The Lotto Soudal Ladies will start their season 2017 already with one big advantage. Their team will be lead and guided by the professional experience of Liesbet De Vocht (37). As this will be the second year that the task is hers, she’s still quite a rooky. But looking at her experience as an ex-pro cyclist, it is luxury to have her in the team as a team director. Wikipedia tells you why.
There are no cycling secrets hidden for her. She sure knows how it is to #BeTOUGH. She’s is one heck of a champion!
So, let’s do a throwback on her interesting career and how she experiences the evolution in women’s cycling so far.
Liesbet was already 24 when she started cycling. Her studies were important, so she finished them first. As a student, she had a hell of a good time partying every week (including weekends…). Her dad, brother and ex-boyfriend were all cyclists.
So the passion for cycling was certainly there, only not in the active form. With a Ridley mountainbike she took a first step in her cycling career. The second place in her first MTB race (behind Belgian’s strongest female mountainbiker Githa Michiels) convinced her brother to arrange a team for her. 3 Months later Liesbet took a license, bought a new Ridley cyclo cross frame and set foot in the cyclo cross scene. Her first official race were the Belgian national championships. And this is where her beautiful career really started.
At first Liesbet didn’t take road racing very serious. There were no goals, no pressure, it was all just for fun. Until Jeroen Blijlevens (team director team Rabobank) told her what she actually was capable of. Knowing that her team director believed in her and that the team relied on her, made a button switch in her head. After this mindset change she immediately became 2nd in the first classic of the season: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
When you look at Liesbet, you see that she isn’t a climbers type. She has the physique of a real ‘Flandrienne’; not too tall but not small either and with an athletic appearance. And that’s why, at first, she wasn’t convinced about her climbing skills. Until the mountain stage in Tour de l’aude (known for the toughest mountain stage there is) where she and her former teammate Annemiek Van Vleuten, almost won. In the final kilometres they were sent the wrong way but that’s a part of the story she would rather forget. From that race on she never told herself again that she was a bad climber. The believe in herself and the feeling of what you can achieve with reliable teammates, had never been so strong as in Tour de l’Aude 2010.
Realizing that the team was counting on her, made her tougher, do much more than if she had to race for herself. Even when she got dropped, she would keeping fighting her way back to the peloton to do that final pull. Liesbet had always been a team player because she understood the importance of team work. After all, a win mostly is the result of great collaboration between team mates.
Most beautiful victory
In 2010 the Belgian national championships were held in ‘Geel’, not far from Liesbet’s hometown. Her whole fan club was there. The shape was optimal, the focus 100%. She attacked at that one point she had been visualising from weeks before.
Liesbet became Belgian champion after a solo finish, in front of all her fans. Just like in her dreams.
Chocolate & snoring
So far Liesbet looked like the perfect teammate. During the races; yes. But having her as a roomy wasn’t exactly always a gift. Not that she has a character that’s hard to endure, she’s a lovely person. But the girl snores… And when she is hungry, you shouldn’t let her wait. She loves her food (don’t we all). But eating chocolate and cycling don’t go well together. So during her first years her dad watched her chocolate spread habits.
Team Rabobank took diet more serious. A dietitian controlled the weight of the riders on training camp and gave advice about special food patterns. Liesbet was convinced that this helped her performances but she couldn’t keep it up during the whole season. For that reason she ate healthy and normal during the year. And one month before big races, she followed a special diet. But for the apple cinnamon pancakes made by Loes Gunnewijk Liesbet could always make an exception…
Women’s professional cycling
Through her career, Liesbet saw the women’s peloton evolve from a more amateur level to true professionalism. That all started when the men’s teams T-mobile and Garmin-Cervelo decided to sponsor a women’s team. Those teams had the same look and feel as the professional men’s teams which for sponsors was more attractive than an individual women’s team where sponsors nearly weren’t mentioned.
Not only the looks were the same, also the (often winning) team tactics. After 1-2 years team Rabobank, Orica-Greenedge, Cervelo Test Team, Lotto, followed their example. The higher the level, the more the demand for bigger budgets to give riders a fulltime contract. Only tv-coverage and publicity were lacking to really convince extra sponsors.
That’s why nowadays, there are only a few World Tour teams with a women’s team left. It’s hard to find sponsorship for one team, let alone for an extra professional women’s team. But the good news is, that teams like Boels-Dolmans, Wiggle-High Five as individual teams are the most successful and powerful at the moment. That shows that the interest in Women’s cycling is growing and not only because it’s linked with a men’s team.
Ideal female cyclist
Wiggle-High Five has Jolien d’Hoore under contract, for Liesbet she has everything it takes to be the ideal rider. Jolien finished her studies, she’s successful, loyal to her teammates, she’s a winner when she needs to be and most important she knows how to enjoy life without the bike as well. Cycling is a beautiful sport but everything is relative. Once you quit racing, real life begins. No matter how many victories you had the past few years.
Everybody knows that crashing is a part of cycling. Luckily, Liesbet didn’t crash a lot. She wasn’t easily scared on her bike. But that last year she started to race with anxiety. It’s a combination that doesn’t go hand in hand. It showed in her performances, her results weren’t like they used to be.
One bad crash at the final stage of the Boels Ladies Tour caused an end to her great cycling career.