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Top Trumps 8: The Dutch Hegemony... part 1

Probably THE biggest cycling nation in the women's peloton is the Netherlands.  It seems like every week in the summer they have 5 or 6 different races, and there's a real range of teams, from Dutch-because-they're-registered-there like Cervélo (sigh), to Dutch-to-the-core, like Nederland Bloeit and - with layers and layers of teams at all kinds of levels.  My theory is that it has something to do with being a country that sees girls' sports as normal, healthy and to be proud of (from the perspective of the UK, where sports are seen as unfeminine and society celebrates footballers' wives far more than women who play football, or any other kind of sport) - but I bet there are all kinds of reasons.  You'll see Dutch riders excelling on the track, in 'Cross and all over the roads except the true mountain goat terrain (and I bet there's a 16 year old Dutch super-climber somewhere ready to take the world by storm).  So in honour of all the Dutch riders, here's the first of 2 parts of my Dutch section of my Top Trumps pack.  Of course, Dutch riders have been all through my series-so-far - but for no better reason than the Netherlands being the first country to announce their women's team for the Worlds, here are the riders who'll be joining former World Champ Marianne Vos, sprint legend Kirsten Wild and National Champion Loes Gunnewijk on the roads of Geelong.

When it comes to making bets on who'll be wearing the rainbow jersey in Australia, the Netherlands have to be THE team to beat.  And aside from Marianne and Kirsten starting as favourites, if you asked me to name a dark-horse  rider who could jump out of the pack and breakaway for the win, I'll be choosing Annemiek Van Vleuten every time. 

Annemiek_card_mediumShe started cycling in 2006, after she seriously injured her leg muscles and was advised to stop playing football and take up cycling or swimming.  Her first professional season was in 2008, when she came 2nd in the GP Stad Roeselare, 2nd in the World University Championships ITT & 3rd on the road (another key feature of the Dutch riders is how they seem to combine cycling and higher education very well, so this is a competition you'll always see them shine in).  She moved to DSB for 2009, but had problems all season, which were diagnosed as coming from scar tissue in her femoral artery.  This was operated on at the end of the 2009 season - and since then she's never looked back.

I've said this before, but I hadn't expected Nederland Bloeit to be much more than an excuse to take Vos to races, and a team facing crisis.  They rose from the ashes of DSB, when the bank pulled out of sponsoring the team last year - and Nederland Bloeit the agricultural PR organisation stepped up from sub-sponsor to fully support the team for a year.  And what a year!  Everywhere you look, there's been success - and they leave every other team with a horrible dilemma - everyone always marks Vos, but should they let Annemiek, or Loes, or Liesbet de Vocht escape and win, or chase them down and tow Marianne to the line?  That's when Marianne's not attacking herself of course.....  They've made me really happy all year...

Annemiek has been such a strong rider in 2010, and I imagine right now is being besieged by offers from teams to come and be their GC rider of choice for 2011.  She's taken stages in Gracia-Orlová and Emakumeen Bira (and if she hadn't been misdirected in Stage 5, would have taken one in the Tour de l'Aude....  poor Annemiek, she and De Vocht had thought they'd won, not knowing Katherine Mattis had passed their escape effort while they were being turned round.... ), and had top 5 placings in 3 World Cup races and many other day races.  Her biggest win was the Route de France, where she also won a stage - and I bet we'll see a lot more of her before the season's over.  Watch out for her at the Worlds - and wherever she ends up next year (if Nederland Bloeit the team don't get funding for 2011, there's no justice in the world).  It's her first year of riding at 100% - I can't wait to see what happens once she really hits her stride.

Follow me below the jump to see who'll she'll be riding alongside in Geelong - and who else you'll see in escape attempts and attacking like crazy in the month before then!

Before I move on, there are 2 things you should take for granted about these (and probably all Dutch riders) - they've all played lots of different sports before settling on cycling, and they have all won lots and lots of the Dutch day races and crits at the National level.  I must admit, I've never worked out how to rank all of those by prestige (if you know, please please can you share in the comments!) - this is the down-side of having lots of races, I guess, but it's a lot better than a domestic scene that only has about 10 big races all year...  anyway...

When I started to write this, I was musing on how Cervélo & HTC-Columbia almost suffer from having so many riders in the teams that anywhere else would be a GC contender, or at least being groomed as one.  Hopefully by the time you're reading this there'll be happy news about the future of Cervélo, or at least their riders - and if there are enough teams next year, maybe a change will be good for the next rider, as she is far too good to stay as a domestique.

Regina Bruins moved her focus from speed skating to cycling 4 years ago, and she's definitely another big talent for the future.  She's a statuesque blonde (I love it when Cervélo line up with Regina and Kirsten on either side of Emma Pooley, as Emma's about 20cm shorter than both of them...) who excels at time trials (when you have as many excellent riders as the Netherlands does, being National ITT champion last year & 2nd this year is very impressive) - and it'll be great to see what happens when she rides the ITT in the Worlds.  Her biggest win to date is probably a stage in the Tour de l'Aude (2 if you include the Team Time Trial) and a stage at the 2009 Tour de Grand Montréal (one of the many disappearing women's races) - but she's had many, many podium places in stages of prestigious Tours like l'Aude and Toscana, she's come 4th in the GC of the Grand Boucle and 3 times in the RaboSter Zeeuwsche Eilanden, 6th this year and 7th last year in l'Aude, and has top 5 places in day races like Omloop van Borsele, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Novilon Eurocup etc etc.  They're tough races with short, sharp climbs - and bearing in mind she spends most of her time working hard for her team-mates, it would be really good to see what she could do with the support of a team riding for her.  Up to now, the main trouble with Cervélo has been that riders like Bruins can be hidden behind the achievements of Kirsten Wild, Claudia Häusler and Emma Pooley  .... here's to success in the future for Regina, whatever happens.

Regina came into cycling through one of the most common routes for Dutch riders, via speed skating.  HTC-Columbia sprint star Adrie Visser also started off this way, before moving to track cycling and then onto the road.

On the track, Adrie specialises in the endurance races, the Scratch & Points, and she has won numerous Track World Cup rounds, as well as winning the bronze medal in the World Championships Scratch in 2003 & 2007.  On the road she's to be found chasing down breaks, leading out HTC sprint queen Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, getting into killer breakaways and, of course, contesting sprint wins and gracing the podium.  In the last month or so she came 2nd in both the World Cup Vårgårda Road Race and Team Time Trial and won a stage (and the best podium prize in women's racing) at the Thüringen-Rundfahrt (It would have been two, but she was relegated to 3rd place in Stage 5 in a decision even the other riders found a little bit harsh - you can watch the stage video and decide for yourself) and ended up 9th overall in the World Cup Series.  When she's not riding on the roads or on the track, she studies at the Johan Cruyff Institute, which runs courses specifically for elite athletes...  because riding year-round isn't enough, and the Dutch women all seem to have one eye on the future beyond cycling...

The last two riders who will make up the Netherlands Team at the Worlds are the youngest, and both have worn the u23 European Champion's jersey.

Chantal Blaak, who won it last year, is only 20, but has some seriously impressive palmares, with top 10 finishes in the cobbled World Cup races, and a second place in the Holland Hills Classic, which finishes with the Cauberg, of Amstel Gold fame.  She's one for the tough Classics-style races, and who knows, may be the Dutch rider to evolve into a climber?  As well as riding for the pinkest team out there, she drives an equally pink car, as part of her sponsorship by a beauty company - and she's got the best answer to "what's your ideal man like?" ever - if you think this could be you, I'm sure the team would pass on your details....

Wearing the jersey this year is Noortje Tabak, who, in winning the Championship, gains the Netherlands an additional place at the Worlds (although it's not as if they need it!).  She's been mainly riding the Dutch & Belgian races this year - where she's been doing really well - and her sisters Eefje and Silke also ride....

Chantal_card_medium Noortje_card_medium

Pretty scary team, huh?  Next time I'll be looking at who may have the home advantage in Australia...

My massive & heartfelt thanks to tgsgirl, tedvdw, Anton Vos, Gavia, S2_art and everyone else who answers my plaintive late-night twitter cries for help and helps me understand all things Dutch - and double thanks to tgsgirl for tweeting me interesting factoids.  I appreciate you all very much!