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A quick chat with Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel

Women's cycling and postponing retirement

Triple Sydney gold medallist Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel visited Stockholm this weekend to successfully defend her titles in the Tjejtrampet Crit Race and Tjejtrampet. The latter is the world's biggest cycling race for women and holds a Guinness record from 1994 when 7903 women finished the course that varies between 40 and 50 kilometres.

Cyclingnews reporter Gabriella Ekström met up with Leontien at her hotel to ask her why she changed her plans to retire at the end of 2002, and to hear her opinion about the development of women's cycling.

Cyclingnews: Earlier you said that you would like to retire at the end of this year, but now it seems you will continue until 2004. What made you change your mind?

No shortage of attention
Photo: © Margaret Hemsley
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Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel Every day when I get on my bike, I feel that I really enjoy what I do. I like this the most, it really makes me happy and when I feel like I do, it can't be right to stop. But when I stop, I will stop completely. Many riders say that they are going to stop, but then they still keep riding a little. I won't do that, I will stop completely. But not until after 2004.

CN: I take it that it is the Olympics you are after again?

LZ-VM: Yes, I have seen the course, and it seems really good for me. Same with the time trial course which is the same course as the triathletes will use. In Sydney both courses had this huge climb, and you really had to decide which race to go for, it was hard to do both. I believe it will be possible to do both in a good way in Athens.

My biggest goal this year will be the Tour de France. I think the team and I can do a good race, and I'm looking forward to the Team Time Trial. I will try and win one stage, and do good time trials. I can sprint quite well if the road is a bit hilly, but if it's flat I can't compete with good sprinters like Petra Rossner, Ina Yoko Teutenberg and Regina Schleicher.

Chasing publicity
Photo: © Margaret Hemsley
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CN: You are concerned about the low publicity women's cycling is getting. Why do you think this is happening, and do you see any solution?

LZ-VM: In Holland, I personally get enough publicity, but there's a big gap between men and women in this sport. When Erik Dekker took the World Cup jersey, he got three hours on TV, and when Miriam Melchers did the same thing, no-one said a thing about it. I have already had a big discussion with some people from TV about this. I think the whole problem is created by media. It is already hard to find sponsors, and why should they sponsor a women's team, when they could pay a little more, but get a maximum media output by sponsoring a men's team?

CN: So there's no plan to follow the women's tennis example with short skirts and so?

LZ-VM: We have short pants! I think that maybe ten years ago, a lot of the female riders looked pretty much like men, but that has changed now. There's a lot of beautiful girls out there for those who are interested. I would also like to point out that, sporting wise, there's not so much between men and women anymore. There's not many amateur men out there who can beat me in, for example the three kilometre on the track. We can do more now to make more interesting races, and I think we deserve a lot more publicity than what we get. There are lots of girls out there who need more publicity and most of all, motivation.

Winning with some big help
Photo: © Margaret Hemsley
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CN: What are you going to do after your retirement?

LZ-VM: I will make five children! Haha. Seriously, I'd like to have children. I will also do something for the sport. I would like to help young riders, and I would also like to help people with anorexia. I don't know what Michael (Zijlaard, Leontien's husband and mentor - Ed.) will do after my career, but he has helped me so much, so I will try and give something back to him by helping him in every way I can in whatever career he chooses. Ah, there's a lot of things I would like to do, but one thing is for sure, I will never sit on a chair for 40 hours a week!

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