THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Monique van der Vorst has completed a remarkable transformation — from Paralympic athlete to road racing cyclist with a top professional team.
The 27-year-old Dutch athlete has been signed by the Rabobank women’s team, meaning the former wheelchair and handcycle racer will now line up against elite able-bodied riders.
“My development has been very quick. I never could have imagined one year ago I would be here,” Van der Vorst told The Associated Press. “All the training I did in the last 10 years gives me a good base.”
Van der Vorst lost the use of her legs as a young teenager following ankle surgery. Her drive and determination quickly saw her winning handcycle races and earned her two silver medals in the handcycling road race and time trial at the Beijing Paralympics.
Last year, after a crash in training, she began getting the feeling back in her legs and eventually managed to walk again.
A coach loaned her a bike as Van der Vorst continued her rehabilitation and now she is joining the likes of Marianne Vos — silver medallist in the road race at the world championships in September — in the Rabo team.
“Cycling with arms or legs, tactics, corners are almost the same,” Van der Vorst said.
Van der Vorst said her initial goal is just to keep pace with the peleton in women’s racing, but she has also set her sights on competing in the road race at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“That is my ultimate goal,” Van der Vorst told The Associated Press.
Rabobank team manager Jeroen Blijlevens said Van der Vorst still has much to learn, but believes her presence in the team will motivate the other riders.
“She has the right mentality, willpower. She has proved that in her career in adapted sports,” Blijlevens said. “She wants to race and we are going to support her in that.”