In cycling, the role of the road captain is usually given to the most experienced rider on the team. They must be confident, tasked with instructing their teammates on tactical decisions, all while maintaining position in a hectic peloton. At crunch point, the road captain must keep a cool head, staying aware of the race situation and avoiding panic if things aren’t going to plan. It’s for this reason that the job is rarely given to young riders who might crumble under the pressure.
Marjolein Van 't Geloof of Le Col-Wahoo is one exception to this rule, however.
In 2021, at just 24-years-old she was given the job as road captain of her team, which was then known as Drops-Le Col. It’s a testament to Van 't Geloof’s character that she was trusted with such responsibility at a young age. “It was a bit of a shock that the first race of the season, they were like: 'Majo, you're captain now,' and I'm 24,” she says.
“That was a change in mindset. I felt more responsible for the team. I've grown so much as a rider because you have to think in another way about the race. You prepare a bit better, you need to really do your role. If you don't, then the whole plan falls apart. It's about the decisions you make in a final that can make or break your race.”
Even in this one answer it becomes evident that Van 't Geloof is more than capable of fulfilling such a big job. Although still in her mid 20s, “Majo”, as she is known by her colleagues, has been on UCI teams since 2018, racing some of the biggest races on the calendar. With four years at the professional level in the bank, the young Dutch woman understands the importance of tactical awareness, communication and preparation when it comes to executing a race plan.
When responding to my questions, Van 't Geloof gives full and detailed answers, she speaks with confidence and authority, but there isn’t a slight hint of arrogance in her voice. Maybe it’s part of customary Dutch directness, but the now 25-year-old is sure about the ambitions for the future of herself and her team, Le Col-Wahoo.
“We work with a system where we have some captains that look out for the girls and it's good that we can talk to each other,” she explains. “If you are in trouble or anything and you feel you cannot tell the staff, you can go to one of the other girls and try to find a solution, that builds a lot of trust and confidence in each other.”
Van 't Geloof’s road captain role doesn’t prevent her from going for her own results in races that suit her, however. Le Samyn des Dames is a cobbled semi-Classic where the Dutch talent finished in 6th place just a few days ago. Le Col-Wahoo executed exemplary team tactics in this race, organised at the front and chasing down moves to ensure that Van 't Geloof had her best chances in a bunch sprint to the line. Though only a UCI Continental ranked outfit currently, the team’s race craft was strides above some of their WorldTeam competitors.
It’s in the cobbled Classics that Van 't Geloof sees herself excelling in the future, and judging by her palmares so far, a big result is on the horizon for the Le Col-Wahoo rider. She finished in 13th place at the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes last year – a race that was memorably challenging, with only 60 riders making it to the famed velodrome within the time cut.
“Roubaix was really important to me because I'd been focusing on it for two years,” she says. “I knew that it was coming up and I was trying to do everything I could to be well prepared. The team also, we did so much for this race, and so when I got in there, I actually felt really relaxed.”
It was largely thanks to the professionalism of her team and the belief they had in her that Van 't Geloof achieved such an impressive result in Northern France last year. She notes that on previous teams, she’d immediately been given a domestique role, whereas she’s had the opportunity to race for herself in her current set-up. “I was like: okay, I know what's going to happen. Everyone was really stressed but I felt like I was one of the better ones and I was able to do this,” Van 't Geloof says.
“I actually said to Tom [Varney, Le Col-Wahoo general manager] before: no one is going to drop me on the cobbles. I felt really confident and strong. I think that's a big part of racing, you have to believe you can do it, it's not just about the legs on the day.”
Van 't Geloof places huge value on the mental aspect of racing, firmly believing that mindset can be as important as physical strength when it comes to overcoming barriers. A rider who has struggled with climbing in the past, she cites a change in mentality as a reason for her improvement in this area. “If you believe that you can suffer through a climb, you will make it,” she says. “If you see the climb coming and you're like: oh no, it's a climber kind of climb,’ you'll be dropped before it starts”
It’s not only on the bike that the Dutch rider sees value in keeping mental balance. Despite riding professionally with Le Col-Wahoo, Van 't Geloof continues to work for one day a week as a physiotherapist, finding it a welcome distraction from the inherently self-obsessive lifestyle of a pro cyclist. “I really enjoy it. It's still cycling related, but it's something else I can worry about,” she explains. “It's not just about myself the whole day, because it's really egocentric to be a cyclist. It's nice to just have a change of pace and hear other people's stories.”
The 25-year-old keeps herself busy with an array of hobbies, too. If she’s not training, you’ll likely find Van 't Geloof strumming a tune on her guitar or writing songs. “I like to keep myself busy. In corona times, I was taking up making videos and that kind of stuff. Doing different things to entertain myself, whatever I enjoyed doing. I don't like to lay in my bed and do nothing all day.”
Her results last season, like the top-15 in Paris-Roubaix and two top-5 finishes in The Women’s Tour, inevitably turned the heads of some WorldTour teams who were eager to sign Van 't Geloof for 2022. It was only with Le Col-Wahoo that she saw a future, though.
“The main thing for me is that I enjoy it. No amount of money in the world can change that for me,” she says. “Everyone knew I was going to stay with the team for another two years which put me at ease and gave me a lot of confidence. I couldn't find any other team right now that I’d rather be at instead.”
While the team are undoubtedly glad to have an asset like Van 't Geloof in their roster for 2022, the Dutch rider notes that this goes both ways. What Le Col-Wahoo offers her in terms of support and expertise is a big draw for her to remain with the squad, too. This year, former Team DSM professional Julia Soek will work as a Director Sportif with the team, something that Van 't Geloof thinks will be invaluable in developing their collective performance.
“It's a big win for the team to have Julia,” she says. “I've seen her work in the peloton before she retired and she's one of the best road captains. It's really nice to learn from her how to take this role and see what to do.”
Van ‘t Geloof expects to learn from her new teammates too. This year, Le Col-Wahoo have bolstered their climbing contingent with signings such as Spanish rider Eider Merino, who was previously with Movistar, and Lizzie Holden who transferred from Bizkaia-Durango. “It's good to see that the climbing level is going up from the whole team,” Van ‘t Geloof says. “It’s been so good and useful for me to train with them.”
The Dutch rider sees a huge improvement in the team’s strength as a whole, something that has been evident in their opening races of the season. “Now everyone can do their part and there's no one that's falling behind a bit or doesn't have the level,” she says.
Marjolein has her sights firmly set on the 16th April 2022, the date that the team will face the Hell of the North for a second time. Her result in this race last year has given her confidence and she has the motivation to keep learning each time she competes in Paris-Roubaix.
“I've got this Mathew Hayman scenario in my head. I've always remembered seeing him win. That's one of my favourite races of all time,” she says. Hayman won the 2016 men’s edition as the underdog – a victory that has gone down in cycling history.
“The way he won and the amount of attempts he had before is something that makes me think: never give up. Even if I don't have any wins in my career and just win that one by doing a Mat Hayman, I’d be so happy.”
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