Introducing: Botje Racing

Words:
Mitch Wells & Michael Back
Photography:
Mike Vlietstra
It might seem to most as an unconventional approach to constructing a race team, with a focus on two riding disciplines that couldn't be further apart, fixed crits and gravel racing, Botje Racing has both the NL Crit series and major gravel races aligned down their sights.
It might seem to most as an unconventional approach, to construct a race team with a focus on two riding disciplines that couldn't be further apart, fixed crits and gravel racing, but Botje Racing has both the NL Crit series and major gravel races aligned down their sights. The team makes a return to racing this weekend in Rotterdam and are looking to give the defending Champion and teammate Cornelius Kersten the best start to the season possible.
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Botje Racing comprises of six riders, all carrying with them a mixed bag of accolades and individual strengths, coming together to form a cohesive team. A professional ice skater, an accountant, a fashion photographer, a student and a father are just a few of their impressive vocations, but it is their attitude towards the competitive side of racing and adventure that appealed to our wild side, thus began our partnership.
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To match the nature of the team and introduce them in a more intimate light, we caught up with the riders ahead of the first race of the season. We asked a series of ‘not your average’ interview questions. And, weren’t we surprised with some of the answers. Enjoy.
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RIDER PROFILE:

Jan-Willem Groeneveld

Rider | @jhgroeneveld

 

Pro Cycling Stats tells us that you’ve raced in some exciting places.

I have been to races in a bunch of countries. The most interesting are probably Congo, Togo, Albania, Iceland, Vietnam, Madagascar, Burkina Faso and Russia. If I were a writer, I could probably write a book about every race I've been to but let me focus on some highlights.

Togo, first of all, is beautiful! At the start of the first stage we were supposed to check out of our hotel. We all took our luggage out of our room and we were convinced by our Director Sportive that our luggage would be picked up from the curb of the hotel after we left. Obviously, it's super shady to just leave your luggage on a random curb in the middle of a capital city in Africa and of course, our luggage got stolen, including all of our passports. We went the next five days without our belongings, only having our kit to wear and some small items we had in our hand luggage in the team car. After several days our luggage was actually found.

Congo was my first race in a really foreign place, and what an experience, Vice even wrote an article about our experience. Half of the stages were cancelled, there was 'some political unrest' in the country, we were flown out to some city in Congo, only to fly back to where we came from without leaving the aeroplane.

 

“The race organiser was temporarily locked up in jail.... and on one transfer, our bus driver tried to stay awake by huffing some kind of white powder. Needless to say, the biggest adventure ever!”

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RIDER PROFILE:

Cornelius Kersten

Rider/Pro Speed Skater | @corneliuskersten

 

You recently started your own coffee business, with plans to fund your own campaign to compete at the 2022 Olympics as a mid-long distance speed skater, representing Great Britain. Tell us more.

Long track speedskating is a beautiful but quite an unknown sport, particularly in the UK, without a single 400m rink in the country. I’m a dual citizen, so I’ve made the decision to race for GB. Speed skating is a sport that requires quite a lot of international travel, to compete at races, World Cups and training camps. The different forms of cross-training and the necessary facilities to be competitive at the Olympic level, like access to weight equipment, ice rinks, inline rinks etc. can be quite expensive. Since speed skating is so obscure, it is very hard to find funding through sponsorship. So we decided to try and fund our campaign ourselves.

My partner Ellia and I have been passionate about coffee for a long time now. Whenever we travelled around for World Cups, training camps or other competitions it would always be hard to find good coffee. In order to have good coffee, we would always bring our own beans, grinder and usually a V60 or AeroPress. During our travels in Japan, we discovered single cup filters with pre-ground coffee in it, so you can make yourself a good cup of pour-over coffee easily wherever you are. When we returned home, we couldn’t find it anywhere. So we decided to start producing them ourselves. Using one passion to support the other.

We put our favourite beans together and came up with three blends and two single origins, all named after specific athlete’s characteristics with colourways inspired by the Olympic rings. This is also where the name Brew ’22 came from, we want to use our company to ‘brew’ ourselves to the ’22 games.

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RIDER PROFILE:

Kaj Verhaegh

Rider | @kajverhaegh

 

Tell us about your original professional cycling aspirations and your journey.

When I started cycling, I always wanted to make it to a professional level and was in a regional cycling program, racing a lot of UCI races, I was on the right pathway. But when I tore my knee ligament and got mono in the same winter, I had a hard time coming back to the level I was before and eventually lost the motivation for it. After that, I got to know a few guys who rode fixed gear and began doing that for fun, but that passion for racing returned and quickly escalated into racing fixed crits all over the world.

 

Tell us something your mum doesn’t know.

My Mum doesn't know about a lot that happened on my bikepacking trip in Israel and Jordan. That our bikes got stolen, and we got held hostage, and they tried to extort us for cash when we wanted our bikes back. There was also this one time that I crashed in Burkina Faso.

 

“They had to sew the wound on my hip with fishing line. Yeah, I still don’t think mum knows about that one.”

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RIDER PROFILE:

Martijn van Strien

Rider/Video Storyteller | @fernwee.cc

 

You’re the oldest but the least experienced cyclist in the group. How did you first get into cycling?

I worked as a bike messenger while I was studying, but after I graduated, I didn’t touch a bike for five years. My Dad has always ridden race bikes as a commuter and he asked me to go on a trip to the Dolomites with him three years ago. I fell back in love with cycling and just wanted to discover as many sides of it as possible, including racing. Three years later, I can’t imagine ever not riding.

 

In a former life you were obsessed with sustainability and started a fashion design studio based around this premise.

Yeah I spent about five years trying to develop a more sustainable way to produce clothing. The whole idea of it was that we would only create garments when and where they were needed. Right now a lot of clothing is produced that never gets sold, let alone worn, and I thought I could figure out a way to eliminate this. Let’s just say that I needed a break. I picked up a bike, and haven’t looked back since.

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RIDER PROFILE:

Mike Vlietstra

Rider/Photographer | @mikevlietstra

 

You've been riding for a long time. What got you started so early and did you have much success in your early racing years?

You can actually race when you are only eight in the Netherlands. Small races of 8 laps of just over a kilometre are held every Saturday and Sunday in a different village or city. I had been on vacation with my grandfather and grandmother for a week and when I returned my Father had refurbished a yellow bicycle for me, I immediately fell in love.

I had some success as a young boy, having actually finished in the top 3 riders in the Netherlands, and it was very nice to be constantly winning races on the weekends. When I was 12 I became Dutch National champion, which also means in the Netherlands that you can ride in a beautiful red, white and blue jersey for a year. In later years, racing in higher categories, I was able to win a few classics in the Netherlands and Belgium, but before things got too serious, I was committed to my studies at university and stopped pursuing cycling professionally.

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RIDER PROFILE:

Jelmer Broekstra

Rider/Manager/Photographer | @botje

 

Botje translated in Dutch is small bone or as the team defines it and we translate it to Australian: ‘Skin and bones’ which is best used to describe team manager Jelmer.

 

Do you feel differently about the risks involved in fixed crit racing now that you’re a father?

I must say that being a father for 3 weeks hasn't affected my riding style on the bike, yet. Maybe this additional weight of responsibility will kick in once racing begins.

 

We heard you’re pretty vocal at races when coaching from the sidelines.

Yeah, I can be pretty loud sometimes. I try to motivate the team and try to give them some valuable info about the situation in the race that they can't see while on the bike. My most used phrase is: “GET TO THE FRONT!”