At just before three, Ellen van Dijk (34) squeezes a sports gel into her mouth, sitting on a stool in a party tent in the Flemish coastal town of Knokke-Heist; soon she will deplete her supply of carbohydrates in one long effort. This is the very last step in a script she has prepared in great detail and handwritten, ever since she first saw the World Time Trial World Championship course in March and felt in the stirrups of her futuristic bike that she was on her way to Brugge could lose the power in her legs on the asphalt.
The course was tailor-made for her; flat, not too technical, just long enough. Especially for women of the big picture, who, huddled on a steering wheel, come up in a fight with themselves as the winner. Who can suffer pain for almost forty minutes and describe it as a ‘comfort zone’, because they can show, without being chained to team play and the desires of another, how hard they can kick.
Monday, September 20, she would seize her chance. Because in the winter she already knew, however hard to stomach, that for her third Olympics she would probably be passed by the world’s best on hilly terrain; the chances of Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten were estimated to be higher in Tokyo. Her suspicions would later be confirmed. She was never going to get an Olympic medal again. That slipped through her fingers five years ago in Rio after a steering error and that still hurts. Paris 2024 is too far away for her. She would like to start a family before then. And so in the spring she completely devoted her year to one time trial. But a month later, she was struck down by the coronavirus.
Charts she published on her social media showed how much the disease had weakened her body. It was only last month that the blue line that indicates the resistance training work and which, according to her partner, she sometimes engages in counteracting the obsessive, came close to the values of the spring, when she managed to win the Healthy Aging Tour, a victory where she talking to NRC looked back on with a shrug last week. What was the Healthy Aging Tour?
Ellen van Dijk only wants the very highest and has been demanding the utmost of herself for fifteen years. She does too much in training rather than too little, says her trainer Josu Larrazabal. He regularly has to slow her down from Spain and uses the input of her boyfriend, who now knows when her perfectionism blocks her. She thinks she never does enough. “I’m just never ever satisfied,” she said last week. “That’s quite tiring.”
Ellen van Dijk on her way to the world time trial title. Photo ANP
When she became world time trial champion for the first time in 2013, she couldn’t enjoy it. She didn’t even dare to train in her rainbow jersey. The expectations of fans and sponsors, not least of herself, weighed on her mind. She brooded, doubted, got in the way.
Rarely did she claim a leading role for herself. As a result, she was often used as a servant in road races. She had to close gaps, keep the front women out of the wind. “I was raised Calvinist. Serving, working hard for the boss. I also feel comfortable with that. But now I come to a point where I think: what do I get in return?”
With the end of her career in sight and the passing of the years, cycling to win has become less and less essential. She no longer derived her identity from medals and jerseys. There turned out to be more. Life, death. Eat Drink. Relaxation after exercise. Recently, she afforded a glass of wine and a pizza, with competitions to go. Her boyfriend had to push her, but she did. It was great. By taking a distance, space was created to shine. A few days later, she won her first European road title. It had a liberating effect.
Also read: Cyclist Ellen van Dijk: the inner struggle of a perfectionist
For example, she rolls off the starting podium on Monday, around a right angle, and then stomps along the North Sea coast as if it takes no strength. She always experiences discomfort on the time trial bike. Her pelvis is crooked after a hard fall two years ago. The back always plays up, it’s rooting on the saddle to the least uncomfortable position. She has a new bike, new handlebars; it’s doable all in all.
Her legs move in a hypnotic cadence, a glass of water would remain on her torso. She knows what wattage she has to kick to make it difficult for her opponents – especially Annemiek van Vleuten and the Swiss Marlen Reusser. She thunders towards Bruges, sometimes at 60 kilometers per hour. Nine kilometers before the finish she overtakes Lisa Klein, the German who started 2.5 minutes ahead of her.
She would like to be coached “progressively” from the support vehicle, in line with the pain she is experiencing; more and more, more and more. First she gets quiet instructions in her ear from her trainer. Left, right, depending on the curves in the course. “Drive” means that she has to look forward for a moment, at an approaching traffic island or cobblestones.
The stretch between seven and two kilometers from the end instills fear in her. That is a long straight avenue with trees on either side. In the absence of visual distraction, the pain can become excruciating. She can use all the support.
Emotions must be triggered here, her coach thought. He compiled a list of names of people who mean a lot to her; Benjamin de Bruijn, her boyfriend, Barend Verhagen, her youth coach who died in an accident in May, her parents, brothers, himself, herself – ‘Team Ellen’ would drag her through the misery.
She begins to slide on her saddle. Everything hurts. But she doesn’t drop back in speed or wattage.
Ellen van Dijk celebrates her world title. Photo Yves Herman/Reuters
At the finish, she can no longer stand on her feet. There’s spit hanging out of her mouth, but what the hell. She cycled well above 50 kilometers per hour for 36 minutes; It was never this hard at a World Cup. She has to sit down, with her head between her knees. Benjamin’s voice is heard above a crowd of Flemish cycling fans. “Ellen! Ellen.” He helps her with her cycling jacket. She says she thought of him along the way. He seldom saw his girlfriend so upset.
In the hot seat for the fastest woman of that moment, she has to wait almost an hour for Reusser and Van Vleuten’s turn. Her parents look on with concern on the other side of ‘t Zand, the largest square in Bruges. They wear a shirt with ‘Tuscany 2013’ on it, as a reminder of their daughter’s previous world title, and toast with a beer. Soon that will be champagne, says a family friend.
The lead actress herself can laugh at first, but when Reusser is three seconds faster at the first intermediate point and slightly less than that at the next, her gaze hardens. Coach Larrazabal has already seen it. He knows that his pupil has ridden a thunderous last piece. “We have it,” he says. Benjamin doesn’t want to touch it yet. He actually has his hand in his hair.
He’s the one who always cheered up his girlfriend when she had to deal with setbacks or returned from training frustrated when her body didn’t do what it wanted. He can’t believe it. But when Annemiek van Vleuten has also finished third, tears are in his eyes. He climbs on the railing and throws his hands in the air. His girlfriend cries in her folded hands.
Anneke, her mother, cannot believe her happiness. This is what her daughter has worked day and night for. Her older brother Nico feels relief. “She sets the bar so high for herself,” he says. “Only the title counts. In recent years, it often just didn’t go her way. Now it is. This is amazing.”
Ellen van Dijk jumps on stage at the ceremony. She takes off her mask and grins widely, beams, gives a kiss to the audience. “This is a dream come true,” she says. She hunted for eight years for the rainbow jersey that she pulls over her shoulders. Now that she has succeeded, she even uses the word ‘satisfied’.
“I’m going to do it differently now,” she says. “I’m going to enjoy this.”
Ellen van Dijk is going to enjoy her time trial world title this time
Source link Ellen van Dijk is going to enjoy her time trial world title this time