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28th Olympic Games - JO
Athens, Greece, August 14-28, 2004
Thuesday, August 12, 2004
Enter the Dutch
Big squad, big medal chances
By Jeff Jones
With a sizeable squad of 25 riders, the Dutch orange brigade should certainly figure among the medals in Athens. The Dutch are well represented across all three disciplines and there is depth on both the men's and women's sides.
The Netherlands will have strong medal chances on the track, with big, talented sprinter Theo Bos a good pick for the sprint events. Bos is the reigning World Champion in the sprint, having won that title earlier this year in Melbourne, Australia. He also won the kilometre time trial in the Moscow round of the Track World Cup, showing his versatility. On the women's side, reigning Olympic individual pursuit champion Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel is a favourite for that title again in Athens, the only event that she will contest on the track. Van Moorsel has been building her final season around the Olympic Games, and the pursuit is a gold medal that is definitely within reach of the former World Record holder in this discipline.
These two riders aside, the Dutch track team has plenty of other options. In the sprint events, Teun Mulder, Tim Veldt and Jan Bos will combine with Theo in the team sprint, with Mulder also riding the sprint, keirin and 1 km time trial. The endurance riders include Levi Heimans and Jens Mouris, who will do both the team and individual pursuit; Peter Schep (team pursuit and points race), Jeroen Straathof (team pursuit) and Thomas Dekker (named for the team pursuit, although he will actually concentrate on the road time trial).
In the madison, Danny Stam and Robert Slippens will team up, and as experienced Six Day partners they should not be underestimated. In the women's sprint events, Yvonne Hijgenaar will be the sole representative, riding the 500m TT and the Sprint, while Adrie Visser will do the Points Race.
On the road, the Dutch team will also be relying on Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel to bring home the goods. She won both the Women's Road Race and Individual Time Trial in Sydney, and it would be nothing short of a miracle if she repeated that feat in Athens. But as already mentioned above, she has been setting her sights on Athens all year and she of all riders knows how to peak for an event. Van Moorsel will have more than adequate support from her trade teammates Mirjam Melchers, who is capable of winning the road race herself, and Anouska van der Zee, who will be devoted to helping the other two during the race.
There are two Dekkers in the men's road squad - Thomas (the younger) and Erik (the elder) - but they are not related. Thomas was picked to ride only the Individual Time Trial, much to the elder Dekker's chagrin, as Erik is very experienced in this discipline. However, Thomas has ridden very well this year in all of the time trial events that he's done, and he has been very hard to beat. He is the reigning Dutch TT champion (Erik didn't compete) and that helped sway the selectors.
The remainder of the road team includes Michael Boogerd, who would normally be a good chance on the hilly Athens parcours, but he hasn't managed to have rediscovered his spring form, which saw him finish on the podium in two World Cup races (both behind Davide Rebellin). The Dutch will be placing big hopes on Max van Heeswijk, who has won nine races this year courtesy of his fast finish. If the Olympic Road Race comes down to a bunch sprint and Mad Max is there, then look out. The support will come from the excellent Servais Knaven and Karsten Kroon, the latter being a good bet to get in an early breakaway.
The Netherlands will be represented by three men and one woman off road in the mountain bike cross country races. 1996 Olympic champion Bart Brentjens is back for another crack at gold, and he has over 10 years of experience behind him. The 35 year old was World Champion in 1995 and has taken numerous World Cup wins since then. Brentjens will be joined by 24 year old Thijs Al and 26 year old Bas Peters, who finished 5th at the World Championships in Lugano last year. In the women's cross country, Dutch Champion Elsbeth van Rooy-Vink will represent the Netherlands.