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by José Been
November 23, 2020
Photography by Kristof Ramon
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado is the current world cyclocross champion. She’s already won four races this season. She also rode her first mountain bike world championships this year. She even had a quick road season. In short, Alvarado is a cycling multi-talent, and one with a clear plan for the next few years. “I want to balance cyclocross, mountain bike and road until the Olympics in Paris ,” she says.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Ceylin (‘SAY-lin’) Alvarado was born in the Dominican Republic in 1998. Her father Rafael moved to the Netherlands and the rest of the family joined when Alvarado was five years old. She still speaks Spanish at home. She started in athletics but in her early teens she moved to cycling with the Rotterdam Cycling Club Ahoy. Her father was a cyclist and urged young Ceylin to try it too.
“There are not a lot of top athletes from Rotterdam, let alone cyclists — only Lucinda [Brand] and me,” Alvarado says. “So cycling was not the logical choice for the place I come from. As kids we were encouraged to do sports.
“The great thing about cycling and especially cyclocross is that it is a family affair. You never have to pretend in front of your family, they will accept you and support you no matter what. Maybe from the outside it doesn’t have that professional look but I love having my father [mechanic], mother [soigneur] and brother [first year U23] around. I can always rely on them.”
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Alvarado’s development has been fast. Ten months ago she didn’t even consider competing in the elite world championships yet — she wanted one last shot at a rainbow jersey in the U23 category, a title she missed out on in Bogense, Denmark in 2019. But the wins in the elite category kept coming in the 2019/2020 season and there wasn’t an established rider she had not beaten at least once.
After her Dutch elite title early in January 2020 she decided to go for an elite world title at the super fast and flat Swiss airport course in Dübendorf on the first of February. After an exciting fight she beat Annemarie Worst and took home her first rainbow jersey.
“My development went fast, yes,” she says. “Many of the older riders like Helen Wyman, Nikki Harris or Marianne Vos have left. I can win on many different courses and will always make my own race. I just love racing. I just love the physical nature of this sport. I do lack some force but that is age and experience.”
The results kept coming in thick and fast. In November the reigning Dutch and world champion added a European title to her impressive collection of championship jerseys.
You won’t be seeing Alvarado race in regular team kit any time soon. She’s currently the Dutch, European and World champion.
Given all her recent success, Alvarado has every reason to smile. Indeed her contagious smile seems perpetual. However, her career hasn’t always been a steady path upwards. She struggled with many injuries as a junior.
“Most of the time I am happy but like everyone else it’s not always plain sailing,” she says from her house in Belgium where she lives with her partner and Alpecin-Fenix teammate Roy Jans. “From the outside it all might look easy for me. It’s not as visible on social media but I have my bad days too. That’s normal. As a junior I had my fair share of bad luck with knee problems, glandular fever and pneumonia. That was bad enough.”
Alvarado is one of the very few riders of colour in the international peloton but has never felt held back by that. As you’d expect, she wants equality for women and equal opportunity for all athletes, no matter their ethnic or financial background.
“It’s not even a question to me that we must strive for equality but I don’t feel I should always speak out,” Alvarado says. “I don’t mind talking about diversity in the sport because I never experience negativity. There is a lot of discussion now because cycling is such a white sport but I don’t feel the need to always represent and end up in all sorts of discussions.”
Alvarado does hope to be a role model, an example to young kids. To her Marianne Vos has always been that example. She still thinks of that when she is in the same peloton as Vos, even though she is now a world champion in her own right.
“Marianne is just so down to earth and always nice,” Alvarado says. “She is special but also one of us. Her palmares is amazing. I think that if you have a nice personality kids who watch the sport will look up to you and see you as an example.”
Perhaps others will follow in her tyre tracks?
“I do think more kids should have the possibility to start cycling,” she says. “Money is a problem to many parents. I don’t come from a rich neighborhood but my club had bikes we could try out. But then my parents had to make the decision to buy a bike eventually and they are more expensive than football shoes. That will create a barrier for kids [of all backgrounds] to start cycling.
“I think federations and clubs should start from the bottom with the new generation. Cycling is expensive and will only get more expensive.”
Alvarado would love to get involved in the development of the sport at a grassroots level, but not now. There is still so much to do in her career.
Cyclocross is a small sport with a strong base in the Netherlands and Flanders. The pool of winners is also very small. As a result there’s always lots of discussion about the predictability of the racing — it’s often a small group of riders vying for the prizes, or even one dominant force like Mathieu van der Poel was in previous years. Alvarado is one of a handful of riders that now dominate elite women’s CX races. She not as concerned by that as some people are.
“Is it our job to make the races exciting?,” she says. “Does Mathieu have to take risks of not winning by adding more excitement? No. The crowds want excitement and I understand that but we make our own races. Usually they are exciting to watch, I think.”
Although Alvarado loves cyclocross she doesn’t want to limit herself to one discipline only. She’s also shown some impressive signs in road races. At the Tour de l’Ardèche this year she finished 12th after seven hard stages in the south of France. She was part of the decisive move at the Dutch national championships on the VAM-berg, a man-made hill on a rubbish tip, but had to let go in the final 25 kilometres.
As mentioned, she also rode her first mountain bike world championships on October 10 in Leogang, Austria. She took home a bronze medal in the cross country event in the U23 category. She is still only 22.
Alvarado wants to combine cyclocross, road and MTB for the next four years and has Paris on her mind when it comes to the Olympic mountain bike race. Technically she has a chance to ride in Tokyo in 2021 but the Netherlands only has two spots and Anne Terpstra and Anne Tauber are more experienced.
Finding the balance between disciplines is going to be hard for Alvarado, but on Alpecin-Fenix, the Belgian team she has now signed with until February 2024, she finds a perfect place to do all that. Teammate Mathieu van der Poel does the exact same thing.
“Mountain biking is so much more complicated than cyclocross when it comes to the technical side of things,” she explains. “There is much variety in terrain with tree roots, rocks and much more elevation. The climbs are longer too. Cyclocross is easier to learn, I think, with some turns, sand, some running and differences in pace. Also, I now did the world championships in the U23 category in mountain bike but that was my last year. The elite category really is something else.
“We will see how I develop in the sport and then see what happens. I don’t even know if I can even make it. I want to give myself some time and not rush it. Mountain biking is Olympic and cyclocross is not. That makes the Olympics the ultimate event for me. It makes you champion for four years.”