PEZ Interviews: Ricardo Van Der Velde
Cyclocross is incredibly popular in the countries of Belgium and Holland, and the popularity of course produces a steady stream of young talent – talents that no doubt hope to usurp the mighty reign of King Sven sometime in the future. One such Dutch hope, Ricardo Van Der Velde, at only 19, has already found considerable success both on the road and off. PEZ chats with the young gun about past, present, and future.
The World CycloCross Championships run this weekend in Belgium, and Ricardo will be there.
For those who don’t know what cyclocross is like, how would you characterize your sport? And which skills does an athlete need to be successful?
For cyclocross, you need all-around abilities: you need total control over your bike when you race in mud or sand, you need speed, strength, and – very important! – a good technique to go through corners at high speed in muddy or sandy conditions – and this is fun!
How did you get into cyclocross? Who brought you to cycling and what does cycling mean to you?
My father brought me to this sport. First, I started with road racing but I did not like it. Fighting through the wind was not my thing! Then my father told me about cyclocross, because he had started with cyclocross first before he became a professional rider on the road. After having started to ride more cyclocross, I had to do more road cycling too to get a good base for the following cyclocross season. Soon, I became quite good at road racing, too, and after a few years I had to make the final decision: Do I want to do cyclocross? Or will I concentrate on road cycling?
To me and my family, cycling means a lot. We grew up in the cycling business. From the time my dad became professional, it was my aim to follow his footsteps and to travel through the world with my sport.
[Note: Ricardo’s father is ex-pro Johan van der Velde, who raced from 1979- 88.]
Bike handling abilities are crucial to cyclocross success.
Practicing competitive cycling for years has effects on somebody’s personality. How would you characterize yourself and what do you think did competitive cycling mean to your personality?
In cycling you have to push yourself to your limit all the time to improve. And you have to have a certain persistence – an aim you want to reach for yourself in this sport. To improve, you don’t have to become better on the bike only – you have to become more and more professional in your lifestyle, in caring about yourself by getting the experience in what is e.g. the best to eat or drink before or after a race or training session. This is the way to continuous improvement. Generally, in my opinion, I became more independent through the sport of cycling.
Will you undergo any changes regarding your place of living? Many professionals move to warmer areas to have better training conditions. Or is there somewhere even a community with several riders of your recent team at the same place?
Mostly those riders who take the opportunity of living abroad are professional, with a better salary than me as a U23 rider. For me as a “veldrijder”, the best place to stay is in the Netherlands, as most of the big cyclocross races take place in Holland or Belgium.
Maybe, if I choose to focus on the road, I will consider to move to the Belgian Ardennes or even Italy.
Don’t bother with ‘cross if you don’t like a little fun in the mud.
Not everyone enjoys riding in the cold and in the mud. What do you like about cyclocross?
Most of all, I like the hard racing circuits with steep climbs, mud, cold and even snow. That’s especially important as many riders are already losing a race by only thinking about the climatic circumstances or the difficulty of the course. Thinking of this situation and especially my affiliation to those characteristics of a cyclocross race, I even become stronger and have better chances to race harder than the rest of the pack.
In several countries, cyclocross is not as popular as in yours. Why is it so famous there?
Well, I am not sure about the reasons of the popularity there. Maybe it is because there are many successful Dutch riders with several World Champion titles within the past years… But popularity and success in Belgium is even greater than in the Netherlands.
The Rabobank cycling teams are famous for their teamwork. This is especially important for the U23 team. What is so special at Rabobank? How would you characterize the “Rabobank mentality” among the team members?
First of all, the Rabobank U23 team is a fantastic team to train with and to race for! Everybody gets along with each other very well. This makes it easy to ride for a team-mate if you know that he has got the legs to win a race. Rabobank U23 team also means having a good coach in the car with the right instructions at the right time!
What are the differences in racing and events between the leading cyclocross nations Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Czech Republic?
Well, racing in countries other than the Netherlands and Belgium, it is obvious that there are not as many fans than at home. More and more spectators come to the Italian cyclocross events, it looks like our sport has got a growing fan community there. But when you are riding in France or Spain, you can see and feel that cyclocross is not the sport they all love…
Enjoying his sport at a recent Superprestige race.
What do you hope for this season? What do you expect in the Cyclocross World Championships for yourself and other U23 competitors? And where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I hope to finish within the top ten in this year’s Cyclocross World Championships on January 27/28. And I work hard to become a professional just before turning 23. Generally, I don’t mind if this will be the case as a cyclocross rider or professional on the road.
To be successful in cyclocross, you certainly need to do special training sessions. What do they look like? And how do you prepare for the cyclocross season during summer?
We do special cyclocross training every Wednesday through the winter, being coached by Nico van Hest. We are concentrating every time on certain aspects of racing to improve. As we are all keen on reaching good form and decent results, we try to adapt the training laps to the special sections of the following race. That’s a plus of having a good forest to train in.
In the summer, the Rabobank U23 team gives me the chance to get a lot of experience and good fitness in racing a lot of stage races – so this still keeps up my idea of a later career as a road cyclist.
Ricardo still hasn’t made the 100% decision whether to focus on the road or the mud.
Cyclocross bikes are often seen as stable but heavy. What are the needs and latest trends for a competition cyclocross bike? And what’s your favourite equipment?
My favourite frame is my Rabobank Colnago C50. It’s a full carbon frame. It is kitted out with my Dura-Ace high profile carbon wheels and Dugast 32 mm tubes. Generally, we use many different tires, fitting the different racing conditions. All are made by A. Dugast from Richard Nieuwehuijs. We have the chance to choose from tires for hard or muddy courses, for fast and for slow circuits!
Many thanks for answering our questions and a lot of success for the rest of your season!
Name: Ricardo VAN DER VELDE
Best results/titles (year):2nd place Dutch Championship cyclo-cross (2007),
Personal website: https://www.ricardovandervelde.nl