My Christmas wish? A new hip!

IMG_9913O man, I am such a dork – because I also can’t do the one thing you’re normally capable of doing when born with a hip abnormality anymore. Which is cycling. At least, I can’t do it at the highest level anymore.

My racebike and I are married for seven years now. We’ve spent six of those seven years in the professional women’s peloton. We both loved it.

Meanwhile, we ignored the growing troubles in our marriage. About four years ago, I started noticing them for the first time. Sometimes my right hip ached. When I went for a run, for example. Or after a long hike. Ah well, a cyclist shouldn’t do those things in the first place – I thought. So I quit running. And hiking.

The little pains started to grow. I also felt them after shopping, or visiting a concert in my off-season, where I had to stand for a couple of hours. So I also quit doing that. Strolling or standing on your feet is not good for a cyclist anyway, I told myself.

Since two years I have so much pain in my leg, hip and back it often keeps me awake at night. A long ride by car, visiting a cinema of sitting in an airplane is horrible. I dread lounge chairs; I’d rather sit upright, or on the floor. As long as I keep the angle of my hip 90 degrees things are okay. But as soon as I try to be a lazy couch potato, I am in pain.

The pain comes and goes. Some days, I hardly notice anything. Other days it feels like my hip is totally blocked. I walk like a hunchback. It hurts so much I can barely bridge the 100 meters from my house to the supermarket. Walking the stairs is almost impossible, let alone sprinting to my car when it rains.

After a lot of exams in the hospital last year, they found out I have a disease called ‘hip dysplasia’. It means the bone of my upper leg doesn’t fit perfectly into the hip joint – like it should. Most of the times they find that out when you’re still a baby. That’s why you sometimes see babies with pants made out of plastic that spread the legs – because you can still fix it when kids are very young. Unfortunately, they never found this abnormality when I was little.

The strange thing is: at the bike I hardly ever have pain. Even more so: at days when I am in a lot of pain, cycling helps. Cycling is also the doctor’s advice when you have a disease like this. Because it’s not hard on the joints. But cycling loads, like I do, appears to be a bad idea. Because of the millions of pedal strokes I made over the years, the head of the bone in my upper leg has made friction with the hip joint millions of times as well – which caused damage.

A team of doctors, physiotherapists, osteopaths and chiropractors tried to keep the pain bearable over the last couple of years. In the meantime, I didn’t tell anyone about it, because I don’t like talking about a damaged hip that won’t heal again. If people asked me why I limped, I just mumbled something. At the bike you couldn’t see anything, right? Right.

But of course I also noticed my growing hip problem on the bike. This season I have been training with a power meter which measures the pressure of the left and the right pedal apart from each other. That’s how I learnt my one leg pushed 20 Watts than the other. All the time. I also found out my peak power decreased with about 150 Watts compared to two years ago. That’s a lot. Way too much to race at the highest level.

So I’m retiring. It’s time to get an operation, because it’s enough now.

Of course I tell everyone it’s time for new things in life. For new adventures. Of course that’s the truth, but unfortunately my hip is also an important reason. If you can’t perform at the level you’re used to anymore, you get frustrated. And if you’d rather skip every little walk, relaxing night in the couch or bedtime because it’s so painful, you can’t say ‘I’m a cyclist so it’s no problem’ anymore. Realisticly, you’re handicapped.

My years of racing my bike are over. They changed my life in a great en unforgettable way. No hip disease will spoil that. I will always keep riding my bike, also when I have a new hip. Because cycling is and will stay just the best thing in the world.

Published in, September 2015
Photo: John Kuijsters

… retiring from racing

IMG_2046 kopie 2
It took a while, but I think I can finally answer the question. Can you still become a top athlete even when you’re in your thirties? Yes, you can!

It’s been an amazing adventure, my life as a cyclist. Six unforgettable years in the women’s peloton have changed my life forever. It’s gotten so much better.

Who could have ever thought I would be part of the best cyclists of the world, like in the spring of 2013? The World Cups in those months are without a doubt the highlight of my career: 8th in Ronde van Drenhte, 14th in Trofeo Alfredo Binda and 19th in Flèche Wallonne.

My body is capable of things I never expected it to. My mind is stronger than I ever thought it would be. I got to know myself in a way I could have never imagined. I fell, got up again and went on: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger really is the truth.

Riding my bike has made me a happier person.

That’s the feeling I have now I say goodbye to the peloton. Not because I don’t feel like racing anymore, but because it’s time for new things in life.

From the 1st till the 6th of September the Holland Ladies Tour will be the final race of my career. A big thanks to the lovely girls and staff of Team Parkhotel Valkenburg, for giving me an unforgettable last season in the peloton.

And also a big thanks to you, dear reader, for having followed me.

Over the last couple of years, I have received so many beautiful, funny and touching words from people I don’t know. Absolutely priceless.

Of course I won’t disappear in thin air now. I will keep writing my columns and maybe you’ll see me on TV every once in a while. I will always keep riding my bike ánd share my love for the bike. Maybe even with you. From the beginning of next year you can join my cycling adventures, in the Girona area in Spain.

Thank you, lovely people, for everything.


P.S. Would you like to keep informed about these plans, please leave your details below.

I steer and manoeuvre, and… BANG!

IMG_6294If 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

Living like a pro

IMG_5191All these pictures of cyclists training in sunny places during the winter season. Pictures everywhere, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. It must make you crazy if you are sitting behind your office desk, with the rain slashing against the windows and the wind howling around the office building.

I am one of those cyclists. I am spending seven weeks in Girona, Spain this winter. I also am guilty of spamming those pictures. I admit it. I like to share my beautiful life. But more often I get negative reactions. Things like yes, yeah, sure. We work and you just ride your bike out there. Or: it is not fair that you can go out and ride in the sun whenever you feel like it, and I can’t. With your luxurious lifestyle…..

I do understand these reactions in itself. If you like riding your bike you are not happy when the weather is always bad. Then you are jealous of the sunny pictures of hilly landscapes.

I would love to wake these guys up – it’s always guys reacting like this, women usually have more sympathic comments – and tell them that if they want this, just do it!! When you really want to, you can also spend the winter riding in beautiful locations. No shit. I’ll tell you how.

But first. The luxurious lifestyle I presumably have is a big misunderstanding. Of course there are cyclists earning bucket loads of money. Those are the men. Only some women do get rich in cycling, or can even get by in a normal, decent way. The large majority of the women’s peloton earns very little. If I say very little, I really mean very little.

I call myself a procyclist but financially I am not. I only live as a pro. I would like to tell you how much I earn a month to give you an idea. But out of respect for my sponsors I won’t do that. But I’ll tell you this: there are no more than three digits on my monthly paycheck. It pays for the fuel to drive to races and it pays for my trainer, and maybe even an occasional massage. But that’s it.

That means that I have to work. This column is not a nice extra, like I sometimes get told, no it’s a necessity. Because I don’t want to make concessions to my life as a pro, I do have limited time to work. That is not a bad thing. It just means I haven’t got expensive stuff. That I don’t buy new clothes often and that I don’t live in a mansion.

I cherish my sponsors, for example Autoservice Van Bruchem from Zwolle. If they didn’t let me drive a beautiful Suzuki Swift, I would be in trouble.

With my university education, background as a journalist and the relatively unique experience as a pro athlete, I could easily get a job that pays so much more. But I don’t want to. Because cycling is my passion and my life as a cyclist is fantastic.

I made it happen that I can do the work I do alongside the cycling at any time or place I want. Long live the internet. If it weren’t for the internet I could not have spent weeks in Spain. And long live the cheaper way of living in Spain, because yes, I have to organize and pay for my stay in sunny places myself.

You are such a lucky bastard, I often hear. Yes I do feel a lucky bastard. Because I am blessed with a body capable of doing cycling at a high level. Furthermore I worked hard to be able to live like I do, and I still work hard for it.

I challenge every man who reacts negatively to take your life in your own hands. Create the life you want to live. It takes times, it’s not always easy and it’s hard work. Sometimes it’s hard to get by, it’s putting up with less at times. But it’s possible. Because if I can, you can too.

What is important in the end? Lots of money in your bank account? Expensive stuff around you or driving a big car and then complain about bike riders who ride in the sun? Or waking up every day, happily remembering that you are the main character in your own children’s book and then go out and ride in the sun? I mean. I don’t dream about my life. I live my dream.

Published in, February 2015

Since Anna became an ironman, everything is easy

10461630_10152115535442142_6489943080907839476_nShe’s got long blond hair and a pretty face. Her nails are always polished, you’ll never see her without make-up and her favorite shoes are pumps. In her Ryanair-outfit she’s the classic image of an airhostess. A very cheerful airhostess, because she always smiles. And she never keeps her mouth shut. This is my Finnish friend Anna.

I had to think of her when I read about the Australian Mirinda Carfrae, who won the triathlon world championships, the ironman of Hawaii, last weekend. Carfrae swam 3,8k, rode 180k and ran a bit more than 42k in nine hours and fifty five seconds.

I can hardly express how much I admire that result. I am an athlete myself, but I can’t imagine pushing my body to the limit for nine hours straight. I can’t imagine swimming for one hour, let alone running a marathon, after riding my bike.

My friend Anna did it. She competed in the ironman in Nice, this summer. The talkative blondie, who doesn’t look like an athlete at all.

When she told me she would take part, I was speechless. I rode my bike with her a couple of times and I know that, well, she doesn’t ride very fast. She doesn’t have the talent nor the body for that. But Anna thought she was ready, after competing in a quarter and a half triathlon.

I was not the only one with doubts. Once Anna was in the line to pick up her start number, she just got ignored – because the other competitors and the organisation didn’t believe she was really going to take part.

Anna completed the swimming in 1,5 hours. After riding her bike for 120k, it started to pour with rain. The parcours was going downhill by then, mainly over narrow winding roads. Anna constantly saw other competitors giving up. And crashing. At a hilltop, volunteers put foil under her suit to make sure she got a bit of isolation. Shaking of cold, Anna kept repeating to herself the cheers of friends she carried with her on a note: “If you can dream, you can also do this.”

After seven hours and twenty minutes Anna finished the bike ride. In the meantime she got such a stomach ache she could only lie in the fetal position. Once the pain finally lessened, she decided to start the marathon. I felt like Forrest Gump, she said afterwards, I ran to the finish in one straight line. In five hours and twenty minutes.

And so Anna passed the line in fourteen and a half hours. The moment I heard she made it, my heart filled with admiration. Anna didn’t suffer less than Mirinda Carfrae. Actually she suffered five and a half hour more.

I didn’t want to stop when it hurt, I didn’t want to stop when I was tired, I wanted to stop when I was done, Anna decided before the race. Why? Because she would try to do the impossible.

Since Anna became an ironman, she radiates joy even more than ever. Everything is easy now, she says. Every difficulty seems tiny compared to what she did in Nice. Anna did something no one – not even herself – thought she would ever be capable of doing.

And this is what I think so much more admirable than seeing a talented professional winning the world title: Anna didn’t compete to win. She competed to beat herself.

Published in Dutch, in newspaper Trouw, 13th of October 2014
Photo: Facebook