by Marijn de Vries
Marijn is a professional cyclist with the Lotto-Belisol Ladies Cycling Team, as well as a freelance journalist. She is the author of Vrouw & Fiets, handboek voor de fietsende vrouw (Woman and Bike: A manual for the woman cyclist) You can follow her on Twitter @marijnfietst and read more of her writing on her blog: www.marijndevries.nl
* * * * *
I seriously thought they were joking when I read the email in my inbox. Joking like only the Belgians can. Presentation of the Lotto-Belisol team in Plopsaland, the email said. Immediately, the visuals popped up in my head like bubbles in a glass of lemonade: André Greipel next to Kabouter Plop. Jurgen Van den Broeck and Jelle Vanendert doing the Kabouterdans together. In my mind they were really good at it. Jürgen Roelandts in intimate embrace with Samson. Lars Bak being cuddled by K3.
I will be riding for the Lotto-Belisol women’s team next season and we had our presentation together with the men, so I’m sure you can imagine that I was looking forward to this presumably legendary day – big time.
So it might be obvious how huge my disappointment was when I entered a totally abandoned Plopsaland. All right, there were carousels, rollercoasters and candy machines, but Kabouter Plop himself was nowhere to be seen. Let alone Samon, Gert and Albert – eh, pardon me, Albertóóó. Not even K3 was there, which was mainly a deception for the men, though.
The only living souls in Plopsaland were journalists and the men of the Lotto-Belisol World Tour team. The ones who didn’t have an interview were drinking coffee. I’m not the shyest of persons, but I have to admit: I was a little starstruck. I felt a bit anxious to join them. They were a worthy replacement for Gert and Samson to me for sure, but I can hardly compete with one K, let alone K3. I was sure they would think things like: who is this female? What does she want from us? Disturbing us like that, while we’re having a delicious cup of Plopsacoffee?
To my relief Marcel Sieberg, the best friend of André Greipel, stood up to have a chat with me. Two seconds later the sprinter himself joined us. The rest of the men followed within moments. Time for action, apparently, because before I knew it I was in the rollercoaster with the whole gang. Marcel and André were sitting in the car in front of me. They hardly fit in together, the tall skinny guy and the smaller one with the impressive legs – which I still didn’t dare to touch, even though there was plenty of opportunity. They both screamed like girls when the carts started to pick up speed, and after we got back to the start they stayed seated and yelled they wanted to go again, paying no attention to all the thronging photographers and cameramen who eagerly tried to document this unique scene. After we left the rollercoaster, they hurried to the next machine, yelling and laughing. Those cyclists didn’t skip a single attraction.
At some point in the afternoon I realised that I had to change my opinion radically. A team presentation in Plopsaland appeared to be a brilliant idea. For we cyclists who ride our bikes every day, we never stopped playing. We are big kids, who love to yell and go down the slide as fast as possible – of course we make it a competition.
I am still a little sad I didn’t meet Kabouter Plop. But I got André Greipel in a rollercoaster instead. And believe me, that is priceless.