Daphny van den Brand bids for her 12th title - but she'll have to beat the world chap to get it ©Danny Zelck
Dutch Women’s Nationals
by Christine Vardaros
If Daphny van den Brand wins the Dutch Championships this Saturday in St. Michielsgestel, it will be her 12th year donning the national stripes. In reality, though, she only wore the jersey for 10 of her 11 times, having traded it in for the rainbow variety the year she won the World Championships held in Monopoli, Italy, back in 2003.
After so many years in the Championship jersey, the ZZPR.nl rider admits that it would be a little strange not only for her, but for her supporters to see her in “plain” clothing. Her fear is that her fans may no longer recognize her without the red, white and blue stripes as they have come to equate her with that color pattern. With this in her mind, she plans to turn herself inside out to maintain the status quo.
The one rider said to be strong enough to foil van den Brand’s plans of reaching her perfect dozen is Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit). Last year she was second to van den Brand at Nationals and is looking to do one better this time around. Similar to countrymate Lars Boom (Rabobank), Vos started the season late, in mid-December. She has competed in only six events, collecting two first places, three second places (both in World Cups) and a third. Her results are quite the feat considering that most of them were accomplished from a last row call-up due to her lack of UCI points. And her sole third place was even more impressive since she was forced to run half of the first lap due to a collision with another racer that left her with a broken bike. “After my crash in Tervuren, I made it a good training. I hoped to chase some riders and end up in the front, but I didn’t expect to end up third – so I’m happy,” Vos had said. “And yesterday I won in Petange, so I feel good going into Nationals.”
Marianne Vos showing she's worthy of her world champion skinsuit in the Zolder World Cup ©Danny Zelck
As for her thoughts on the big race, Vos says, “Hopefully it goes well. The race is always different because of the weather. It can be really muddy and 3-4°C. This is not normally the races I like most, but in Tervuren it went quite well [in presumably similar cold, muddy conditions], and the last weeks weren’t too bad either.” The two riders she views as her biggest threats are, naturally, van den Brand and Sanne van Paassen (Brainwash). “If the three of us are good, we will all be on the podium – only the order can change. I hope to be on the top for once, but I know I have strong competitors.”
Sanne van Paassen running hard in Zolder ©Danny Zelck
This season’s standout Sanne van Paassen, who started off with a couple of back-to-back wins in Neerpelt and the GvA Trofee Namen, is the third primary challenger. Shortly after those results, she scored her first-ever World Cup victory in Plzen, Czech Republic. She has a total of four wins and has been off the podium only three times this season – with two fourths and a fifth. Last year, she finished third at Nationals, behind the battle between Vos and van den Brand, so she’ll be looking to be further up in the mix this time around.
While much of the focus may be on these three riders, there are a handful of other gals who are more than capable of spoiling their triangular battle. They are Sophie de Boer (ZZPR.nl), who placed fifth at last year’s Nationals and has consistently placed in the top-10 in almost all of the events she’s entered; Linda van Rijen (SRAM), who was fourth last year; Arenda Grimberg, who has cracked the top 10 at a couple of World Cups this season; and Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn (ZZPR.nl), who finished third on the St. Michielsgestel course last year.
Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn in her element in Fidea Niel ©Danny Zelck
At the age of 43, Hormes-Ravenstijn enters this event as the oldest of the top competitors, and she’s very clear on her favored course conditions. She explains, “I’ll try to do my best, hoping for top eight, but I’m not happy with the recent weather conditions of snow and ice. They are not for me. I think it’s the age – I became a bit afraid. My preference is for tough races – muddy, where you need some power but not too much speed.” But after crossing the line in a solid sixth place last weekend in Tervuren – a muddy event expected to be similar to the conditions at Nationals – Hormes-Ravenstijn was considerably more optimistic of her chances to pull off something big.
Sabrina Stultiens augers in the snow in Zolder ©Juan Plowy
A special mention goes to rising superstar, 17 year-old Sabrina Stultiens (BrainWash), who scored an impressive fourth in last weekend’s Tervuren event. After the race, Stultiens exclaimed, “It went super well. It was a very heavy course, but I got a good start and felt great. Pity that I lost my third place to Marianne Vos (who worked her way through the field after her first-lap mishap), but even so, I’m very happy with my ride. I am ready for Nationals, but I must ride with the Juniors, not yet with the Elite women.” There are surely a few happy Elites to hear that she has yet another year before she can play with the big guns.
As for van den Brand’s concern that her fans may not recognize her without her national stripes, she need not worry as long as she continues to don her trademark braided pigtails.