Charlotte Kool: ‘I love playing the game of sprinting, you only have one shot’

The 24-year-old Dutch rider has seamlessly stepped up from leadout rider to sprint star this season, pushing her former leader Lorena Wiebes.

Photo: Stephen Pond/Getty Images

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Charlotte Kool has been one of the standout riders this season, jostling with her former leader Lorena Wiebes as the fastest woman in the bunch.

The Team DSM rider spent last year guiding Wiebes to many of her 22 wins last year and hardly missed a beat when she stepped into the sprinter role for 2023, racking up seven wins already.

Kool was previously the main sprinter at the NXTG squad, but this year is the first time that she has assumed the role at such a high level. It has been patently clear since her opening race of the season — where she beat Wiebes in a sprint at the UAE Tour — that she isn’t concerned about the additional pressure.

“I’m always just super excited to play the game. For me, [sprinting] really feels like a game. You try to save the whole race as much energy as possible and only last 250 meters you can go,” Kool told Velo. “It’s an explosion of all the energy you saved all day. You only have one shot, one chance and that’s just something special.

“Everything has to go right, and if you know that you feel strong, it’s a really nice feeling to go into the bunch and wait for the perfect timing and then just go.”

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With Kool’s success already this season, it is hard to not start thinking about what else she could achieve in cycling, but the 24-year-old does not want to spread herself too thinly so early in her career.

Kool can handle herself over tough rolling terrain, as she showed at the RideLondon Classique last week where she took two stage wins and could have taken a third but for a late crash. However, she’s not interested in developing her climbing skills much further as she wants to continue developing her sprint, at least for now.

“I’m really a pure sprinter and we also trained me to be a sprinter. For sure, we have a future plan and there is a belief that I can do way more than only being a sprinter but for now, I and the team want to focus on the sprints,” Kool said. “We want to develop slowly towards the rest, but not the first step because we don’t want to lose his top sprint.

“That’s my biggest strength and it could be that if you change fast toward being more of a classics rider, you lose it and then maybe are not good. Maybe in the future, we will focus on Flanders and this kind of classic, but for now, most of the time we focus on sprint.”

While women’s cycling is slowly developing to have much more specialized roles within rosters, there’s still a major element of riders needing to be all-rounders way more than the men’s peloton.

Riders like Tadej Pogačar are changing views of specialization in men’s racing, but it was much less of a surprise when Annemiek van Vleuten won the Tour of Flanders and the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in the same season, or Elisa Longo Borghini won Paris-Roubaix and finished sixth at the Tour last season.

“I feel as a female cyclist you need to be also more often all-around rider. If you look to the Tour de France this year the stages are quite hard,” Kool said. “Gent-Wevelgem is more difficult than for the guys because also in minutes, the climbs are shorter. And for us, it’s longer because longer for us to go up. All the big races are, most of the time, hilly or there are hills, and I feel sometimes the men have more real sprint stages.”

Despite the limited number of true sprint days available on the calendar, there are still plenty for Kool to rack up enough wins to put her equal second on the overall victory tally table so far this season.

From speed skating to sprinting

Like many riders from the Netherlands, Kool came to cycling after initially beginning her sporting career in speed skating. Both Ellen van Dijk and Demi Vollering also followed that path, though Kool’s switch of sports came much more early on.

After joining a club, she quickly showed some talent at cycling and was convinced to start racing aged just eight.

“I started speed skating and they said I had to do cycling to get my endurance better. My dad was like, ‘I’m not going to just let you ride on the roads.’ I was really young, I think eight years old,” she said. “Then we went to a cycling club nearby and they said, ‘okay, you’re going to train two times in a week in the summer with this club, and with all eight-year-old girls and boys. So, you will enjoy it and be safe on a circuit. That way I came into this and then they started to say you need to do races, I think you can do well.”

As soon as she started racing, it became clear early on for Kool that she had a fast burst of pace that would lend itself well to sprinting. It came as a little bit of a surprise to her as she did not have that when she was skating.

Kool’s sprint made her tough to beat, so much so that one of her peers asked her to let him take the win on one occasion.

“On the ice rink, I was not a sprinter at all, but on the bike I was. All those kids wanted to attack and wanted to ride as fast as possible and I was always on the limit,” she said. “I was always there because I had a sprint to go to them, but I couldn’t help them in the chase. I was always the one who was annoying in the back of the break, who couldn’t take turns, I was just sitting in a wheel, and when the sprint came, I always sprinted away from them.

“They always made a plan to drop me or to yell at me, but I wanted to ride because I didn’t want them to be mad at me. But I just couldn’t, and I could always sprint, so I was sorry. I was a real sprinter as a younger girl and even one time a boy came to me and he said ‘Charlotte, please let me win today. Because if I win, I get new wheels from my dad.’ I was like no, you just need to drop me.”

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