Michiel Van Der Heijden was having a season of ups and downs until last weekend at the mountain bike world championships in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, Canada. That's where the young Dutchman won the junior cross country title.
Clad in his brand new rainbow jersey, Van Der Heijden said, "It's my first time (winning Worlds). It's fantastic. Everything was good from the warm up to the last lap."
It was one of those days when the other riders didn't seem as fast. "I thought maybe it would be my day, but then by the second lap, I knew for sure it was my day."
When an Italian rider made a mistake, Van Der Heijden capitalized on his second position and went for it. "I felt super as I got a little gap, and then it kept getting bigger. I knew that there weren't many people that could close the gap and catch me. That gave me even more energy and made me go faster and faster, though I wanted to save something for the last lap." He rode solo until the finish.
Van Der Heijden had started the season well by competing in the junior races that are part of the World Cup circuit. He won the first three and had his sights set on his next goal.
Then came the European Championships in July, where Van Der Heijden had a very frustrating race. "I was dropping off on the start loop. I couldn't get to the front of the race. It wasn't a good thing, but I learned a lot."
"It was my decision then to take a break and refuel. I decided to aim for the Worlds." Van Der Heijden skipped final three World Cups at Val di Sole, Italy; Champery, Switzerland; and Windham, New York.
"The Europeans were my last international race. It was a long time ago, so it was hard for me because when you don't race, you don't know where you stand against your competition."
Van Den Heijden went into the world championship race uncertain of his own form, but well aware of his top challengers. "I knew them all from the World Cups, and I knew they were all strong."
Last year, he finished 13th at Worlds in the junior race. "But this year I'm stronger, and I'm better at technical sections compared to last year. I practiced a lot in Switzerland which helped me a lot on today's technical course." He also credited all the Dutch fans out along the course cheering him on. "I can't believe how many there were although we were so far from home."
Van Der Heijden is in his final year as a junior, which means he'll move to the Under 23 ranks. His first taste of that will come in cyclo-cross this fall.
"In the winter, I race cyclo-cross. I've done cyclo-cross Worlds and was second in the World Cup. We'll see what being an Under 23 brings. I love mountain biking and want to do it many more years."
He is riding for Merida Combee, but will transition to the Rabobank team for next year's mountain bike and 'cross seasons.