Just under a year ago, she mainly cycled for fun, and to be outside, in nature. It also helped her get rid of a nagging knee. From time to time she ran a student race. But it was more for fun. Certainly not with the idea of ever making her money with it. And now she will make her debut in the Tour.
Eva van Agt (25) excelled in hockey as a teenager. At sixteen, she played in the Premier League at the NMHC in Nijmegen. She could have become a professional hockey player, but knew that it is difficult to make a living in the Netherlands. So when she was eighteen, she traveled to the United States for four years, earning a scholarship to Northwestern University in Evanston, not far from Chicago. There she combined an education in mathematics and economics with top hockey. She trained there twenty hours a week. Somehow she was already leading the life of a top athlete.
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During the pandemic, she returned to the Netherlands and joined the Maastricht student cycling association Dutch Mountains. She enjoyed the trips through the Ardennes and the hills of southern Limburg. Cycling especially uphill proved to be exceptionally good for her.
Her teammates thought she should do something about it. From November she trained with a training team, the Restore Cycling Team from Pijnacker, because she herself had become curious about how far she could go.
Sports director Johan Mulder saw something special happen there during a club match, he says on the phone. “She fell, then came to the jury car to ask if she couldn’t continue. The next round she came back, but attacked a little later. And win the race. Then we knew that Eva has a great talent; her endurance is without comparison.”
It was in the Volta Limburg Classic last April that more people began to notice her abilities. She was the only out-of-contract rider in the leading group and eventually finished ninth. Frenchman Nicolas Marche, sporting director of British professional team Wahoo-Le Col, didn’t know what he was seeing. “She drove aggressively, attractively, made the race hard,” he says on Monday morning in Meaux, the start of the second stage of the Tour. “Afterwards I asked for her training folder. She already kicked the values that you belong to in the World Tour [het hoogste niveau, red.]. Then I invited her to cycle with the team during the reconnaissance of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.”
Marche wanted to see if, in addition to stepping hard on the pedals, she is also handy on a bicycle. He studied her on downhills and made her tackle water bottles at high speed next to the team leader’s car. When, after the reconnaissance, she also seemed to stand well in a group where she knew no one, he offered her a contract. Suddenly Eva van Agt was a professional cyclist.
She has loved cycling since, at the age of fifteen, she took part in the Alpe d’HuZes, the annual campaign to raise money for cancer research. She rode up not six but three times, not because she couldn’t do it more often, but because contestants under the age of sixteen are not allowed to dismount. She always had to get down in the car. Still, she has fond memories of it. She continued to take up the racing bike regularly. She loves to exercise. And she loves that cycling is so flexible. You can cycle anytime and anywhere.
In May, Eva van Agt only raced a multi-day race for the first time
But if you had told her a few months ago that she would actually be competing in the first women’s Tour de France, that the Tour would be the first race at the highest level, she would probably have thought you were crazy. She still can’t quite get it. That on a Monday morning at the end of July, on the Chemin de Morfoin in the provincial town of Meaux, she quickly puts two cakes wrapped in aluminum foil in the back pocket of her cycling jersey, just before she goes to the starting podium, and then starts the second stage of the Tour de France Femmes, a flat trip over 136 kilometers to Provins, a town in the Brie-making region.
It has all happened so quickly, she says, over the past few months. She only did a multi-day bike race for the first time in May. It feels like some kind of adventure. It’s like all sorts of puzzle pieces are falling into place. She is not yet really aware of what she is doing, where she stands. She kind of lets it all come to her. Everything is new. Big. Impressive.
When she is called to start, she apologizes for not being able to talk a little longer. She quickly pushes in another rice cake. She quickly forgot to lift her right sock.
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More than five hours later, she is still breathing in Chemin de Villecran in Provins. She crossed the finish line almost four minutes after winner Marianne Vos. It was a chaotic stage with many crashes. She herself fell to the ground. “I suddenly got a bicycle in my face,” she says dryly. “I have no idea where it came from. But I couldn’t help it.”
The left half of her body is covered in skin scrapings. Blood drips from her shin and elbow. does it bother her? Not at all. She has fallen several times. “My boyfriend says I fell more times in one year than he did in ten. I still need to learn how to ride in a pack. Sometimes it’s like a washing machine. And you need to know how it works. The hardest part was keeping my position at the front. Everyone will drive there. Then suddenly I drove back. And I thought: more!“
Physically, she doesn’t think the Tour is that hard; her favorite terrain is yet to come, next weekend. But mentally, the Tour demands a lot from her. The chaos. stress. The hectic. “You have to pay attention all the time. There are traffic islands everywhere and it’s very narrow in the French villages. But there are a lot of people cheering. It made me realize how special it is that I get to drive here . It gave me goosebumps sometimes.”
She is also proud that her grandfather can still experience this, former Prime Minister Dries van Agt, now 91 years old. He is a big cycling fan, was there when Joop Zoetemelk won the Tour in 1980. She doesn’t want to say too much about him. Because the story of other riders is just as important, she believes.
“Something like that can work against you. And I’m going to need the goodwill of the platoon.” She says that they call each other regularly. “He is full of praise for everything I do. Then he says: tribute, tribute, tribute, Eva!”