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Meet Kim de Baat, the little-known Belgian champion

In one day Kim de Baat went from hardworking, selfless domestique to being in the spotlight.

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The 2022 season turned into a very special year for Kim de Baat. She found a new team in Plantur-Pura, became Belgian road race champion, crashed a few weeks before the Tour de France Femmes but ultimately started and then finished that momentous race.

De Baat is now 31 but her love for the bike started when she was just six years old.

“My brother Arjan was a cyclist and I always wanted what my big brother wanted,” she says. “When I was only six years old my parents bought me a bike. It had blocks on the pedals because I was too small to reach them otherwise. Back then there weren’t as many small kids’ bikes available. I started riding which soon turned into racing and I never stopped since.”

Although everyone in her family felt her brother was the talented one, it was Kim who landed a professional contract with Boels-Dolmans in 2013. De Baat was born in the Netherlands but married a Belgian man and in 2015 she obtained Belgian nationality.

“I grew up in Puttershoek which is just south of Rotterdam but I moved to Belgium,” she says. “After my divorce I stayed here in Oudenaarde and feel right at home here. Apart from my family there is nothing that ties me to the Netherlands. The rest of my life is here; my friends are here and that matters. Belgium is now my home. Of course, it’s different than the Netherlands but I am happy here and don’t want to go back.”

De Baat (left) at the inaugural Tour de France Femmes this year. (Photo by Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

It was a special day on June 26 when De Baat won the Belgian national road title. It is without a doubt her biggest win to date because De Baat usually works for others.

“I wasn’t nervous that day because I never thought of winning the championship,” she says. “Just like in all the other races I had a support role on the team. I was just enjoying the race and how we tried to control this with Plantur-Pura and make the others tired.

“When I was 3 km from the finish line our sports director Heidi [Van De Vijver] said to me that the peloton would not be coming back and that I should go for it. Then I started to become nervous.” 

De Baat won the sprint from the lead group of seven riders with ease. Her partner Sanne Cant was not far behind and was the first to congratulate her, followed by the rest of the team and almost the entire peloton. De Baat is a rider appreciated by her colleagues but also by her rivals.

“I don’t have any enemies in the peloton but of course you are not best friends either because you are rivals in the end,” she says. “It was great to see everyone congratulate me. Maybe because I always work for others and maybe that’s why they were all happy for me this time? I don’t know. I felt so overwhelmed and didn’t realize it at first. To this day I sometimes don’t even realize it. Belgian champion.”

De Baat winning the Belgian road title in 2022.

De Baat has been part of many teams like Parkhotel Valkenburg, Lensworld, Doltcini-Van Eyck, Ciclotel and the Dubai Police Cycling Team before joining her former DS Heidi Van De Vijver at Plantur-Pura.

“The Dubai Police Cycling Team is a bit of a special story,” she smiles. “I hadn’t had the best of luck with teams and when it was clear Ciclotel would end [at the end of 2020], I took this opportunity. I had won a race in Dubai earlier in 2020 and [on] the social side of kept in touch with them. I was a bit fed up with cycling because of these struggling teams and my own form that never returned to my younger years. When Dubai offered me a place on the team, it meant I could keep riding but also help other women in the sport.” 

De Baat had hoped that riding in Dubai and supporting the fledgling women’s cycling movement there would give her a new sense of fulfilment, but that was sadly not the case.

“The level of racing was so low in Dubai,” she says. “There were maybe 30-40 riders on the start line but after a few kilometres there would be 10 left. There is so much work to do. I wanted to help but in the end a woman’s voice is not strong in Dubai. They respected me but also I had to do what they told me to do.

“All the big ambitions resulted in nothing. There was no need to improve. They already had the best bikes and the races themselves were easy. There was no need to try and get a contract in Europe to pay for these things because there was enough money as it was. It was really disappointing because there is potential. I really believe that.”

De Baat returned home and joined the Belgian national team in the second half of 2021. With them she had some great races and even got selected for the national team for the home World Championships in Leuven. That was a surprise but team captain Lotte Kopecky knew that De Baat would do everything within her ability to support her. And she did.

When Plantur-Pura was created by the Roodhooft brothers in 2021 and Van De Vijver became the sports director, De Baat was called to become the road captain for the 2022 season and beyond. 

“My love for the bike has always kept me going,” she says. “Sometimes I wondered why I bothered anymore but I always fought back and never gave up. It is great to now be part of such a good structure like Plantur-Pura. It’s an important team in the development of Belgian women’s cycling and the role of road captain suits me.

“We always make a plan before the race and the sports director has her radio to communicate but in the peloton, I often make the calls. We are really a team together and I do consider us friends. It showed at the Belgian championships and also at the Tour de France Femmes.”

De Baat after winning her national title.

It was special for De Baat to be part of the first Tour de France Femmes, especially as Belgian champion, but she almost didn’t make it there.

“The run-up to the championship was already rough because I had COVID and really needed time to recover,” she explains. “I was finally at a good level for the championship and the Tour but then on the first day of our pre-Tour de France training camp I crashed. I don’t remember it but it was just a stupid accident. The amazing thing is that while I was in hospital and heard I had broken my collarbone and a few ribs I still knew instantly I would make it to the start of the Tour. 

“After two days I was on the trainer and after a week I was cleared by the doctor to ride outside. That meant I hadn’t lost any of my good shape. I only had the anaesthesia and some pain but overall, I felt great. The Tour was such an important goal for the team and for me.”

The Tour de France Femmes was a hard race but after a few days where De Baat supported young rider Julie De Wilde she felt better by the day. That was until a big pile-up saw her crash on that shoulder again. The remainder of the race became a fight against the clock for the Belgian rider. 

“I suffered so much these last days in the mountains but I chose to do that,” De Baat says. “I wanted to finish that race. For me that is part of cycling, that nothing can hold you back. Those last three mountain stages were hard but every day there was a chance I would make it within the time cut, and I did.

“It was so amazing to see that all those people on the side of the road were still cheering us on, even though Annemiek van Vleuten had passed over half an hour before. They were cheering me on as if I was riding for the win that day. That gave me so much strength as did that Belgian jersey. It was not that everyone knew who I was because I heard a lot of ‘Go Lotte!’ or ‘Go Sanne!’ on the side of the road but it helped,” she laughs. “And I just whispered almost breathlessly to myself: ‘I wish I was Kopecky.’”

De Baat managed to finish the Tour de France Femmes in last place, as lanterne rouge.

De Baat had to battle hard to finish within the time cut in the final stages of the Tour de France Femmes. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Next year De Baat will be riding the Belgian Spring Classics as national champion which will undoubtedly be a special experience. And her Plantur-Pura team has applied for a Women’s WorldTour license.

“I never thought I would still make it up to WorldTour level,” De Baat says. “In Dubai I had decided to take a next step in life and focus on coaching and training riders but now I am at a level that I can go on for a few years more. I absolutely want to try and raise my own level so I can help our leaders deep into the final of the big races.

“Winning a race myself is always fantastic but realistically speaking I hope to help my teammates win something big. Julie [De Wilde] is so strong but sometimes also still very rash. If I can help and adjust that in the final, we can still make huge progress.”