By Gerard Knapp
Bio: Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel
Born: March 22, 1970 in a little town called Boekel in
1990: World Champion Team Time Trial and World Champion
3 km Individual Pursuit on the track (both in Maebashi, Japan)
Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel could lay claim to being the reigning queen of European and world cycling. The Dutch rider has assumed the role from Frenchwoman Jeannie Longo after her performance at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, where she won three gold medals and a silver in one of the stand-out performances of the Games, rivalling the efforts of US track and field star Marion Jones and Australia's swimming phenomenon Ian Thorpe.
The Dutch rider arrived onto the world scene as a 20 year-old when she became world champion in the 3km individual pursuit on the track and then continued on for three years, until well-documented health problems intervened.
Now, it would seem that Leontien is a female athlete with her life in balance. After winning her medals in Sydney, she was quoted as saying that she looked forward to a nice meal and a few drinks out on the town; that she wanted to spend time with her husband and family.
But van Moorsel can also apply the same mental toughness she used to stop eating to her racing and training. At the same time, she enjoys being female and is known for her make-up, lipstick and painted nails (which appears to be virtually indestructible, even on long, wet and grimy road races). Underneath that layer is a determination and mental strength. In this interview, she mentions how she likes to train with team-mate Hanka Kupfernagel, as the German rider can generate "much pain in the training", which she believes is a real benefit for her.
Van Moorsel now only rides in races which suit her physique. As she developed as a woman, she could no longer climb like before and this led to the health problems. The long European stage races belong to the climbers - Leontien has accepted that she is no longer that type of rider.
Instead, van Moorsel possesses enormous versatility; she can win on the track and is the current holder of the world record for the 3KM individual pursuit set in Sydney last year. The following night she won the gold in a tense final with Marion Clignet. Two nights later she was back to claim silver in the points race. On the road, she dominated the Individual Time Trial (overtaking silver medalist Kupfernagel in the process) and won a negative road race which virtually played into her hands. Her Dutch team-mates rode selflessly for their leader, unlike other, less disciplined team riders.
Many are watching how the emerging Canadian Genevieve Jeanson will develop - both as a woman and a bike racer. The parallels are there, but there may be too many years separating the two for a real showdown, except perhaps in Portugal this year at the world championships.
CN: You've accomplished quite a lot in women's cycling, from winning the Tour de France to four Olympic medals in one year. Is that the reason why you've changed your focus this year?
LZ-VM: This year I want to break the World Hour Record. I have accomplished a lot, but that I don't have. When there is something missing on my list of results I want to have it.
CN: Could you describe what your main goals are for 2001, and how you will prepare?
LZ-VM: My main goals are to break the World Hour Record and last year I lost my World Titles. I would like to win a World Champion's jersey back, either on the track or the road (time trial). I want to prepare the same as last year. A lot of training on the track and behind the motorbike. The focus is on speed training. The stage races that I will ride, I ride to get more power.
CN: Leading on from the above, do you have any targets in road racing this year, or is it just all preparation?
CN: Are your plans consistent with (team-mate) Hanka Kupfernagel's plans?
LZ-VM: Hanka and I have different goals for 2001. She wants to be good in the Tour Féminin and at the World's in Portugal. But we can benefit from each other. We can train together. The time trial for her is also training on speed. She is so strong and can give me much pain in the trainings, I can do the same with her. This will make us both better. Beside this I can learn a lot from her and she from me. We have both been riding for a long time now at the top and we did this with different training methods. We can learn from each other.
CN: Who do you see as the main rivals for the Worlds in Portugal this year?
LZ-VM: I think that the best girls in Portugal will be Luperini, Sunstedt, Melchers, Sommariba and Hanka of course. I'm pretty sure I forget a few who will be very good there but I think these five girls will at least be in the front.
CN: If you manage to win at the World Championships, and break the Hour Record, will you continue in 2002? I recall a statement earlier this year about the World Championships in Zolder being more favourable?
LZ-VM: Yes that's right. The course in Zolder is much better for me. We have a contract with our sponsors Farm Frites and Hartol till the end of 2002 so I will be in the peloton until then. After that I will start to think about little Zijlaards and Moorsels...
CN: Any special training or adjustments for the Hour Record attempt? Location?
LZ-VM: The location is not decided yet. I train for the Hour Record a lot on my home trainer, one hour with a high speed. I used to ride on my brakes (brake hoods) and never deep in the steer (drops of the handlebars). On the track I'm used to lying on the steer (aerobars) but for the Hour Record this is not allowed. So I have now changed my position and I train a lot on getting used to this.
CN: Will you be competing at Athens in 2004?
LZ-VM: About that I can be sure; no.
CN: What is your opinion of women's cycling at the moment? It seems as though the UCI wish to promote it more highly, but it still lags a long way behind the men (TV exposure, salary, prize money etc.).
LZ-VM: I cannot agree more with that. I think as long as the television won't put more attention to women cycling it will never be really interesting for big sponsors. But to get the television people enthusiastic for women cycling we have to make attractive races. Sometimes our races are too dull. We have to make them exciting and good to watch. We have to show the people something.
CN: If you had the choice, what aspects of women's cycling would you try and improve?
LZ-VM: I would try to get more television exposure. I think that is where it starts and this will bring the rest also. It is easier to find sponsors and then the salaries can also get better. For myself, I try to say to the girls in my team that we have to make good races. Not just riding with the group to the finish line and sprint, but exciting races where a lot happens.
Likes & Dislikes
Training ride: My favourite training ride is to "Berg en Dal". That is a hilly course in Holland close to where my parents live. When I go train there, I stay with my parents and they always spoil me when I'm there.
Place for a holiday: That doesn't matter so much as long as there is sun, beach, sea, etc. I've been in a lot of places (Mexico, Aruba, Canary Islands, Barbados etc.) but I like it all as long as I'm with nice people and it is hot.
Book: I'm not really a book person. Magazines I read a lot, just easy reading.
CD/music: I like a variety of easy, slow music.
Movie: I like a lot of movies also. The last one I've seen was with Sandra Bullock: Miss Cons...
LZ-VM: I think that the Madison and Keirin for women will end in a disaster. Maybe I'm wrong but I think that will be nothing for women. The Team Pursuit and Olympic Sprint would be good I think. I would like to take part in that.
CN: When you do retire, do you have plans to work in cycling, or something completely different? Do you have any post-racing career ideas?
LZ-VM: The first years that I have retired, I want to give my experience to younger riders. We have now started a project with young girls to promote women cycling and get as many girls as possible on the bike. Another goal for this project is to discover talent and give them the best opportunities. After this I don't know yet what I would like to do, but my heart is with the cycling.
For further information on Leontien and her team, please see her personal website (www.leontienvanmoorsel.nl) or her team/management site (www.rotterdamcycling.nl).
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