Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Chantal van den Broek-Blaak to link up with SD Worx for first camp since giving birth

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Chantal van den Broek-Blaak is set to return to training with her team six months after giving birth to her daughter.

The 34-year-old, who last raced at the Simac Ladies Tour in September 2022, gave birth to her daughter Noa at the end of May. The former world champion started training for the first time in July, seven weeks after the birth.

Van den Broek-Blaak will be joining up with her SD Worx squad in Spain this week, the first time she’s been with the team since becoming a parent. She is yet to reveal when her racing return will be, but plans for that will likely be devised when she links up with her team.

“Time has flown by in the past half year. We are loving every moment with our little girl. Each day brings new surprises and joys,” Van den Broek-Blaak wrote in a post on Instagram late last week. “Slowly but surely, we are finding our rhythm. Balancing my husband’s work, my training, and parenthood is a real team effort.

“I needed time to recover from pregnancy, both physically and mentally. And I’m still not there. Being a mom is the most beautiful thing in life. It fills each day with so much love and meaning. However, letting go and entrusting Noa to others has proven to be much harder than I anticipated. Even if I know she is with loving people.”

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Van den Broek-Blaak was one of several riders that took maternity leave this year with her Dutch compatriot Ellen van Dijk and British former hour record holder Joss Lowden also giving birth this year.

Training to gain race fitness while caring for a child has been a new experience for Van den Broek-Blaak.

“Staying fit and healthy has also been a challenge. I have never been sick as often as I have been in the last 3 months. It feels like I’ve caught every baby virus out there,” Van den Broek-Blaak said. “But next week, I’ll be joining Team SD Worx for my first training camp. It will be the first time without Noa, which I know will be challenging. But I am also looking forward to it.

“In the new year, we are all going to soak up some vitamin D in Spain. Parenthood is a journey that I never underestimated. But I did underestimate the importance of my own recovery and well-being. It’s easy to forget about yourself. I’ll take this journey step by step and day by day.”

Maternity leave is still a relatively new concept within women’s cycling after it was introduced in 2020 with the advent of the Women’s WorldTour. Previously, very few women had stepped away from the sport to have a child and returned to racing, while even fewer had been paid by a team while they were on maternity leave.

Van den Broek-Blaak’s former teammate Lizzie Deignan was the most high-profile rider to take time out to have a child and then continue to race — she came back this year after having her second child. Numbers are still relatively low, but a growing number of riders have taken paid maternity leave since it was introduced three years ago.

In the past, many female riders would end their careers early with a view to starting a family. Indeed, Van den Broek-Blaak had planned to quit racing in the summer of 2022, in part to have children.

She made the announcement in May 2020 before SD Worx (then Boels Dolmans) had made the step up to WorldTour. However, when the time came to step off the bike, she realized that she wasn’t ready and reneged on that planned retirement.

By 2022, SD Worx was a WorldTour squad and Van den Broek-Blaak was able to make the most of the paid maternity leave when she fell pregnant at the end of the season. It may be a while longer before riders taking maternity leave is a very common occurrence, but it is already doing what it was made for, which is keeping riders racing longer than they might have done previously.

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