Yara Kastelijn. 17 years old. Second-year junior in the mud… and she’s already one of the riders called to be a star in just a few seasons. Learning from the best CX-women in the Netherlands, one of the countries where cyclo-cross has a real importance, despite her age she already fights for a place in the Dutch National team to race World Cup races and the World Championship, which she did last year thanks to her great results in elite races. Before the start of the new cyclo-cross season, we spoke with this young Dutch talent, who tells us how she sees her second season in the elite, although she’s a junior yet.
Unknown for most of the cyclo-cross fans, Kastelijn has a really amazing palmarès: “I’m five times cyclo-cross Dutch champion. I love winning, learning and racing in my national jersey.” 17 years old, absolutely in love with cycling and looking forward to be in the top, but prudently: “I enjoy studying, although I love biking even more! Cycling is my passion, I have a lot of fun when I ride on my Guerciotti. On the weekend I ride races… Well, I actually ride just one race per week because I’m young and it’s not for me to ride more races the same week.” Women’s cyclo-cross is a synonym of inequality with men’s as there’s not a real junior category, which actually has plenty of advantages according to Yara: “It’s hard, although it’s funny! I love riding with the pros. I know I can’t win a World Cup race with the elite riders, but I can learn from the riders who are better than me. Riders love to see me or another young girl who rides an international race.” Her first season racing with the pros was 2013-14, winter she’s got great memories from: “Honestly my second place in Surhuisteveen – an international race – was a win for me. Marianne Vos won. It was amazing to be on the podium with the pros..” Winning a UCI race is something Yara admits to be looking forward to, although it’s not an obsession: “It is not exactly a priority for me, but it’d be cool! I secretly hope that I can win a pro race. That’s a dream for everybody and a big dream for me. Where I start, I want to win!”, said Yara when we asked her on her 2014-15 objectives. “Winning the National Champ in January, riding the Worlds, getting good results in the World Cups I race and a top-5 in the European Championship in November are my priorities this year.”
Everything stays at home, Kastelijn’s family is always supporting her: “My brother and dad are my mechanics. My mum and sister take care of me before and after the race. My uncle also goes cheering on me in every race – he’s my biggest fan!” How did Yara started cycling? Well, thanks to her family too: “When I was 8 years old my brother Kenny went biking with a cycling club, and my dad used to cycle every Sunday with a few men from the place where I live. After a few months, my sister and I started to cycle as well. In the winter I started a CX race and I met the man who is now my coach. And now I’m the only from my family who rides races!” We asked her if she would choose cycling again, and she has no doubt: “Yes I would! I love cycling, it is my passion and my life. I want to make a job from my hobby.” Cyclo-cross is her main love, but she also likes road racing: “In the summer I’m in the national junior team. I’ve had a great season, winning seven or eight races and finishing on a 12th place at the European Champ in Nyon. I love to ride on the road, but no mud no glory!” Sadly for all those who love this sport, in the Netherlands cyclo-cross is not as followed as road cycling: “Women’s cyclo-cross is less popular than road cycling. I think girls are afraid of getting dirty in the mud but for my and another girls CX is actually important – we love to do it! I think you have to choose a discipline where you think ‘this is a good sport for me, I love it!’” says Yara, who doesn’t hide her uneasiness with the Superprestige, that won’t include a women’s general classification one more year: “It would be good for us to have a ranking at the Superprestige. I can’t win yet – that makes sense at my age – but if they want to have more women at the start you need a ranking. I wonder why junior, U23 men have it and women don’t. It’s not fair. With an official ranking TVs and sponsors would be more interested in women.”
In the last cyclo-cross season she had great moments in the mud, but she also had a nasty crash – nevertheless that didn’t impede her being back on the bike just a few weeks after the crash: “I crashed in Hasselt and my kneecap got twisted. I went to the hospital in Belgium and they helped me a lot. Later I went to the hospital in Holland and they told me that I would be off the bike for 4-6 weeks. Resting was good for me… well for my body, not for my head. After two weeks I was on the bike again. A month and a half later I raced at Huijbergen – I was nervous but I ended up on the podium, third just behind two big talents, Annefleur Kalvenhaar and Thalita de Jong. I was happy to be back and surprised because I cycled harder than ever.” She speaks on Annefleur Kalvenhaar, U23 European champ, who passed away in August after a hard crash at the Méribel MTB World Cup. Kalvenhaar was Dutch and a good friend of Yara: “Annefleur was my friend , my mate and my example. I learned a lot from her at the World Cups and the World Champ. She was a beautiful person, I miss her and she will always be in my heart. When we heard the terrible news it was terrible, nobody could believe it. This season I want to ride for Fleur, she is going to help us for sure. I will do it for Fleur.”
Yara’s greatest moment last winter was, undoubtedly, her 21st place at the World Championship in Hoogerheide: “The Worlds were amazing. So many people! I have to admit I ended up dead, the race was really tough. In the last lap I was with Spaniard Aida Nuño and before we turned the last corner I stayed on her wheel. I wanted to win the sprint and it worked. I was so happy, I smile when I think back.” Kastelijn also admits that the 2013-14 season was “a big step forward. I won the National Championship, finished on a 6th place the European, raced four World Cups and the Worlds being only 16. Last year I started a dream and I hope I can improve my results this year.” Convincing but knowing what’s her place yet, Yara Kastelijn will keep learning from the best CX-women in the Netherlands, and looking forward to race the World Cup and the World Championship. Step by step, she’ll try to be in a few years one of the best CX-women in the world.