders rest periods, then racing for a team that makes riders constantly race without taking care that they get the rest they need to make it through the whole season and the training periods they need to be able to perform well in the races they actually start at. But not sure people in Luxembourg were convinced by my explications.

I believe that with the amount of races on the schedule we will see more and more a 2 league system coming up. Whereas before even the big teams raced the smaller races in the future the big teams will race the big races and the smaller teams the smaller races. Even if this sounds pretty logicial to everyone, it just hasn’t been the case yet really in womencycling, so race-organizers will need to get used to this new situation even if it might be frustrating for them at first. But above all I think we shouldn’t forget that also smaller teams or less known riders can produce great racing. We should see it as a good thing for womencycling, because it will allow young girls to grow step by step as a rider by first racing smaller international races before stepping up to the WWT level. The step from junior to elite is for most of the girls just a step too high and taking on the intermediate level will probably help most of them not to get discouraged and to stop their career before it even started. Because if girls stop young, it will be impossible for the teams to increase the minimum numbers of riders per team (which is probably part of the UCI’s plan for the future) just because there aren’t any available.

Competitive cycling is a complex system with lots of different parties. Take away one or more of those and the system will collapse or work less good. We often only think of the importance of schools, clubs, mentors, coaches, teams, staff, nationalteams, sponsors or teammates for reaching the highest level in any sport. But we tend to forget the importance of the races themselves and even more the importance of those most of us would consider as less prestigious. They are part of the game and above all part of an important base. That’s why it is important to keep promoting them. The goal should be to not see them disappear because that would mean taking away the possibilities to offer newbies a much smoother and easier step into the world of professional women cycling.

Reminding myself of the bigger picture

After some nice winter training in the UK, and I’m not being sarcastic; the weather was actually rather mild so I wasn’t having to go out training with numb fingers and toes! I set off to Gran Canaria for a training camp with my 2 teammates, Cille and Lizzy, as well as Annika Langvad. I have a photo of myself and Annika from the MTB World Championships in Czech Republic, where I came 4th Junior and Annika won the Elite title! So sharing an apartment and training with her was so cool, as she’s a rider who I’ve looked up to and have lots of respect for.

We all got along really well together, and took it in turns to cook dinner most evenings. Most of our rides were together, but we just incorporated our own individual training efforts where and when. On one of the days we did an epic 6hour ride with over 14000ft of elevation! Chantal Blaak-one of Annika’s teammates-joined us for this ride which again was great to be riding in the company of 2 World Champions!

I always have a smug feeling when I’m in 24 degrees heat and it’s 20 degrees cooler back home! It was the first time I’d visited Gran Canaria and you can tell from the first ride that it’s a volcanic island; first half up, 2nd half downhill, as well as the ride profile on training peaks looks like a pointy volcano 🌋
Training was going very well; good feelings, good numbers, good food. It was also great being with my 2 teammates and getting to know each other more, which is important for the busy year to come with each other.


However, at the start of the 2nd week of the training camp I developed a sudden knee injury. I was in the middle of doing an effort uphill, and suddenly I felt a twinge. Ooooh. That didn’t feel too good. Get home ASAP.
I’ve had knee injuries in the past, and have just committed to the training session and completed the ride, but it’s so not worth it. I’ve learnt you’ll lose more than you gain. A couple more efforts? Another hour? Is it worth it? Nope, it will most likely just prolong the recovery process.

It’s so easy on a training camp, in 24 degrees in the mountains, to push on and get the most out of the trip you’ve planned and payed for but I controlled myself and ride back to the apartment pronto.
To cut a long story short, it wasn’t getting better. I was icing it, stretching, foam rolling and ride really steady some days to test it but it was the same a week later. Shame to miss half the training camp, but at least I could start working on the tan and getting a plan to solve the issue when I was back home. Luckily the team have support from Crossklinik in Switzerland where they could help my injury and discover my leg length discrepancy also!

By this point it was coming up to the end of February and the race season was about to kick off with a 4 day stage race in Valencia. I was on the pathway to be going well in Valencia with good form, but my injury prevented this unfortunately. I don’t like to miss good races which I’ve trained and prepared for, but I had to look at the bigger picture. It was only February. Yes I’ve missed a month or so of training, but I’ve got 8 months left of the road season with much bigger and better races on the horizon. I’m not a very patient person and when I want something, I want it pretty quick! But I must remember that I’ve hopefully got 15+ more years in professional cycling, so that’s 15+ more seasons to achieve success. This is my first year as a professional, so experience and learning is going to be a huge part of it aside from just results.

Injuries are very annoying and disruptive, but it’s all part of the job, the sport, and actually an opportunity to learn about your body if sometimes you just need to back off a little. Listen to your body. I get told this a lot.