If I replay a race in my head, I only see little bits and pieces. Tens of kilometres vanish from my memory as soon as the race is over. Some moments stick; they are on repeat in my mind, delayed, detailed, clear as glass.
On Saturday I raced the Ronde van Drenthe, a World Cup for women. It’s one of the biggest races for us. A race that’s broadcast on television for hours, every year. TV Drenthe loves to show how the best female cyclists in the world ride the ugly VAM-berg and the horribly beautiful cobbled tracks through the forests.
I am nervous. Not just because this is a hectic race at the highest level, but also because this is the only race which passes the little village where I grew up. Today the spotlights are on me, since I’m ‘the pride of the region’. Today I want a knife between my teeth and luck on my side. Today I want to be extra strong.
Clinkers underneath my wheels. Oosterhesselen. The white church sticks out against the leaden sky over the Hondsrug. Clapping and cheering from the corners – and then we ride towards Sleen. I move to the front of the bunch. On the left, the farm of the Heeling family, from the church I used to go to. I recognise Karin in the barnyard, I almost ride over her toes, a ‘moi!’ escapes my lips and her surprised yell fades away in the ratcheting peloton.
The town shield of Sleen and I am at the front. To my left: the Slener Bazar, where I used to buy marbles and where I begged my mum for a loloball while she was looking for hoover bags and – hey! The shop owner Lammers at the right! I greet him with one finger. Moi. I don’t care what the other think of me.
A big crowd on the corner. My dad’s face, a grey crown of wild hair around his head and his mouth wide open. My mum’s voice, she yells my name. We rush past the old police station, where my little brother reported his missing slippers when he was four years old. On the way home from school his slippers all of a sudden disappeared into the absolutely fascinating world around him. My mum had told him not to come home without them – because boy, this surely wasn’t the first time – and he could only think of one solution.
We charge towards the first cobbled section. Swaying, braking with shrieking tires, pushing, yelling, faster and faster, fighting to get to the front, just avoiding terrible crashes, sprinting until the corner on the right and there we jounce and jolt. The cobbles are deafening. Horses in the meadow next to us freak out. The world shakes and trembles untill we’re back on smooth asphalt again. All of a sudden I hear the helicopter above our heads.
Do I see Marijn de Vries? Yes, it’s Marijn de Vries, she’s taking off her jacket, says commentator Hebert Dijkstra on tv while I feel the hot breath of the cameraman on my neck. She’s right to do so, says Herbert, because the final is about to start. I am happy the cameramoto disappears and I am even happier I’m still here, between the big names, with legs that feel amazingly good.
I move to the front because the VAM-berg might be a rubbish hill, it is a filthy steep bastard as well, so on that climb the race is going to explode for sure. I steer and manoeuvre, I’m almost at the front and… BANG! I bounce on my knee and crash on the road. My foot is stuck. Foot! It lasts ages before I manage to free that damn foot. As I get back on my bike, my brake rubs. I try to release it while riding as I see the big names disappear in the distance.
Published in newspaper Trouw, 16th of March 2015
Photo: screenshot RTV Drenthe