In a nail-biter of a race, 22-year-old Thalita de Jong overcame sloppy conditions, a poor start and a 21-seconds gap to be crowned world champion in Zolder, Belgium, last week. While she may have been overlooked as a favourite, those who’ve been watching her closely were not surprised at all. The young Dutch rider of Rabo-Liv had silently been adding victories and titles to her palmares on the road and in the dirt all year, taking home youth classification jerseys, a European championship medal and even a TTT win in Vargarda. Timing her peak fitness just right toward the end of the cyclocross season, De Jong took home the Dutch national cyclocross title and the world cyclocross champion title within weeks. She then showed off her brand new rainbow jersey at the BPost Bank finale in Sint Niklaas where she again threw her hands in the air in victory. With a full road season ahead of her, we expect to be hearing a lot more from De Jong so here are five fun facts to know about the young star:
1. If you would have told her last year that she’d be Dutch and World Champion by the end of the 2016 season, she wouldn’t have believed you.
“Around this time last year, I was still suffering from the aftermath of a crash at the World Championships in Ponferrada. I had broken my collarbone which over time caused some complications,” said De Jong. “With the support of my surroundings and the Rabo-Liv Team, I was able to get on top of it. If you had told me a year ago that I would bea the Dutch champion and world champion, I would not have believed it. How much can change in a year.”
2. She (and her sister) got the cycling bug from her dad
“It is mainly thanks to my father that I started cycling. He rode for Toerclub De Grensrijders of Ossendrecht. I first bought a mountain bike and went into the woods with him during the winter. We tried to ride every weekend and a year later, I bought my first road bike and we looked for challenges together. In 2009 for example, we rode the Limburgs Mooiste en de Amstel Gold Race events,” De Jong said. “On vacation in France that summer, we brought our bikes. Staying at a campground at the base of Alpe d’Huez we couldn’t help but climb the famous mountain. Later that year I did a cross race in Ossendrecht and that’s where it happened: my father and I started at the same time but in the end I overtook him.”
Her younger sister, Demi de Jong, is also a professional cyclist. Demi is the current Dutch U23 champion and rides for Boels-Dolman.
3. In 2010 she was still a cycling fan asking Marianne Vos for a photo.
The photo above was taken in 2010. It shows the De Jong sisters volunteering at a cross race and posing for a picture with then world champion Marianne Vos. De Jong tells the story:
“In 2010 there was a World Cup race in Hoogerheide. I was working as a volunteer at a crossing station. It was nice to help out and you earned free entry that way. Marianne Vos was racing in the rainbow jersey and my sister and I asked her for a photo. I showed [Vos] the picture when we both raced the world championships in Hoogerheide in 2014. She thought it was very special. After the world championship last weekend, Marianne and I took another photo — this time I had the rainbow jersey.”
4. She works at a highway restaurant
“While cycling is for me the most important thing, I do other things as well. Up until this past June, I was studying to become a sports trainer/coach at the Johan Cruyff College. I have finished my studies but now I work one or two days a week at a restaurant along the highway,” she said. “I like to be among the people, to be away from home and to talk about something other than cycling.”
5. Upon winning the world title, she received a call from the Prime Minister and mail from the King
“Last week , I was showered with congratulations. Not only from teammates and supporters but also from people I had not expected so quickly,” said De Jong. “Shortly after the post-race press conference, I was handed a phone and I suddenly had Prime Minister Mark Rutte on the line. A few days later, there was mail from King Willem- Alexander. It’s great to share these achievements with so many people.”