Cyclo-cross star reflects on her greatest battles
After 25 years of racing, AA Drink/Leontien.nl rider Daphny van den Brand finally hangs up the bike. Coming off a very successful season including European Championship title, World Cup overall title, UCI Points leader and a silver medal at World Championships, Van den Brand stands firm on her decision to retire.
"There just comes a time to stop. Mentally I am tired. At every race you have to go for the win and that takes so much energy to do. And then there is all the travel and everything else that comes with this lifestyle. I did it for a long time and it's now enough."
Since the age of eight, Van den Brand has raced year-round. "I did summers on the road and winter on the cyclo-cross bike. I used one bike for everything but I got other wheels to ride on in the winter. When I turned 17, I replaced the road racing with mountain biking because I got tired of hearing all the bickering that goes on between the riders in the road races. Shortly after, I met Johan [Van de Ven], my husband and we did mountain bike racing together. But once we were awarded a womens cyclo-cross world championships in 2000, I put everything into 'cross."
Her dedication to the sport of cyclo-cross definitely paid off. Over the years, 34 year old Van den Brand has collected an impressive array of victories to include a World Championship (2003, Monopoli), 11 National Championships, and 5 European Championships.
"The two wins that meant the most to me are the World Championships and the 2006 European Championships that were held in Huijbergen [The Netherlands]. That year I had problems with my knee and had to be operated on over the summer. I was three months out of training and then I came back to win this race. It was an emotional day for me."
What also meant a lot to her was the impact she was able to make on behalf of women in cyclo-cross. Over more than a decade, she has been one of the leaders in pushing key organizations such as UCI to give women more opportunities such as the women's inaugural World Championships in 2000. She has also been instrumental in raising the payout – both start and prize money – from GVA Trofee, World Cup and World Championship events.
"I can only hope that the girls racing now can pick up where I left off and continue to speak their mind to improve the situation. When you don't say anything, nothing can change – or worse yet, maybe it can get worse."
When asked what she will miss most after leaving the racing scene, she beams as she explains, "The battles with the other girls - especially with Marianne [Vos]. Two years back we fought every week. It was so much that it gained a lot of attention from the press and media and that was a nice bonus. I will also miss those moments when you have good legs or a good sprint like in [Superprestige] Gieten earlier this season. When you can win in front of Marianne, that's a very nice feeling. It was similar to Worlds in 2003 when everyone thought that Hanka [Kupfernagel] would win the sprint and I took it instead."
As Van den Brand talks of her exciting battles, she admits that she would consider coming back for another season if her offseason period wasn't so intolerable. "My summer allergies of things like pollen and grass are so bad that I have had to train with a mask for a couple of years. Last summer I was lucky because the summer season came late – only in June. That was a bad month for me but if it's only one month of suffering I can live with it. But I can't count on being so lucky next summer so I will not take the chance." Her summer allergies also took claim of her dreams to participate in the mountain bike Olympics.
Looking forward, kids are certainly in the plans. "Children are absolutely my second love to cyclo-cross. I worked with children before I was a pro cyclo-cross rider in fact. Johan and I are practicing to have children already," jokes Van den Brand.
Keeping her busy until the kids arrive is her business that she and Johan started in 2007 called CycleXperience. "In Holland a lot of people know who I am so it is nice that we can have a company based on my name. We do mountain bike clinics as well as weekend trips in the Ardennes and in the Alps in France. My bike won't be hanging up for long since I really like to ride."
Looking back at her last few months of top quality racing, Van den Brand muses, "I knew that this was the last year that I ride so I drew inspiration from that. Having a defined end point to my career allowed me to give my best to the very end. It is always difficult to stop racing but I'd rather people say it's sad that I quit than say it's time that I quit." Van den Brand won her final race of her career last Sunday at GVA Trofee's Sluitingsprijs Oostmalle - in a sprint against Vos, spending her last moments doing exactly what she loves most.
Her final public appearance is Wednesday, February 22 at Cyclocross Masters Indoor race in Hasselt, Belgium.
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