Floortje Mackaij is 23 years old and a key elite rider for Team Sunweb Women’s road racing team. As a teenager, she was a national-level speed skater and switched to national-level cycling in 2012. She has bike racing in her blood: her father, Ron, was a professional cyclist from 1985 to 1995; her brother Bram works for Dutch cycling magazine Fiets; and her boyfriend is Dylan van Baarle, a pro rider for Team Sky. Floortje has kindly agreed to write a regular column for The Prologue. In this first edition, she tells us about the women’s bike racing scene, her favourite races and looks forward to the Flanders Classics season.

I was cycling with Bram Tankink the other day, and he asked me: “Is this your full-time job, or are you studying at the same time?” I paused for a moment and laughed. But then I realised how little he seemed to know about women’s professional cycling if he asked me that question! So perhaps I should start with some of the basics.

Bram the Man. Photograph: Cor Vos.

Sorry Bram

Sorry, Bram, but women’s professional cycling is just as hard work and tough as the men’s sport. We also have different types of riders: both pure sprinters and climbers, as well as time trialists and more all-round riders more suited to the classics, like me.

There is one really big difference between the world top elite professional men and women riders. That is, there is simply a much smaller group of world-class level riders in women’s cycling at the moment. So, you often hear the same names as the winners.

Dylan van Baarle in action on the Belgian cobbles. Photograph: Cor Vos.

Better climber

In our sport, if you are quite fast and can climb quite well, then you can get quite far. There is certainly a difference between the riders in Team Sunweb: Coryn (Rivera) is a real pure sprinter, but I am more all-round in that I can be useful in a number of different roles by the team. Also, now that my boyfriend lives in Monaco, I have become a much better climber.

Cycling couple

One of the the good parts about having a cycling boyfriend is that we really understand what the other person is going through: both the good parts and the challenges, and we talk about that. One of the less-good parts is that at home we have five cardboard boxes the size of washing machines, all full of cycling clothing!

I am quite good at time trials, as they are really hard work! Photograph: Cor Vos.

Love for Flanders

I really love the hard spring racing in Flanders: the races simply can’t get hard enough. It’s really great to pound over the cobblestones in awful weather. That’s my thing, and it suits my style of riding. I always seem to be good in bad weather; I think it’s partly a psychological thing. When the weather get’s bad, a lot of riders seem to mentally give up, but not me. I think, well, it’s raining, everyone has to deal with it, let’s go for it! It also helps that I don’t get scared riding fast in the rain.

Perfect conditions for me (middle)! The Ronde van Drenthe 2019. I finished 8th in this hard 170km race. Photograph: Cor Vos.

Ronde van Vlaanderen

My favourite races are the Spring Classics and I’m really looking forward to the Ronde van Vlaanderen in particular. It feels a bit like I’ve been thinking about the Kwaremont, and that really difficult section just after that, all winter! I’ve already ridden that section once this season, just to get the feel of it. The Ronde van Vlaanderen is one of the most special races on the calendar; I’m feeling really good about that race at the moment. And I’m ready to get involved and fight until the very end, hopefully for the victory. Tomorrow we are all leaving for Belgium to ride the one-day race Driedaagse Brugge–De Panne and then Gent–Wevelgem. The cycling world in Belgium is so special, the atmosphere in Flanders and the wonderful madness of the fans there is amazing. I’m really looking forward to it just as much as the rest of the fans!