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Last year, seemingly out of nowhere, a new name started appearing on our screens. At the 2019 Trofeo Binda, a neo-pro from Parkhotel Valkenburg attacked, prompting many people to frantically check ProCyclingStats to see who she was and where she came from.
Her name: Demi Vollering, just 22 years old at the time, and the breakthrough rider of the 2019 season.
“It was my first year with Parkhotel Valkenburg and only my second race,” Demi tells me. “I had only started working with a trainer just over a year before. Before that I just rode and enjoyed the rides but specific training schedules and the new team changed everything. That day in Italy I felt so good and felt that all the pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place.
“I had always wanted to be a top athlete and that day I knew I had my place in the peloton. I rode around with a smile all day and felt so grateful to have this chance. I know many won’t get a chance like this. That day was a turning point for me.”
Demi Vollering is now 23 years young and comes from a small town between Rotterdam and The Hague in the Netherlands. Until recently she worked as a florist doing bridal work but the love for cycling had always been there.
“When I was really young, I raced around the block on my small bike,” she recalls. “I was very competitive, doing fat-tyre races and often ended up on the podium. I loved it a lot but only joined the RWC Ahoy team in Rotterdam in my junior years. My parents have four children and my mother was not too keen on driving me around the country to take part in bike races everywhere.
“I joined a speedskating club because the ice rink was closer to home. I didn’t do too bad but only started riding faster when I was a bit older. By then I missed my shot of joining the regional and national speedskating selections.”
After riding with RWC Ahoy for a while she joined the SWABO Ladies Team which, until last year, was the feeder team for the Biehler Krush Procycling Team. There she met Stefan van Klink and started working with him as her trainer.
“That changed so much,” she says. “I never did specific training but he coached me so well in doing intervals, 20-minute blocks etc. I also went to Switzerland a lot because my boyfriend has a job in Basel. The training in the mountains combined with Stefan’s training schedules resulted in this huge leap forward.”
And a huge leap it was. From Trofeo Binda, where she finished 17th after a long day on the attack, there was Amstel Gold Race (seventh), Flèche Wallonne (fifth) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (third). This impressive list of results was followed by her first win, a stage in GP Elsy Jacobs and a second place overall, a fifth place in the OVO Women’s Tour, and a 13th place in the overall classification of the Giro Rosa. She finished off her breakthrough season in style by winning the Giro Dell’Emilia.
“I always call myself a diesel, the longer the race the better I get,” she says. “Amstel, Fleche and Liège were very hard but I enjoyed it so much. Personally, I didn’t expect things to go so fast in my career to be honest.”
This year everything is different but Vollering is not a person to look at things through dark-colored glasses.
“Of course, it was hard in the beginning with all the cancellations,” she says of the coronavirus-affected season. “I saw in my training program that I had improved over the winter and I wanted to race to show it. I quickly managed to change my perspective on the situation and enjoyed the training in itself so much. There was no pressure or focus. It was just me on beautiful roads in Switzerland enjoying the views.”
She does long for racing, like everyone in and around the peloton. Her first race will be Strade Bianche this weekend. Vollering has already spent plenty of time on gravel in the past month, thanks to a bikepacking trip with teammate Marit Raaijmakers.
“Marit and I spoke about our dream to do a road trip this winter,” she says. “When all those races got cancelled, we started planning. We started in Luzern, went to the Furkapass, Lake Geneva and then to Basel in 10 days. We packed our bikes with literally everything we needed: a tent, sleeping bags, gas burner to cook, plates, cutlery etc. We did have some bad luck with the weather.
“One day we had a route over some gravel roads that got so steep we changed into our running shoes and walked up. These big rolling thunder clouds were constantly looming over us. When we reached one of those trekking huts, we were in two minds about continuing to the campsite. We did and held off most of the rain. It was an unforgettable adventure.”
It’s not difficult to see an Ardennes specialist like Vollering doing well in Strade Bianche on Saturday. Like the Ardennes, the Italian race is held on an undulating course with lots of small climbs. Plus, Vollering feels right at home on rougher roads.
“I love riding gravel,” she says. “They are usually the prettiest of backroads with the most amazing views. Riding on gravel is also a different thing, a different feeling. I can’t wait to see my team again but am also curious to see what racing in these weird times means. The race should suit me and I think I can do well.”
Other important dates in her calendar this season are the national, European, and world championships, plus the three Ardennes Classics.
Vollering is still only 23 years young and has her entire career ahead of her. Being a late starter has some advantages but also means she has to catch up on some things.
“I still enjoy cycling every day and look forward to all new things and races,” she explains. “That is an advantage but not having raced from a young age means that I have to catch on in certain areas. Reading a race is something you learn by doing it a lot. After every race I talk to Stefan, my trainer, my boyfriend Jan who races at amateur level, and Marieke van Wanrooij. She is a former pro and has seen and done all the races. I think those weekly debriefings are one of the secrets of the Parkhotel Valkenburg team.”
Jumbo-Visma announced this week they want to have a women’s team in 2021. Vollering is one of the most exciting young Dutch riders and would fit well in the new and ambitious team.
“I would lie if I would tell you I don’t have the ambition to join a bigger team, but it’s not on my mind now,” she says. “At Parkhotel Valkenburg I am the team leader in many races. It’s a role that fits me well and comes naturally. I am not a boss and we race as peers without much hierarchy. I like that mutual respect we have and it’s an environment I do well in.”
Vollering has many dreams. There is not one specific race she wants to win but a whole bucket list of them.
“The Amstel Gold Race of course because it’s a home race but also the other Ardennes races are on my list,” she says. “I want to podium at the world championships and do Ronde van Vlaanderen. I am enjoying myself on the bike every day. I work hard to get stronger and more race savvy all the time. The results will follow.
“I am not in a rush. I have many years still to go.”