The evolution of the sport
My first professional contract started in 2014. I signed for two years with the Dutch Rabobank team. Back then, they were the only well-developed group with a professional structure. We were the only ones with a proper team bus handed down from a professional men’s team. All the other teams were relatively small, with not that many riders or staff members. Every year, we started noticing more interest from different sponsors and devoted team managers committed to making women’s cycling big.
Thinking back, I believe everybody knew that our sport was beautiful and exciting enough to warrant attention from a larger fanbase. Thanks to this support, slowly, our races started being broadcast and reaching a wider audience. Of course, it didn’t happen all at once but this was how the wheels started to spin.
I believe that that was the critical moment—when audiences could finally watch us, media attention spiked very rapidly, and sponsors became eager to invest their money. From this point, more cyclists could focus on training and racing instead of trying to balance a regular job with what was mainly still considered a ‘hobby’.
This was a challenging but very inspiring time, I was lucky enough to be part of the top team, so I always believed there was a future for us, as long as we kept fighting for it! I loved that process of speaking loudly about the changes that needed to be applied. The whole peloton wanted to start making progress, and I think we were able to unite our forces and strive for more.
Where there is still work to be done
Now, it is great to look back on how far we’ve come but we also need to reflect on where we still need to improve the conditions for our riders. I believe there is a big gap between racing in the junior category and racing in the elite class that needs to be filled. There is nothing in between that allows young riders to make the transition to a higher level calmly and without too much pressure! We are missing the under-23 category races where young riders could develop at the right pace, without having to overdo training and getting discouraged from strength difference when racing with somebody who is 10+ years older than them.
Overall, I am hopeful. We have seen significant changes in prize money and salaries. Everything is improving slowly. I think this work will pay off in a couple more years, and it’s exhilarating for young riders entering this sport!
Opportunities going forward
In some ways, women’s cycling is becoming more similar to men’s cycling, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Yet it is also hard to avoid as most of the major women’s teams have merged with men’s. This means they share a lot of knowledge and feedback and even have the same training camps—so, naturally, both sports look the same.
Over the past few years, many of our important races have started taking place on the same day as men’s. Thanks to that, we get more extensive media exposure and TV broadcast, which is fantastic. However, unlike the men’s teams, most of our teams consist of 12-16 riders, which is very little for such a busy calendar. When you consider injuries, sicknesses and other issues, sometimes a team misses a rider to fill up the race roaster. This is something that has to change. The more races we have, the bigger team should be.
Equality more broadly
I think cycling is a developing sport right now, and it is cool to be part of that change. My boyfriend’s mom used to race in the 80s when nothing was changing and developing. So seeing this contrast makes me very grateful. I believe there is still a big gap between what we deal with and tennis, for example, but I also know that we have so many dedicated people working towards change, and we’ll get there.
I would like the public to know that most of us decided to become cyclists because of our passion and love for this sport. Not many of us think of it as a job, and I believe that’s why our racing is so unpredictable, intense, and full of emotions. Everyone cares so much about winning, not because we want to get rich but because we all feel that hunger for victory in our hearts.
The upcoming Tour de France Femmes
And for me, all that passion is, of course, currently focused on the Tour de France Femmes. It’s one of the most exciting races of my whole career! Thanks to my age and where I’m at right now, I feel very calm about it. I used to stress so much and feel nervous about the simple thought of racing. Thankfully, I grew out of it! My plan for the race is to stay safe, fuel well, give more than my best, have fun, and smile.
Sometimes, I think of being a grandma and telling my grandchildren about how I took part in this event and how I was able to experience the change and feel how we progressed over the years in women’s cycling. It makes me proud! My dream is not to just say that I raced Tour de France but to be able to say that I fought for victories. I know plenty of women think the same but as long as you believe in yourself, everything is possible.