Monique Van der Vorst interview: Making good progress prior to first pro season
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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Monique Van der Vorst interview: Making good progress prior to first pro season

by Shane Stokes at 2:57 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 
New Rabobank signing continues path from wheelchair to peloton

Monique Van der VorstHeading into what will be her first pro season, former Paralympic competitor turned cyclist Monique Van Der Vorst has been working hard and is encouraged by the progress she has made on the bike.

The Dutchwoman’s story has captured the attention of many in recent months, with her signing by the women’s Rabobank team giving her remarkable history an exposure it didn’t previously have. The 27 year old has defied expectations and perplexed medical science after she regained the use of her legs, years after being paralysed.

Van Der Vorst flew to Fuerteventura on Tuesday and will stay there until January 9th. She told VeloNation yesterday evening that things have been going well. “It is 20 degrees here and it is perfect,” she stated. “I’m here by myself – I’ll be heading to Spain with the team in February, but I wanted to get some training in beforehand.

“I’ve been training hard and also working on my book, which will be released in April. I have time to write and to train, and I have a great hotel to stay in, so I am happy.”

Losing the use of one of her legs at thirteen years of age and then the other when she was hit by a car, Van Der Vorst spent years in a wheelchair. She had a very successful paracycling career, clocking up two silver medals in the 2008 Paralympic Games and also taking the world Ironman championships in Hawaii the following year.

She had no expectations of recovery, but things started to change in March 2010 when a cyclist crashed into her handcycle while training in Majorca. Hospitalised for severe back pain, she suddenly noticed in June of that year that she could feel a tingling sensation in her left foot. The feeling gradually returned to her limbs and she took her first steps the following month.

By November 2010 she was training on an indoor bike, using it to build up her muscles, and in March 2011 she began cycling outdoors. No longer eligible to race the handcycle, she clocked up almost 10,000 on a standard bike between May and November. Her determination paid off when she was given a contract with the new Rabobank squad.

Thus far, everything is going to plan. “Things have been going very well,” Van der Vorst said. “The launch was great, and it was special to be between all those cyclists. I know them from the TV, and suddenly I was in the middle of them, one of the many riders on the men’s and women’s teams.

“Prior to that presentation, we had a one week training camp with the women’s team…they are really nice girls. I was very happy to be there with them, and also to be on my feet and doing sport again.”

“Everyone has the same passion. They were all really helpful, with the riders coming alongside me while training at the camp, telling me I was sitting wrong on the bike and giving me advice. We all worked together on core stability and other exercises…that helped to improve, and also to build team spirit.”

Much work to come:

While Van der Vorst was in very good physical condition when she took her paralympic medals plus her victory in the Ironman, she freely admits she has got a big learning curve ahead of her on the bike. The other riders she will be racing have been doing the sport for years and have the strength, speed and skill that she must acquire to close the gap.

Monique Van der VorstFortunately the team understands that completely, and isn’t putting pressure on.

“I notice that I still have to learn a lot. It is the basic cycling things, such as how to ride in a group,” she explains, speaking over a shaky Skype connection from Fuerteventura. “I have a lot of experience in handcycling, but this is a little bit different. Fortunately my skills are improving very fast. I have a new position, that helps, and next month I will get a new bike as well and that will also help. I hope to get closer to my team-mates over time, getting nearer their level.

She’s clear on what is required. “I need to get stronger. The issue is the speed, the climbing. I hope to become a climber in the future, but that is a long way from now. But fortunately I like suffering.

“I didn’t get dropped on the hills at the training camp. The other riders were not going flat out, but they were moving pretty fast, so it was good to stay with them. The mileage shouldn’t be a problem…in the summer I was riding my bike eight hours a day for 20 days straight, so that part is fine.”

Fortunately an area that would be potentially terrifying to many in her position isn’t a concern. “Descending is also okay…I like that aspect of the sport. I am sure I can become better, of course, but I am not afraid. I was never afraid on my handcycle either.”

When signing for the team, Van der Vorst said that she was looking forward to being a team-mate of one of the sport’s best female riders, Marianne Vos. Things have gone well between them, and she has been given good advice and encouragement.

“I really do appreciate the help of Marianne,” she said, sounding encouraged. “She is a great person and a great champion too.”

Steady progression key to success:

Monique Van der VorstGiven that she is on a road bike less than a year, the biggest error would be if Van der Vorst and the team tried to do too much, too soon. There appears to be little danger of that, though. Things have been thought out carefully with Rabobank and with the coach looking after her, former top pro Jeroen Blijlevens, the aim is to build up very gradually and carefully.

“I will start in really small races in Holland, the club competitions. I think they will already begin at the end of January, and I will do a couple every week,” she said. “It will give me experience and to ride in a group.

“I don’t know when I will start in the bigger races – it is up to Jeroen. I am just one of the twelve and I have to work as hard as the others to get my place.

“There is no pressure from the team – they are very relaxed with me. I don’t have to get any results this year, it is just about learning, developing myself and my skills. So that is good…I have enough pressure from myself. Of course I want to go fast, but I don’t want to miss any steps in the process.”

Van der Vorst will spend her New Year’s Eve on Fuerteventura and continue to train hard in the days ahead. The sun and terrain are both a good encouragement, and so too the thoughts of racing in the pro peloton for the first time. It’s a little intimidating, of course, but also a challenge, and she’s always liked those.

Asked what she had set out as a target for 2012, she said that there’s one main aim. “My first goal is to be able to stay in the peloton, to finish a big international cycling race in the group,” she said. “If I can do that this year, it is a great step in my first season, as I am only cycling since last March.

“Then, longer term, I have a dream…it is the highest dream a cyclist can have, as I want to compete in the Olympic Games in 2016 in Rio. That is the big ambition for me.”

There’s going to be plenty of work along the way, but for someone who has been highly successful in handcycling, has battled everything life threw at her and who has learned to walk again, those challenges are welcome ones.

Right now, she sounds like she is enjoying the experience and the process. “It’s actually very encouraging…I was at a high level in handcycling and could only improve a little, but I can see big changes with cycling all the time,” Van der Vorst enthused.

“My level is improving quickly and also my skills; it’s really very motivating.”

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