Photos by Rick Strooper / Anton Vos
Now past the mid-way point through the 2021 race season, women’s UCI Continental Team, Parkhotel Valkenburg can look back on a successful opening to the year. The team came into the new season with a fresh outlook, strongly focussed on the development of young riders; providing a platform and positive environment where they can learn and gain valuable experience through racing with the equipment and support necessary to compete at the pinnacle level of the sport.
The squad includes a number of fresh faces with the average age of the team being as youthful as 21. So far, the ambitious Dutch squad have proven their hunger and desire to step onto the professional scene with a bang, taking it to the big guns and ticking off their goals as they go by claiming a handful of top ten performances and several trips to the podium at highly ranked UCI events.
This year, they have continued to predominately race and ride on the O2 VAM, ideally suited to their varying races over mostly undulating terrain. They have also put the Factor SLiCK to the test on a number of occasions, more recently at the Dutch National Championships last month.
Through July, the team have really stepped up their game, impressively picking up stage wins at the Baloise Ladies Tour and the Tour de Feminin. Here we speak with Amber Van der Hulst and Femke Gerittse about the season so far and their aspirations for the remainder of the year.
Rising sprint sensation Amber Van der Hulst has credibly taken on a leadership role within the team at just 21. Having already proven her speed on the track when she won a Silver medal in the Madison at the 2019 European games, Amber’s sprint ability on the road was inevitable. Since joining Parkhotel Valkenburg in 2020, she has consistently improved with more road racing and experience, proving a now force to be reckoned with. With increased opportunity to go for the win this season and with the team’s backing, she sprinted to 3rd place against some of the world’s best at the GP Eco-Struct and at the SPAR Flanders Diamond Tour. At such a young age and with her driven attitude, we are confident that this is just the beginning for Amber.
Words by Amber van der Hulst
I am satisfied with my season so far. It is clear that I have made some big steps forward compared to last year. Normally I am a rider suited to flat races, because when the races are a little hilly, it becomes extra challenging for me. But throughout the season and after putting in some hard work, I’ve noticed that the hills seem a little easier and I can focus more on the final and fight for a good result. I also feel like now I have more confidence in my sprint in the final, so I do my best to arrive there with the team’s support and then to finish it off strongly. I am also so relieved and happy that we can compete in so many of the races following a difficult 2020 season.
The second stage of the Healthy Ageing Tour that included climbing the VAM-berg is the season highlight for me so far, as I finished 8th. I didn’t expect much. It was a heavy route, including a lot of hills, but it went better than predicted and that also gave me the confidence boost I needed in the hilly races that followed. At the SPAR Flanders Diamond Tour, I managed to make the podium coming in 3rd. It was a flat race, suited to the sprinters, where I needed to chill and be patient for the majority of the race – all focus on the sprint. I was then superbly delivered into the final by the team and was, therefore, able to start the last km well and start my sprint from a great position.
I am really happy with our Factor bikes. They feel perfect in every race; to climb, to sprint or even when hitting the gravel for some exploring. My favourite part of the O2 VAM is the Black Inc Integrated Carbon Barstem. It feels so comfortable and fast. I love it, especially when I’m sprinting.
ITALY TRAINING CAMP
Our Italian training camp in May was the perfect ‘reset’. Before then, we’d had a very busy race schedule, so it was nice to come together with the team, enjoy the beautiful Italian surrounds and train together. It felt good to go back to some basic endurance rides, but also some hard structured trainings blocks to rebuild for the rest of the season. We often go deeper together than when training solo, so I think it was really beneficial and the right preparation for part two of this season.
We are a young team, but the benefit of this is that we are hungry to learn a lot. What I love about this team is that we have trust in each other and push each other to our limits. On many occasions when we’re almost at the finale of a race and I’m the sprinter, the girls will ride up to me and say, ‘You can do this! Believe in yourself and focus!’. That is the dynamic of our team – we really encourage and motivate each other to achieve our best.
As a team, I hope we can ride to some more great results, where we really ride as one and communicate to get the best result possible. Personally, I hope to achieve more podium places and top ten results in hillier races. The event I’m most looking forward to now is the first ever women’s Paris-Roubaix in October.
20-year-old, first-year pro, Femke Gerittse has also ridden to some recent success at the Dutch National Championships where she placed a credible top 5 in the road race against some world-class talent. The result came after putting in a gutsy attack with several laps to go of the demanding course that included the infamous VAM-berg, fittingly aboard her O2 VAM.
As her first year on the team, she’s enjoying learning from her more experienced team mates, getting to know her Factor Bikes and thriving off the opportunity to race at the sports highest level.
Words by Femke Gerittse
I started my season at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. It was a big surprise for me to see how my condition was following the off-season, especially in these big races. Last year, I was only able to compete in three road races due to Covid. I needed a few races under my belt to get back into top shape, and I had some trouble with positioning in the beginning. From Gent Wevelgem until now, the races seem to be going really well and my results have progressively improved each week. In the Waalse Pijl, I managed to make the early breakaway that lasted for 50km. Then in late June, I rode to my best result of the season – 5th at the Dutch Nationals.
I really love the Factor O2 VAM because it’s so light and stiff. Just like the SLiCK Time Trial bike. On both bikes, I’ve really noticed that every pedal stroke just feels right and they handle so easily, allowing me to feel confident and fast out on the road.
ITALY TRAINING CAMP
Our two week training camp in Italy was really nice for the whole team. We were staying at Lake Garda, so the scenery and weather were just perfect for our training sessions. We did a lot of endurance rides, but also some interval and sprint sessions. We were there with the entire team, so it was a great opportunity to train together and to push one another. Throughout the camp, we stayed in bungalows and this gave us a nice chance to get to know each other a lot better which was good for the team spirit. In the races directly after the training camp, we noticed that immediately.
I am new to the team this year and immediately felt very welcome. It’s nice to have some experienced riders that I can learn a lot from. As of 2021, Team Parkhotel Valkenburg has a number of new young riders, including myself, so we have a lot to learn. But we get space to do that and making mistakes is ok, as that’s how we grow and improve.
Later this year, we will compete in a few U23 races, which will be a big goal for our young team and for me personally. I will also be targeting several one-day races in the Ardennes, including the Trophee Grimpeuses. I won the same race as a junior, and would love to win it again. Now that the team has won a few races, we are hungrier than ever for more.
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