Some people have to find their own “chosen family” to share interests and passions with, as their original family members enjoy other activities. But this family was lucky right from the beginning. Seven of its members, all of the same blood, shared the same love for one thing. That one thing was cycling.
Aside from being active cyclists, the Dutch are known to be persistent yet easy-going people. Anthonie ‘Toon’ Hage passed both of these traits onto his offsprings and raised a generation of successful riders: four of them girls and two boys. When the two eldest children, Bella and Keetie, were only about 12 years old, they used to join their father on his ride to the Roosendaal cycling club about 40 km away from their village. With the club, they would take a trip of about 50 km after which they rode the 40-km-long way home.
Bella was the first one to embark on racing. With her father, younger sister Keetie, one Volkswagen beetle, and three bikes on a rack they used to travel the country and join local races as well as races abroad. The Dutch racing scene was something completely different from other countries. The races in Holland would be about 30 km long while races in neighbouring Belgium measured around 70 km and the rides were more aggressive. But as both sisters recall, as tough as it was for them to adapt to the different racing culture, it was also the best training.
It didn’t take long for Bella’s younger sister, Keetie, to surpass her bigger sister’s achievements. Perhaps because she was more keen on adopting the competitive style and racing while Bella still perceived cycling as a free-time fun thing to do. Keetie became undefeatable in her country, winning the national pursuit championship twelve times and the national road championship nine times. In 1968 and 1976, Keetie became the World Race Champion. In 1978, she set a world hour record, covering 43,082 km. Between 1975 and 1979, the talented cyclist claimed the World Pursuit Champion title four times.
Like any other superhero, Keetie was one of those covered in a veil of anonymity. She worked as a teacher, with most of her pupils oblivious to the fact their teacher is one of the nation’s best cyclists and a world-record holder. Keetie’s dream was to try the women’s Tour, then called Tour Féminine. Unfortunately, she never made it there. She credits that to a complicated relationship with a coach of KNWU, a Dutch cycling federation Keetie used to work for as a coordinator.
In the 1980s, Keetie retired. She says it wasn’t that hard. She was one of the greatest and most modest female cyclists of all time. Keetie became a mother and a devoted teacher but her racing days were over. After all, there were her two younger sisters, Heleen and Ciska, whose time was yet to come.