Chantal Blaak of Boels-Dolmans is driven by her love of her native Holland and love of competition.
Chantal Blaak loves riding the windswept lanes and picturesque countryside of her native Holland. So, it's no surprise Blaak, who rides for the Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team, is a Spring Classics specialist. She's a highly competitive athelte who thrives in tough conditions, but she also knows how to keep things light. She appreciates perfume and keeps her yoga mat close by. We caught up with the 27-year-old Blaak at the team training camp in Spain to talk about her background, life as a pro cyclist, and her take the 2017 season:
What are the three words people would use to describe you as a rider or a person?
Social. They always say I’m a bit like a mum. I don’t like to lose [a statement confirmed by team manager Danny Stam]. I’m really competitive with everything.
Can you tell us something that not a lot of people know about you or your hobbies?
I grew up on a farm. But I think quite a lot of people know. My parents were farmers. I don’t have some many hobbies. I really like to ride my bike. It was my hobby and it became my job. I read a lot.
Besides your riding gear, is there something you always take with you when you travel for races and camps?
My yoga mat. I like to have it with me. Sometimes I don’t use it, but I like to do some exercises and stretching. Also perfume. Sometimes people say, “Oh, Chantal is here” just because they smell my perfume. I like many different ones.
Main photo by VeloFocus, above two photos by Victor Lucas
Where is your favorite place to ride? And why?
There are a lot of nice places. I love riding at home in Holland... I think it’s beautiful; a lot of people wouldn’t think the same because it’s flat and windy. But I love riding at home because I start from my house and ride back home. It’s where I live and the place I love.
What is your favorite food? Favorite drink?
Sushi. For alcohol, red wine. I love it. I also drink a lot of coffee like most of the cyclists.
Do you cook for yourself?
Yes I do. At training camps everyone cooks here. We have a cooking schedule. As we train a lot we eat a lot, so the meals are pretty simple but healthy. Of course, we always try to eat healthy but here we pay a bit more attention to it.
Cycling is very important for you. It’s your hobby and job, but if you were not a professional rider, what would you do?
I think I would be a teacher for small kids, 5 to 12 years old, primary school.
Is it something you’ve studied?
I started studying it, but with my cycling career it’s not possible at the moment.
This is your third season with Boels-Dolmans. What do you like about the team?
What I like the most is that everyone respects each other and accepts how you are. So it doesn’t matter if you are different, what you do, what you like, what you eat or drink, how you train. Everyone respect how you are. That’s what I like the most.
Who is your favorite teammate to have as a roommate during a stage race or training camp?
It was Evelyn Stevens, but now she is gone. Actually I room with everyone at this point. Of course, as I go to bed early it’s nicer to have a roommate with pretty much the same rhythm. But I can cope with everyone really. We have an easy group.
When and how did you start riding?
It’s actually a funny story. You know in Holland everyone rides a city bike. I was 11 and I had a city bike. I did a kid’s race on a “normal bike,” and I won it. I won a one-year membership to a cycling club. My parents said, “Ok.” I always liked sport. I did many different sports, and they say if you want you can try out. I tried and it went well right away and I never stopped. My family like what I do but they don’t have anything to do with the sport. Normally you have sisters, brothers or parents who cycle and it’s how you start. That wasn’t my case.
Before cycling I was swimming a lot. I did Judo. And at school I did many different sports. When I was a kid, I was always outside, playing, running, always busy… I needed to get energy out.
What has been your biggest achievement in your cycling career? 2016 was an impressive season for you.
I think it was 2016. I started the season so well and it continued. Every year I won some races, one maybe two but not in a row. And last year it kept coming. That means I made a step.
Photo by VeloFocus
What’s the explanation? What did you change? Training, food, more support from the team?
Everything actually, I always worked hard. Sometimes everything comes together. It went a little more my direction. I worked hard for sure; I did not get sick or injured. I gain confidence and I think that’s the biggest issue I have. Now I have more self-confidence. I know I can do it and now I think, “yes, actually I can win big races and not only one. And I’m strong.”
In cycling everything needs to be right to get to cross the finish line first. Sometimes you need to be patient and take your own chance or opportunity. We work for each other, and it’s what is magic in this group.
What’s your best finish, an attack or sprint? Is there a specific moment or race that you keep in mind?
Gent–Wevelgem. I won this race. We were there with the whole team. Maybe five of us out of the six in the first group. You need to be strong because it was a really hard race. You also need to be lucky. For me, I attacked at the right moment, then I was gone and I had the feedback from the team that also makes you win.
Is Tour of Flanders still your favorite race? If so, why?
Yes (massive smile). I’m a typical Classics rider and if you like Classics, then Flanders it the ultimate race. It’s also the case for men's cycling. It has everything: steep climbs, cobbles, long distance, sometimes bad weather.
Photo by Victor Lucas
Is there a men’s race that you would like to see on the women's calendar in addition to the ones already added (Liège – Bastogne – Liège, Amstel Gold race)?
We always joke about Paris-Roubaix. I would love it. I know a lot of girls would say, “Hm, no.” I think it’s cool. I never rode there but I love cobbles. Probably when I would race it I would think, “What am I doing here!”
What do you think about the 2017 La Course by Le Tour edition moving from a criterium to a mountain finish?
We made a good step for women's cycling to have La Course and have everything live on TV. It’s good that they changed something to show a different style of racing, but I don’t know what it’s going to look like. First it was a really fast race bunch sprint, and now it’s totally the opposite with steep climb. Both are not my type of racing or specialty. I think change is good, but we also have so many other hard and nice races throughout the year that deserve TV coverage as La Course does.
What are your goals for the 2017?
The Spring Classics again. I showed I can be good. I can win. I want to do everything for the team and take my chance when I have the opportunity. Nationals is also a goal for me. In the middle of the season, I'll see how it goes and maybe add a few victories. Also there are other riders in the team who have goals in that period, and I can support them. At the end of the year, team-time-trial Worlds and road Worlds. The beginning and the end of the season are the most important for me. Last year was a long season. I could feel that in the end and I felt I needed a break away from cycling. I didn’t touch my bike for a few weeks, which was really nice.
What do you like about your RED eTap groupset?
I love when you are on the top of a climb and you do “woop” [she showed the shifting at the same time she made a shifting sound]. You shift and in a second you are in the big ring. It’s so easy and quick. From the small to the big ring, it’s the best part. Actually I like everything about it.
Which Zipp wheels do you prefer to ride? And why?
303, they fit my style. I’m a Classics rider so they are perfect. They are great for everything. They are a bit higher but not too much when you have strong cross winds. You can go hard on the cobbles. They are strong.
How important are power meters for training and racing?
In races I don’t look at my power but afterwards to analyze, yes. A few years ago, I didn’t think I would need it. I was just training on my feeling and seeing how it goes. But now I cannot train without. I still listen to my feelings but the data I get from my power meters help me a lot to do more quality training.
What do you like about your Quarq power meter?
It calibrates easily. You can easily change the battery. I never have problems with it, which is great. It does the job. I almost forget about it, which is a good sign.
What changes would you like to see in the sport?
I would like that the media show more big races on TV. We made a good step for example with La Course, but it’s not really what women's cycling looks like. There is so much more we can show, interesting, exciting and high level races. Changes are good but we are not there yet. Women's cycling deserves more.
Do you have a personal or professional motto?
Not really, but I really believe that if you work hard something will happen. Maybe not straight away but it will happen.