The story of how Marijn De Vries became a cyclist is one of the sport’s greatest stories: she’d cycled for fun for a few years, then in her late 20s she decided to find out how far she could get as a professional rider.
The answer, it turned out, was to the very top – after entering a few races in 2009 she suffered a crash that required surgery, and decided that the experiment had come to an end. Then, completely unexpectedly, she received a phonecall from the legendary Leontien Van Moorsel asking her if she’d like to ride for the Leontien.nl team in 2010. She remained with the team for three seasons until it closed at the end of 2012, then moved to Lotto-Belisol, and will race for Giant-Shimano in 2014.
What do you love the most about the sport?
It feels like playing outside all the time. I don’t have to grow up, I can be a child forever. I love the feeling of wind in my hair, sun on my cheeks, floating over nice roads. I love the speeds. I love the game of racing, attacking, counterattacking. I love to push myself to the limit.
What was the highlight of your 2013, and what are your goals for 2014?
Definitely the classics. I finished top 20 in three of the four big classics (Ronde van Drenthe: 8th, Trofeo Alfredo Binda: 14th, Flèche Wallonne: 19th) – just in Ronde van Vlaanderen I had bad luck on Oude Kwaremont. I felt really strong in the spring and I hope I feel the same way this spring. So my goal is to be as strong as possible in spring and I’d also like to improve my time trialing. And of course the goal is to win as much races as possible with our team Giant-Shimano!
You have a lot of very loyal fans and we all hope you’ll keep racing for many years, but when the time comes to hang up your cleats will you stay involved in cycling – perhaps as a race organiser, or a UCI official or something similar?
I will stay involved for sure. I don’t know yet in what kind of way. I used to be a journalist and that’s one of my strengths: telling stories. That’s what I also really like to do. So I hope I can continue spreading stories about women’s cycling, promoting the sport, so more people will get interested and follow us.
What does the future hold for women’s cycling? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
Optimistic! There are a lot of things changing at the moment in the positive way. It doesn’t go fast, but I really see new things happen. If you look at the media attention women’s cycling gets in the Netherlands, you see it’s growing every year. The media are taking it more seriously. That makes me really happy. I love it that the Tour of Britain is having a women’s race as well, with the same prize money: things like these are really good signs. I also have high hopes for Brian Cookson as UCI president. He really seems willing to do things for women’s cycling. I’m looking forward to his next steps.
In 2013, a lot of fans have been getting more involved in women’s cycling. Any ideas what we can do to help even more?
Yes, I think the only way is: sharing our stories. People need stories to relate to riders. In men’s cycling there is such a big tradition of stories about riders and races, women’s cycling lacks that. If you would want to watch a women’s race, it’s quite hard if you don’t know the riders and/or the course. If you see women racing the Ronde van Vlaanderen or Flèche Wallonne, one of these things is covered: people know the course and might think it interesting to see women race on it. But most important is that people really get to know us, they can relate to us. If they do so, they’re automatically willing to follow us. At least, that’s what I found by sharing my stories. It’s incredible how powerful the social media are in that way. I really think they changed a lot for women’s cycling: it’s much easier to get in touch with potential fans now. We should really get the most out of that!
How can the cycling world – fans, riders, race organisers and the UCI – encourage more women and girls to start racing?
I would refer to the answer of question 5: the more people get to know us, the more people would want to try it themselves, I guess. So it’s a big and important step the UCI is going to cover all the World Cups now. I do hope some countries will broadcast them on TV. You can really tell in the Netherlands it works: a lot of young girls want to be Marianne Vos once they’ve grown up. So we need to be visible in every kind of way. And especially show how much fun it is to ride a bike to start with. Not necessarily racing – if you really like riding a bike you will get there automatically.
What are you reading at the moment?
Het West Vlaamse Versier Handboek – Thomas Blondeau
“The West Flemmish Pick Up Handbook”. It’s a novel by a writer who died a couple of months ago, only 35 years old, of a heart disease. It’s not really a Pick Up Handbook, it’s a novel about a small West Flemish town and a guy who grew up there and has come back after many years. Quite funny. And a good way to have something Flemish on me after leaving the Lotto-Belisol team 😉
What’s on your Ipod?
Want the whole list? 😀 At the moment I’m listening to “Port of Tomorrow” from The Shins. I will do core exercises after I finish this interview and then I’ll listen to Underworld. I listen to a wide range of music.
Here’s a time machine which you can use to meet any rider from any point in history. Who will you be meeting?
Alfonsina Strada (1891-1959)! She was the first woman to ride the Giro d’Italia – in the men’s peloton! I really would want to know all of it, how it is to race in the men’s peloton, how the men treated her, how hard the race must have been, where she struggled, what she liked about it. And especially how she got into cycling, why she liked it so much she wanted to compete in the Giro d’Italia. Must have been a really big struggle to even get into that race. Fascinating.
Last question, and it’s the one that top psychologists agree reveals more about a person than any other: which is better – cats or dogs?
Cats! Definitely. I hate dogs. Sorry, dog-lovers.