Thalita de Jong leading the bunch in the first stage of the Women's Tour

From CX world champ to years in limbo, Thalita de Jong is back

Thalita de Jong has a new start at the team she started her career with ten years ago, and is ready to show she still has the talent.

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Thalita de Jong joined Liv Racing-Xtra on June 1, and with that returns to the highest level of racing after years of injuries and riding for smaller, Belgian teams. “I am really looking forward to being part of this professional peloton again because it took a while,” she says on the eve of the Women’s Tour – her first Women’s WorldTour stage race since September 2017. 

“I was part of smaller, Belgian UCI teams,” she explains. “But my level was always higher than the races I did. I am happy to return to a place I know and that is familiar. It’s also exciting to see where I stand at this level. The Women’s Tour is a hard race straight away.” 

An 18-year old Thalita de Jong (left) at her first elite national championships where she finished 12th.

De Jong joined the best women’s team at the time – Rabobank Women Team – in 2012 straight from the junior ranks. It had a line-up of present and future stars – Marianne Vos, Annemiek van Vleuten, Pauline Ferrand Prévot, Lucinda Brand, Megan Guarnier, Jolanda Neff and a young Kasia Niewiadoma, among others. It was the absolute super team one decade ago. 

“I only started racing in my junior years,” De Jong explains. “I did table tennis before but a knee injury ended that. My dad was part of a little training group and I joined them. I did some off-road races on the weekend and that’s how it all started. At home [Thalita has a sister Demi who rides with Parkhotel Valkenburg and a brother Milo] we knew nothing about cycling so it was all about discovering and learning.”

In 2017 De Jong crashed in the cyclocross World Cup in Hoogerheide, a few kilometres from her home in Ossendrecht. She was the world champion at the time and eager to defend her title a week later in Bieles, Luxembourg. The seemingly benign crash proved to be the end of one phase of her cycling life and the start of a long way back to fitness with several injuries on top of the other and an early end to her contract with Experza-Footlogix in 2018. 

She joined the Belgian Chevalmeire team in 2020 where she and her partner Davy worked hard on her recovery from overreaching. In 2021 De Jong finally showed some of her talent again in stage races like Festival Elsy Jacobs and the Tour de l’Ardèche. 

However, the relationship with the team went sour, and De Jong ended her contract in early 2022. The transfer window for the Women’s WorldTour was already over by then so she spent the time until she could join Liv Racing-Xstra on June 1st with the club team of De Jonge Renner where she won many club races but also the Ronde de Mouscron pro race. 

Thalita de Jong beats the pros in Ronde de Mouscron while riding for club team De Jonge Renner

“Riding at club level is a different level of course. Don’t get me wrong because I was mentally and physically tired after this spring, but the level is naturally lower than World Tour. I also tried to make matters a bit more difficult for myself by constantly attacking and not just riding in the wheels until the sprint. That’s how I always like to race, also because I usually was alone in the finals of the club races but also with my previous UCI teams,” De Jong smiles.

At Liv Racing-Xstra – the continuation of the Rabobank team where De Jong started her career ten years ago – she finds many familiar faces, including team manager Eric van den Boom.

“The way it ended with the Chevalmeire team wasn’t great, but I left this behind. Eric had patience with me and with the situation. After leaving the team in 2017 we always kept in touch. In hindsight I doubt some of my choices but I also learned a lot in the past years and am eager to return to this familiar team structure. Eric has confidence in me and knows what I can do. I don’t have to prove myself. I didn’t do any testing before joining either because a test just says so much. You have to show it in the racing,” De Jong says.

“And I am only just 28 years old. We both feel I can make significant steps forward. Nowadays being 28 means you can continue many years more,” she adds with a smile.

De Jong enjoying the Spanish sunshine at a training camp.

Joining a team mid-season could mean that there is a shorter period of time to prove yourself or get settled in, but De Jong doesn’t see it that way.

“I am happy with Liv Racing-Xstra because I still know many of the staff members. That’s why it feels like family and I experience less pressure. I don’t want to experience the continuous pressure because that doesn’t work for me. It is possible that I can’t follow the pace of the World Tour anymore, but I don’t expect this [to be the case]. I have shown some results at this level already this season and even won. I have always been a fighter and have shown time and time again I come back,” De Jong reflects. “The question is how fast I will be back  – but that I will get my old level is a certainty for me. This team knows that and has full confidence in me.”

De Jong has had more than her fair share of bad luck in her career with crashes, problems with teams and long periods of injury. She is 28 now and shows her mental resilience by always bouncing back. 

“People said I couldn’t cope mentally with all the pressure of being a pro cyclist but those people don’t know me,” she says passionately. “If you are physically struggling but still manage to come back, you are mentally strong. If I weren’t strong, I would have been on the couch by now as a retired pro cyclist.

“No, I love riding my bike and that’s been the driving force over and over again to fight back,” she continues determinedly. “You do sometimes wonder if it’s all worth it but the feeling I have being back now just says it all. I love the game. It’s about getting the best out of myself. It’s who we all are in my family. We all have that fighting spirit.”

De Jong has been part of Women’s WorldTour one day races in the past years but a stage race at the highest level is almost five years ago for the Dutch rider. 

“The level has gone up so much in recent years,” she says. “The level of professionalism in World Tour teams is so high and it makes it more and more difficult for the continental [the second division] teams to show themselves. The financial gap is getting so big now. Everyone is 100% committed to cycling in this team and that’s different than being committed to cycling and having a job on the side. The overall level shows this. A couple of years ago only five or ten riders could win a race and now it’s 25 to 30, and different riders in different races,” she analyses.

De Jong leading the bunch on stage 2 of the Women’s Tour

The Women’s Tour is her first race with the Liv Racing-Xstra team and there are many things she looks forward to. 

“I look forward to being part of a team, and to working as a team. It’s hard to set goals already but I will do my best for the team. If I feel okay, I can try something for myself and if not, I ride for a teammate. I am perfectly okay with this and feel I really need this now,” De Jong says. “If you always ride finals alone and everyone is happy with your performance anyway, there is no incentive to get better. For example, at Rabobank everyone was good and that made me better too.”

“I also missed the scrambling to stay with the bunch. My last race was the Thüringen Rundfahrt with the Dutch team and I had some back problems after a long car journey and a bad bed. [My back] will always be a weak spot but during the race I kept on fighting to get back to the group every day. That is what makes you so much stronger. It had been a while I felt like this,” she continues with a broad smile.

De Jong doesn’t know when this new comeback will end, but she is confident she still has the talent she showed as such a young rider ten years ago. 

“I am at a good level according to my trainer. She has known me for many years now. I look forward to showing that aggressive racing style again and not just surf the wheels. If I can kickstart this again I am off for a new start.” 

De Jong wins the UCI World Cup in Valkenburg in 2016.

There won’t be any cyclocross on the horizon this winter for the 2016 world champion. De Jong has noticed that spending the winter training in Spain works better for her.

“It’s also not easy to combine the two disciplines. If I were to ride cyclocross again I would have to start at place 70 and then make my way forward and pass at least 55 riders for one single point. We are now planning for the road season to see how well I do. I don’t know what the future brings [with cyclocross] but I know the team is open to it.” 

De Jong is on the long list for the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift this summer. She is excited about the new opportunities offered to women in cycling.

“That will be something special … I hope to ride but if it’s not for this year it’s for next year. Roubaix is also something to look forward to. It’s great we now have our own, hard races and that we have the television time to tell our stories. Every woman is looking forward to the Tour de France. Our sport can only grow, not only in the pro peloton but also as a whole,” she reflects.

“It makes me so happy to see so many more women on bikes now. In the end it doesn’t matter if you are a pro cyclist, a young rider or a recreational rider … we all look to have fun with bikes. I see that fun everywhere these days, and it’s such a positive thing.”

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