I am a 24-year old cyclist from the Netherlands, my main focus is cyclo-cross but during my preparation for the winter season I am combining road races with off road races during the summer. Currently I am living in a little town in Germany which is located really close to the border with the Netherlands. Besides being a full-time athlete I am studying geography at the Radboud University in the Netherlands, but this more of a hobby nowadays.
2020 is underway and it will be another year packed with adventures. As a privateer I am competing in a different racing program then a lot of other athletes who are racing full-time on a team. After I have been racing as a contracted rider for five year I made the decision almost three years ago that I wanted to completely follow my own path. This has brought me to many places, I've met awesome people and learnt a lot all over the world.
My competitive cycling career only started when I was 16-years-old and before that I had never been interested in it at all. When I got a really old road bike from my uncle I started riding around a bit. Before that I was just skidding around in the small village I grew up in on a little BMX bike. The feeling of being free and just ride around was what I liked the most about the bike I got from my uncle. The combination of the love for riding with my competitive mindset got me on the radar of some teams already in the first season when I started competing in races.
After my first year as a junior I got the chance to get in a professional mountain bike team and one day after my 18th birthday I signed my first official contract. When I signed my first contract I had actually no clue what was going on or what it actually meant. All of a sudden I got really nice bikes, nice clothing and I traveled all over Europe. Little did I know back then that I would grow up really fast because the world of elite sports isn't one that allows you take it easy.
After five years of being a contracted rider through the ranks of the U23's to the elites I'd seen it all. Raced worldcups in different disciplines, represented the Netherlands on different European and world championships. I've raced in TV-races on the road, mountain bike world cups and did pretty much every cyclo-cross world cup and big cyclocross races in the Belgian circuit.
I had been asking myself if I was still doing the right thing for quite a while during my first year as elite. At that moment I found myself on a crossroad of options, I could keep on riding all the Belgian TV-races in cyclocross and being sure of a steady paycheck every month or I decide to start following my own plan by racing professional races without the live TV cameras. Whatever choice I made there where multiple options, a few teams showed serious interest in me such as some brands from within the industry.
In the end I decided to start following my own path and until this day this has been the best choice in my sports career I've made so far. It gave me a lot of freedom as an athlete but on the other hand it also came with a lot of extra work for me as an athlete. All of a sudden I had to keep my sponsors happy, make sure my materials arrived at the right times, organizing the best calendar of events to compete in, organizing all the travelling and most important: making sure I had enough money to do so.
As a professional athlete I've made rather odd choices but they always felt the right thing to do for me as a person. Letting go of a save and structured setup as a contracted rider and taking my career in my own hand is something that would make a lot of people scared. I am lucky to have right people around me and found the right people as sponsors at the right time in my career and this in the end resulted in my dream coming true by winning my first ever professional cyclo-cross race. It all just fell in place.
We are now two years later and I have added a fair amount of race wins to that list. Since I stepped away from a drawn up racing calendar by a team manager a new window has opened up for me as an athlete.
My freedom to travel has brought me to many races in many countries, from big events with ten thousands spectators to events with less then a 1000 euro's of a total event budget. In those smaller events the value of having a professional athlete over to that community or even cycling in that entire country can make a huge difference. If I am competing in a very big event I am 100% focused on my own performance and therefore I have a full focus. But if I am at a smaller event or if I get the feeling that my attendance means a lot for the people over there my focus slowly moved away from 100% on my own performance and race result to the impact I can have on the people over there.
I've been to the outskirts of Mongolia where I have given away all the clothes I had when I saw little kids walking around in cold and old clothes, I've specially flew in to Romania a few days earlier to have an entire afternoon off to help out with a cyclo-cross school and last year in China I was doing meet and greets for two hours with 200 kids in the morning before a big race in the afternoon. This all doesn't have a direct positive effect on the race results but it means a lot more that just that.
In the end it is not the results that you will remember but it is the experiences you have during your career. I've won around 70 bike races in my career so far but I couldn't tell you where they where and all the other results I achieved over these years I have to dig up on the internet.