Halte 20 – Station WK Bergen

The High-Speed Railway Line called CHANTAL departed earlier this year from Station Blaak. This week the train headed for Bergen, Norway, where the UCI Road World Championships took place. The climax of Chantals career waited for her patiently…

“The future belongs to those
who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt

 

 

‘I stayed in room 111 of the Thon Hotel in Bergen, Norway. I shared the room with Janneke. I woke up around half past eight. “I have this strange feeling”, I told her when I woke up. “Don’t worry, everything is gonna be just fine”, she replied. I called Lars. “Have fun”, he said to me like he usually does before a race. “Who’s going to win?”, he asked me at the end of our conversation. “Me of course hahaha”, I joked.’

 

Today Chief God Odin commanded his son Thor, God of Thunder, to remain silent. Today, Saturday September 23rd 2017, the weather conditions shall be perfect in Bergen, Norway. A lonely hawk is circulating majestically high above the Thon Hotel. Professional cyclist Chantal Blaak awakes and stares out of the window of Room 111. Yesterday was dead and burried, her reality is her open hotel room window, the future is a mystic labyrinth. While Chantals stares at the bird of prey, she wonders if she has had any dreams last night.

 

‘We went for breakfast around half past nine. I felt quite relaxed. I at and drank the usual right before a race. Yoghurt. Muesli. Coffee. Bread. Cheese. Eggs. And pancakes obviously. I chatted and laughed a while with Lucinda, my friend who lives nearby with whom I enjoy training with. I felt a bit too relaxed because I returned to my room 111 a bight too late to get my stuff. Normally, when my concentration reaches a peak right before a race, I have everything very-well organized. Not now. A few moments later I found myself in a minibus together with my teammates. The atmosphere changed suddenly. From the minibus I gazed at the crowd carrying all kinds of national flags and I felt the tension and the sensation of the race through the veins of my body.

At the start I looked for eyecontact with my mom, my oldest sister Nelleke, my brother Arjan and my cousin Marvin. I guess I was looking for some trust and comfort that only family can provide. They waived to me with the Dutch flag on which  I could read GO BLAAKIE very clearly. In a split second, perhaps even less, I felt thee yes of my sweet Nelleke shooting right through my soul. Nothing is stronger than the sister’s eyes. My focus was there instantly. At that very moment the starting shot sounded.’

 

Bergen. The Norwegian fishing town, founded roughly 950 years back, located at the peninsula Bergenshalvøyen, counts around and about 280.000 inhabitants. Bergen is held in the grip of the UCI Road World Championships this entire week. In the 17th century Bergen was liberated from the British opressors by the Dutch merchant fleet. A cannonball that is stuck in the wall of the “Domkirke”is the sole silent witness of the liberation of Bergen. The Dutch cannonball that rushes alongside of the Skuteviken Bay on Saturday September 23rd 2017 is called Chantal Blaak. Her body, as flat as a pancake in order to fight the wind, represents a new liberation of the people of Bergen, again accomplished by the Dutch. Could it be the explanation for the Bergen people that support her so enthusiastically when Chantal goes by, as fast as the wind? It was only yesterday when she walked right here, on this very bay, all by herself. It was a chilly day. She stared silently at the crumbling coastline of the Skuteviken Bay. For a moment she shivered during a brief “back to the future” moment. She imagined she was ahead of the peloton that hunted her like wild animals do. It felt real. More than real.

 

‘The night before I was chosen teamcaptain. It’s necessary to have someone in the race that can make decisions in the team interest. A teamcaptain communicates with all team members. Who is in shape, who is not. Those kinds of things. Of course we all had in-ears, so team manager Thorwald Veneberg could give us instructions about the race developments. I wanted to remain calm, before and during the race. I wanted to show that I could cope with the responsibility of being teamcaptain. I knew this would only be possible when my fellow team members and the entire technical staff would express their confidence in my openly and unanimously. They all did. No one excluded.

I suggested to remain alertly and calmly the first four rounds – just checking how things would go. Who would attack, who wouldn’t. The pressure on the Dutch team was tremendous. Imagine, you have eight cyclists in your team who all had a very realistic chance of winning the race. Only the gold medal would count for whoever.
I think it was in the 5th round that I fell. It all went by quickly. There was an accident right before me, during a descent. I remember one cyclist hit the bike of another. Lucinda just crossed through the wheel of another cyclist and wondrously she did not fell. But not me: I tumbled over her completely. I remember I felt an instant pain in my enkle. Bye bye worldchampionships, that was my first thought. Then I heard someone screaming – it drew my attention. It was Megan Guarnier, my American team mate of Boels-Dolmans. “Oh my God, I broke my jaw”, she moaned. For a moment I was in a state of shock. Meanwhile the cars and motorbikes passed by like maniacs. The world went crazy. I remember the sirens, the yelling, the screaming, the sharp whistling of the tour director. I stood up, hopped a bit and waited for a spare bike that I did not need on second thought. I lost ten, fifteen, twenty seconds. I realized my race was over, yet I was committed to return in the peloton – it was my responsibility to do my very utmost to help my team mates. I would go the max, I would only stop working when my body would tell me so.’

 

Sland. That’s how the inhabitants prefer to call their village Zuidland, a small village nearby Rotterdam. The people of Zuidland like to model themselves to the heroic inhabitants of the village of Asterix and Obelix that stood up against the Roman rulership. Similar to these Gaulish comic book heroes, the people from Zuidland are down-to-earth, courageous, modest, brave and masters of shrugging their shoulders. They prefer to talk with their hands stuck in their trouser pockets.
Sland, the name sounds like a Scandinavian animal which accepted its modest role in the ecological chain already ages ago, brought many cycling versions of Asterix and Obelix to this world.
One of them is the farmer’s daughter Chantal Blaak. Is she thinking about Sland during these Worldchampionships? Is she perhaps thinking about het very first cycling race that she won as an 11 year old? It had rained that very day. The year 2000 was engraved on the backside of the golden medal she received. Training after training after training… inspite of the ominous clouds that seemed tob e stuck to the meadows around Zuidland at all times, no matter what season. It was like Sland had officially taken possession of the dark clouds, just like cyclists claim the phenomenon speed.

 

‘Team manager Thorwald helpedme the first few seconds to get back on my bike, of course according to the regulations. Thereafter I was on my own. I fought myself back. When I finally reached the second group, we had to climb Salmon Hill, a mean and nasty hill, something like our Cauberg but meaner, I had to let the group go. The girls gave full gas. I was full with rage, my head and body were full with disappointment and pain. This could not be the ending of my season, for crying out loud! I thought about the big hang-over about Team Time Trial of a few days ago. We won silver. Any other team would have been extatic, but for our team it felt like a defeat. I pushed through the pain and got back to the peloton. Poison ran through my veins. In a split second I decided to break away from it all. Only Hannah Barnes from the UK and Audrey Cordon from France followed me.’

 

Adrenaline takes over. The hormone adrenaline is a natural reaction of the brain to ease the pain when a body experiences physical exertion. Sometimes the head wants to go on, but the body refuses to coorporate. Sometimes the brains refuse to collaborate when the ignorant fully muscled body pushes and pushes endlessly. But then you have those days when body and mind work together in perfect harmony. These are the days that nothing or no one can crack this holy twoness. Today, Saturday September the 23rd 2017, is such a day for Chantal Blaak.

 

‘I had to weigh my chances because of the composition of the leading group. Uphill I was strong enough, however I was not too sure about Barnes when it would come down to a sprint. In the Dutch team we were very clear about the team strategic last night: we all could go for it whenever you found yourself in a winning position. Don’t take any risk. Only the gold medal would do. For whoever. No matter what. That was the agreement that we all were committed to. I decided to sit back and wait for a while. Right before Salmon Hill I just felt Anna and Annemiek were getting close… my team mates were very strong uphill, however I knew they were also a bit unsure about Barnes. I could barely follow Anna on Salmon Hill …she was incredibly strong…’

 

Chantal throws herself off Salmon Hill like a rolling tone, she looks exactly like Freya, the Norwegian Goddess of Beauty and War. When Chantal attacks, she’s got the combative eyes of a hawk – in fact just like the hawk she watched circulating above the Thon Hotel this very morning. Eventhough she is in combat, her beauty remains in tact. The collision of a while ago damaged her shirt and trousers – she looked like Venus de Milo, the world-famous armless sculpture that gained in beauty because of the imperfection. The absence of a crack in beauty is a crack on itself, according to the British novelist Havelock Ellis. Hence the collision made the breakout of Chantal even more perfect, more heroic. According to the Norwegion mythology Freya used her beauty as a weapon. Beauty inspires. Freya knew. Does Chantal know?

 

‘It was my instinct. I guess. I rode by feeling. I guess. When the other girls joined us, I just knew I had to attack again. I knew Anna and Annemiek had a real chance to make the difference on Salmon Hill. After a serious attack of Annemiek, the tempo fell back a bit. The group rode on the right side of the road, I found myself alone on the left side. At that very moment I just felt: this is the moment Blaakie! Go! Go now! The road went slightly downwards, then upwards. I had to take advantage of the speed of going downhill to take this slope with full speed. I believe this all happened about eight kilometers before the finishline. I went into the tunnel. I heard Thorwald shouting in my in-ears: “Go! Go! Fifteen seconds! Go! Twenty seconds! Go!” The last kimoters I felt nothing but pain. Pain, pain, pain. Biting. Stinking. Itching. Never ceasing. It was not the pain of the collision. Oh no. This pain came from much deeper. Much deeper. I never knew pain could be this black, this immensely deep. There was only one thought that came to mind: this is my chance to become worldchampion, even if I have to fall from my bike…’

 

“Join us for once”, her classmates said who all went out that weekend. About to chase the boys from the neighborhood. But not Chantal. She had to train. She wanted to train. Around the meadows of Sland. Sometimes her classmates found her stupid. A bit boring too. One friend once made presentation in class, somewhere in the mid 90’s, about bees. She spoke about the Queen Bee as the most full-fledged female creature of the family of bees. Inspite of her extraordinary strength, the Queen Bee seemed a bit lonely in the eyes of the young teenager Chantal Blaak. During training sessions she identified herself with the destiny of the Queen Bee. After a training tour on the isle of Voorne-Putten she entered the farmyard of her parents. She put her racing bike in the barn while she panted for breath. Somewhere in the distance she heard her silent father coughing.

 

‘That sound of the crowd. It ran through me like one massive echo….HOOOHOOOHOOO! It was a constant buzzing heap of humming sounds that I just can’t describe. I gave everything I had. Everything. I though about nothing simply because there was nothing to think about. The only reality I knew about was the finishline. I rode in some kind of haze. As if I was dragged along in a dreamworld where nothing seemed to be real. I only needed to survive the last slope, then I would make it. That I knew, that I felt deeply. I looked back three times. Three times.’

 

According to the last official numbers of the United Nations, our planet counts over 7½ billion people of which about 50% is female. Out of these 3,7 billion women, Chantal Blaak from Zuidland is the quickest specimen that moves itself forward by a racing bike. 217 Cyclists where at the start at the Festplassen in the centre of Bergen earlier this afternoon. At the end, only 76 women would reach the finishline. 141 Women had to tolerate the disgrace of DNF behind their names eternally. Chantal Blaak couldn’t care less. She’s wearing number 8. She has always been preoccupied with numbers. Earlier this year, it was in June, she became National Champion with jersey number 13. Donald Duck conquered Gladstone Gander, bad luck conquered good luck, belief finally conquered disbelief. For the 8th time she had to take this vicious slope….again the number 8….8…she’s counting her pedalling….1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8… she’s looking for rhyming words…eight…wait….fate….great…’

 

‘The last few meters before the finish were like a haze. The sound of the massive crowd was deafening. I put my hands in front of my face. Out of pure disblief obviously… I saw the asphalt right below me, I gazed at my fron tyre and I counted each centimeter toward the finishline. Reality remain unreal, yet it was so real….so incredibly real….’

 

Today, Saturday September the 23rd 2017, the world shaked off all of its frills. Even the eyes of the Gods are directed downwards, they all stare at Bergen, the Nowegian fishing town located at the peninsula Bergenshalvøyen, where the UCI World Championships Cycling for women just took place. Not only the Gods are able to rise above themselves. Also cyclists can. In the appearance of Freya, Goddess of Beauty and War, the lonely fugitive Chantal Blaak is driven by the thunderbolts of Thor, son of Chief God Odin, during the last few meters of her race. She is named Chantal Blaak, a 27 year old woman born in Sland, Zuidland, the village where people great eachother also during storm and lightening.

 

‘I crossed the finishline and found myself shaking and craying in the arms of Ruud Zijlmans, the caregiver of our team. Everybody shouted, pushed and pulled. I didn’t know what to do, what to say or feel. I could only gasp, breath, live, survice. Even my teammates had to fight their way through the crowd, the journalists, the officials, the photographers to congratulate me. It was madness. Pure madness.’

 

She fell and stood up. Chantal Blaak showed the world that sacrifices in life will be rewarded, that the impossible is possible, that disbelief can turn into belief, as long as you’re brave enough to dream, as long as you stay hard, stay hungry and stay alive. This very moment, just a few minutes after she crossed the finishline, it’s impossible for her to realize the impanct of her victory on herself, her family, her friends, her fans. Reality is bigger than life itself. She’s not aware of the emotional reports coming from journalists screaming the good news through their microphones out of low-oxygen cabins, she’s not aware how the good news is received worldwide (crying, screaming, hugging, dancing), she’s not aware of the hundreds of thousands smartphones and tablets beeping (pliep pliep…bliep….bliepbliep), she’s not aware of how hashtag #chantalblaak becomes trending within a minute, she’s not aware of how thousands of hands in thousands of living rooms and cafés rise towards heaven, she’s not aware of how her partner Lars has parked is little truck alongside of the Swiss highway, she’s not aware of how he starts to cry, she’s not aware of how cycling legend Michael Boogerd screams through his smartphone “Lars! Lars! What happened? Are you still there?”

 

‘Someone escorted me backstage. Someone cleaned my face. Someone gave me a clean shirt and trousers for the ceremony. Just before the honouring I saw my sister Nelleke. I fell into her arms and then my tears came. The tears liberated me. I still could not fully realize what actually had happened. Nelleke cried with me. Finally I allowed my emotions to be released. That very moment felt so good. Thereafter I fell into the arms of Erwin Janssen of Dolmans, of Richard the mechanic and of Danny, team manager of Boels-Dolmans. I heard Danny saying to Nelleke “I only see you when you’re in tears hahaha…” Danny was right. Same happened after I became National Champion. Someone informed about the ceremony. When and how I would receive the rainbow jersey. The flowers. The golden medal. The national anthem. Before I knew it, I was standing on stage. I gazed at the crowd. Here I was. The farmers girl from Zuidland. On the first row I saw my cousin Marvin, my brother Arjan, my mother and my sister Nelleke. During the first notes of our national anthem, while staring at our flag, my thoughts went back to the moment I crossed the finishline, how I put my hands in front of my face, it all came back to me, in slow-motionm the absolute highlight of my entire cycling career. When I left the stage after the ceremony, it felt like going back to the future.’

 

A rainbow arises in a peaceful sky where the sun breaks through an illuminating mist. A rainbow does not only connects two points at the horizon, a rainbow also connects people simply because a rainbow represents all colors. A rainbow does not differentiate, neither does it chose its favorites. Today in Bergen, the Norwegen fishing town at the peninsula Bergenshalvøyen, the rainbow jersey is given to Chantal Blaak, the 27 year old cyclist of Zuidland. Wearing her rainbow jersey, she looks more than ever like Freya, Goddess of Beauty and War.

And what about us?

We all became worldchampion with her. At least just a bit. Just because we allowed ourselves to believe in the beauty of her dream and for this we all should be eternally grateful to her.

 

‘This medal…being worldchampion…I wouldn’t want to haved missed this fort he world’, Chantal says.

 

***

 

Voor Chantal.

 

 

Tekst Marco Hendriks (www.spookrijden.nu)

 

Bekijk de foto’s van het WK in mijn galerij! Veel plezier.

 

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