20 questions with women’s world champion Chantal Blaak
When the 2018 European road season kicks off at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad this weekend, Dutch rider Chantal Blaak will be debuting her rainbow kit. Previously a three-time podium finisher at this race, the 28-year-old Boels-Dolmans rider will surely be keen to show off why she earned the world championship title.
Dangerous in a solo breakaway as well as a sprint, we’re curious to see if this self-proclaimed Classics rider will step out of the shadows more and be given a chance to show off those rainbow bands.
Blaak is a veteran in the peloton but as a domestique her talents have often been overshadowed by her star-studded Boels-Dolmans and Dutch national teams. On a national team highlighted by riders like Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten, Blaak had been a dark horse pick coming into the World Championships in Norway last September, surprising some when it was she who walked away with the win.
But for anyone paying attention, that surely wasn’t due to her lacking palmares.
If she weren’t sporting the rainbow bands right now, she’d be wearing the red-white-and-blue national champions kit of The Netherlands, an honour she previously held as a junior. Other noteworthy highlights on her palmares include the U23 European road race title, several world championship team time trial medals, a stint in the Womens’ WorldTour leader’s jersey and several classics wins.
A true all-rounder, Blaak is known for being a super-domestique as well as her ‘big sister’ status on teams — a term of endearment given to her for her caring nature and long career.
Blaak started cycling when she was just 11 years old, after having won a “dikkebanden race” (a ‘come as you are’ kids race done on regular bikes) in her local town. She saw a lot of success as a junior and when her eighteenth birthday came around so did the offer to ride for her first professional team, the AA Cycling Team run by her then idol, Dutch legend Leontien van Moorsel.
The 2018 season marks Blaak’s 11th year as a professional cyclist, and she’s on contract with the Boels-Dolmans team through 2020. With the world champion title secured two main career objectives remain: to win Tour of Flanders and to represent her country at the Olympic Games.
The world champion title has finally brought her into a more international limelight, and we’re curious to see if she’ll step out of the shadows and be given a chance to show off those rainbow bands.
Re-introducing Blaak to you as the new women’s world champion, we decided to play a round of 20 Questions with the Dutchwoman. Sure, we covered some cycling related topics, but we were more interested in her favourite 90s jams, what she’d do if she were the UCI president and what her superpower is.
You can listen to our game of 20 Questions here:
Or read the audio transcript below.
20 Questions with world road race champion Chantal Blaak
[Edited for clarity]
1. What did you do with your rainbow jersey? Is it hanging somewhere?
Yes, finally! It hangs in my house now on the wall. In the beginning I said ‘No way, never!’ But in the end, it hangs in the house.
…What made you change your mind?
Everyone kept telling me, ‘Chantal, it’s so special, you should do something with it and you don’t have anything [cycling-related] in your house so why not now? This is the highlight of your career.’
2. Has anything changed since becoming world champion?
Yes, a lot actually. I still feel the same Chantal so that hasn’t changed, but yeah I have more attention and a different status actually. More people know me, I have more interviews, and there is more going on around me so that has definitely changed.
3. Being on a team with several former world champions, what is the best advice they have given you about wearing the rainbows?
That I have to enjoy it, and I think that is right. Normally in cycling, when you win a race, you start directly thinking about something new. And that happened also a little with this race. Of course I enjoyed it and it was also my last race of the season, but I also started thinking already, ‘oh now I get to wear the jersey in 2018 and I want to be good there and I want to be there…’ but the girls said, ‘Chantal, just enjoy it and see what happens.’
4. Winning the rainbow jersey was obviously a dream come true for you as it is for any cyclist. Now, I do know that the Olympics is a bit of a sore spot for you, as you missed out on selection on 2012 and 2016. Is Tokyo 2020 is target for you?
Not yet. No, I learned from that [last time]. Maybe when it gets closer but now I want to make the best of what I have. I want to win more races, of course, and then we’ll see what happens. I was so disappointed last time. And I think it’s really hard to [qualify for] the Olympics in Holland, we don’t know the course yet and it’s still far [out]. If I have the opportunity to go then I’ll be very focused but right now I’d like to focus on the short term.
5. What’s your favourite race on the calendar?
…It’s a target for you this year?
6. What is one race not currently on the women’s race calendar that you would like to race?
…you and everyone else. We hear that often.
Yeah. It’s going to be hard. It’s a special race. Some people would love [it], some people would hate it. But I hope in the future it will be there.
7. If you were UCI President for a day, what change or changes would you make?
Oh that’s a hard one! I think I would push for more women’s cycling on TV.
8. You started cycling when you were just 11 and turned pro as soon as you were of age, have you ever held a job outside of the cycling world and what was it?
9. So then if you weren’t a cyclist, what would you be doing?
Before I became a [full-time] cyclist, I was studying to become a teacher so I think I would have a job as teacher right now. But now I cannot see myself doing that anymore because cycling changed me so much.
…what kind of teacher?
For primary school.
…do you ever think about life after cycling?
It starts to come more and more, actually. But I have no idea what I want. It’s really hard.
10. The Winter Olympics are about to kick off here. If you were a winter Olympian, in what sport would you compete?
Yes, speed skating.
…so very Dutch of you.
Yes. [laughs] That’s why!
11. What do you love more — riding a bike or competing?
Yeah … both. I am really competitive and that’s why I like cycling a lot but I also like to ride my bike and that’s why I can really enjoy it. But I think I am more competitive than that I enjoy cycling.
12. Do you watch men’s pro cycling? If so, who is your favourite rider?
Yes … that’s a good question. I don’t have a real favourite rider actually. I just like to watch the races and the tactics and everything.
…you’re not a big Tom [Dumoulin] fan?
He’s Dutch so of course I am a Tom fan, but I like more cyclists.
13. Cat or dog person?
Dog person. I grew up on a farm with many dogs always.
14. What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?
I read many books and last week I read The Girl on the Train. And I liked that one.
15. And what’s the last movie you watched?
I don’t know. I watch a lot of Netflix. Right now I watch Designated Survivor.
16. What’s your favourite 90’s jam?
[laughs] It’s really hard, your questions.
I was a big fan of the Backstreet Boys and also the Spice Girls so I can sing [all the songs].
… Were you like me where you were a big fan and singing all the songs but —not speaking English — you had no idea what you were actually saying?
Yep exactly! That was me. And with a lot of the girls from my class we did that everyday after school.
…Did you have a favorite Spice Girl?
I always had to be Gerri [or Ginger Spice]. I had no choice. I wanted to be sporty spice but that was not allowed. I was Gerri always.
17. If I gave you a blank airline ticket right now, where would you go and why?
Australia. I have been there once with the  World Championships but I saw only Geelong so I’d like to travel around and see the country.
18. When you’re not doing intervals or anything, what do you think about when you’re alone on the bike?
About everything. About life, about problems, about stupid things — yeah just everything. Sometimes I just enjoy it and don’t think about anything but usually I’m thinking.
19. Two-part question: What is your actual superpower, and what supernatural power like flying or reading minds, would you like to possess?
I would like to be strong.
My actual super power? I think I have patience?
….you must have if you were going to be a kindergarten teacher!
20. If you had just one day left on this earth, for whatever reason, where and what would be your last bike ride?
At home. I really like to be at home in my own area. With my boyfriend.
Ella Question: What is one thing you know now that you wish you had known before you started cycling?
That you don’t have to give everything, always, every day. Sometimes good is good. You don’t always have to go all out.