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Interview: Chantal Blaak previews the 2015 Drenthe races and more

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We may be very early in the 2015 women's road season, but Boels Dolmans are already the team to beat, with four riders winning in the five races they raced, including Dutch rider Chantal Blaak winning the first round of the Lotto Cycling Cup, Le Samyn des Dames. She tells us all about winning Le Samyn, and what we can expect from the three Drenthe races this week, including the first Road World Cup of the season, the Boels Rental Ronde van Drenthe, winning her first World Cups and Road World Championships gold last year and a lot more about her career. Read on, and for more information about how to watch the Ronde van Drenthe live, check out my article.

This interview is a transcript of a podcast interview - to listen to the whole thing, head over to my site

PdC: You're back in a Dutch team after a few years in more international teams - how does it feel to be back?

Chantal: I felt comfortable here from the beginning, it's really nice to be in a Dutch team with Dutch staff, Dutch riders around me, a bit like feeling at home.

PdC: And starting the season with a win, that must feel good?

Chantal: Yeah, that was a really good feeling.  I started with a fourth place in Omloop het Nieuwsblad, which made me happy.  I thought "Oh well, the form is there" and two days later you win a race, so it's really cool.

PdC: And winning in this team of superstars, where you've got Lizzie Armitstead who won the Tour of Qatar, Ellen van Dijk won a stage there, we just saw Megan Guarnier win the Strade Bianche, you won Le Samyn - that's a good start to the season!

Chantal: Yeah, we're all like "It's unbelievable, how it's going at the moment"

PdC: And of course this weekend you're racing in Drenthe, where last year you won the first of the three races, the Molecaten Drentse 8.

Chantal: Yeah, I'm looking forward to that race, of course

PdC: Does it feel different, riding in the World Cup in Holland than anywhere else?

Chantal: Of course, because it's your home country, and it's really cool if you can have a good result in your own country.

PdC: And I guess with Boels Rental being the sponsor of the race, and of the team, is there pressure on your right now?

Chantal: Well, I don't feel so much pressure, I think everyone in our team can win, so that makes it a bit easier!

PdC: Now you're one of those Classics and one-day riders, you're always known for being in the breaks, and attacking, and Drenthe feels like a race that's good for you.  For people who don't know about the race, can you describe the World Cup a little bit?

Chantal: It's a long race, 138 kilometres, which is nice, because normally the races are a bit shorter.  That makes it hard, and the weather can be really bad, but I don't think it will be [this time], but we'll see.  And of course we have cobbles, and in Holland there's always wind, small roads, a lot of corners, and that makes it difficult.

PdC: Difficult, but does it make it fun for you, too?  Do you enjoy that?

Chantal: I like that a lot, that's my style

PdC: And they're quite special cobbles in Drenthe, aren't they?  Sometimes people say "cobbles" and it's a nice paved road, but in Drenthe they're different.

Chantal: In Drenthe the cobbles are harder, I think, there's also a lot of dirt in between, and the sections are long, so for sure it's going to be hard.

PdC: It's an interesting race because you've got cobbles and wind, and the open sections, but you've also got the hill as well.

Chantal: Yeah, but I think they've taken the hill out this year

PdC: They've taken out the last climb this year, and replaced it with laps of the town

Chantal: So now we ride the hill only twice.  The hill is actually not that hard, and it's really small and the roads before it are narrow, so it's all about positioning, so the part before the hill is actually the hardest part.

PdC: So it's not so much about the cobbles and the hill, it's about making sure you get there first.  As a rider, if there are two hundred women all trying to get there first, how do you do that?

Chantal: You need your team-mates!  You ride as a team, and stay with each other, and that makes it a lot easier.  But it's very difficult to get there, for sure.

PdC: With the last hill taken out, does that make you more or less confident, because when I think of how you won that stage of the Energiewacht Tour last year, and some of the other races you've won, you've got a very good sprint.

Chantal: Yeah, but I'd prefer not to have a bunch sprint, that's for sure!  I like to race aggressively, and the hill at the end makes it hard, but the laps can also make it hard, so for attacking and for breaks, I think it won't make a big difference, but it's easier to get into a break when the race is a bit hard.

PdC: We saw that last year in the Open de Suède Vårgårda World Cup - that was a beautiful race to watch, and you were just attacking, and attacking, and attacking.  How was that race for you?

Chantal: That race was amazing, I felt good all day, and I like the rain - not for training, but for racing in.  I was so happy in that race, and I kept going, and kept going, and then finally I was in a good break, so I could win the sprint.  Everything went so well that day, and I won, so I was super-happy.

PdC: Have you watched the race back? Because of course the whole race is on YouTube.

Chantal: When I watched it back I thought "Actually, that was a bit stupid", because I was on the front all day, and normally it's better to stay a bit calmer!

PdC: And of course you'd just won the Team Time Trial World Cup in terrible weather with Specialized-lululemon, just two days before.

Chantal: That was also a nice feeling, because we were such a strong team, we won far ahead of the others, so we were super-happy, and also that makes it easier in the road race, you start with a lot of confidence, and you stay a bit more calm, and racing is fun, and we just go for it.

PdC: If you've won the Team Time Trial, does that take the pressure off, because you can just try what you want?

Chantal: Maybe a bit, but I think it's more if you win the Team Time Trial and you've raced well in that, you are also confident about yourself, and you are standing on the start-line and you want to go for it, because you feel strong.

PdC: And then of course you also won the Team Time Trial gold medal at the World Championships

Chantal: That was the best feeling in the world!

PdC: You'd won medals in the TTT World Championships before, hadn't you?

Chantal: Yeah, I won a bronze medal with AA Drink.

PdC: And was there pressure, because Specialized-lululemon had won Worlds every time, so when you were picked for the team, were you worried you'd be the one to let them all down, what if you lost?

Chantal: In the beginning I was, because the Energiewacht Tour was the first TTT I'd done with them, and it was really really hard for me, and I definitely had some work to do.  Then in Sweden, all six of us were super-strong, and then you have the confidence in yourself and in your team, and of course there was pressure to win, because they'd never lost a Team Time Trial, but we also had a lot of confidence, and we knew that when everything goes right we can make it happen.  I think the key was that we stayed calm, and we wanted to do everything perfectly.

PdC: And you did!  When you were standing on the World Championships podium, when you think of that memory, what do you remember?

Chantal: Oh, we were super-happy, from when we crossed the finish-line, because we were the last team, so from when we crossed the finish-line, we knew we had won the race... that was a really nice feeling.

PdC: It makes me smile, because watching it you all look so happy together, looking like you're all friends, enjoying yourself.

Chantal: It's a feeling that you've done it together, it's not just one of you, it's all six, so it's a really nice feeling.

PdC: So obviously it's Drenthe next - you arrive there tomorrow, and the Drentse 8 is on Thursday.  What are the differences between the three races?

Chantal: The World Cup has more cobbles, and it's longer, but the Drentse 8 is also pretty long.  It's the same style of racing as the World Cup, but people ride it more like a warm-up, and there are also some club teams on the start-line which is really nice for them.  And there are also cobbles, and narrow roads, and the wind, Dutch-style - I think the Drentse 8 is a really nice race.

PdC: And then on the Sunday you have the Novilon Eurocup, which used to be hilly, but now it's flat.

Chantal: I only rode that race for the first time last year, and I want to go full-on for that, just attack.  I think it's a bit sad that the climbs aren't there any more, because that makes things harder, and now there's a big chance that it's a bunch sprint, but maybe there's a chance that something will go, or the wind will split it.  But I don't think that will happen, because there's not so much wind this year.

PdC: The year before they had to cancel it because there was so much snow.  That's a strange thing about these races, because some years you watch it and it's beautiful Spring sunshine, and in other years, it's brutal rain and winter.

Chantal: It looks like it will be Spring this weekend.  For sure it's easier in good weather.

PdC: You're riding with Boels-Dolmans, and last year Lizzie won, and Ellen was so fantastic...  you have so, so many good riders in that team, how do you get to decide who gets to race which race?

Chantal: We don't decide it, actually, it happens in the race.  Of course, beforehand you know everyone's strengths, and who's good and who isn't at the moment, but during the race you can see how it's going, who's good and who's not, who's at the front and who's not, who's in the break and who's not, and that's nice, you can play a lot of cards.

PdC: And from the outside it feels like there's not so much ego - someone like Ellen is as happy riding for someone else, and you do that too,  you're as happy racing for your team-mates as for yourself, and that's a very interesting style of riding to me.

Chantal: It's really nice to have this feeling!  It looks like that from the outside, and it feels like that from the inside.  It's how I won Le Samyn last week, Ellen gave me a super lead-out, but she also could have attacked, and maybe she could have won the race.  And Megan was in the break, and she did not ride because she saw she did not have so much of a chance in that break, so it's really cool that everyone wants to work for each other.

PdC: And does that take the pressure off?  Because if you're having a bad day, or if you're having a problem, you know your team-mates are there to take over from you?

Chantal: True, if you sit in the break and you're not good, you can always say "oh well, I have a lot of team-mates behind who can win the race", it's easy!

***

We went on to talk about how Chantal got into cycling, what she loves about the sport, how she won Le Samyn and more - listen to the full interview here.

Follow Chantal through the season with her twitter and her instagram.  Check out her profile on the Boels Dolmans website, and follow their twitter too - and watch her long sprint to win Le Samyn in this Sporza video.

The Ronde van Drenthe World Cup is on Saturday 14th March and starts at 11:40 Euro CET (10:40am UK GMT; 9:40pm Australian AEDT; 5:40am North American CET).  The RTV Drenthe livestream will start at 13:15 CET (12:15pm GMT; 11:15pm AEDT; 7:15am EST) and the race is due to finish roughly between 14:48 and 15:07 CET - and for Dutch people, you can also watch the race on NOS.nl.  There's a lot more information about how to follow and find out about the Drenthe races on my blog.  Don't forget to come back here for the livestream too!