Student - July 20, 2017

‘If you get fed up, you just throw your bike in the road verge’

Linda van der Nat

Soil, Water and Atmosphere student and semi-professional cyclist Jan Willem van Schip was a guest on the television programme De Avondetappe about the Tour de France. He then got on his bike and cycled home. In five days, he covered one thousand kilometres.

Van Schip, in the sixth year of his bachelor’s programme, is a talented track and road cyclist. Last year, he participated in the team pursuit on track during the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. This year, he won the Ronde van Drenthe, among others. His enthusiastic reaction after the finish of that race, in which he described his own way of cycling as a ‘snorted-up-junky style’, got him the invitation to the tv programme De Avondetappe, he says. ‘I felt honoured that they asked me. I once was on RTV Utrecht, that was fun and nice to do, but this is really huge.’

He was not nervous, and despite a bit of fear that he would not be able to tell his story decently, his national television debut went smoothly. Van Schip: ‘It’s a bit weird; you just sit there next to each other chatting like we are now, with the sole difference that it’s in some weird place in France with a tv that shows fragments of the Tour de France. It really doesn’t feel like a million people are watching you.’

At the end of the programme, he surprised presenter Dione de Graaff and the other guests at the table by telling them that he would cycle home from the location where the show was recorded: about one thousand kilometres. ‘I’ve done something similar before. After the World Tour in New Zealand in 2015, I spend six days cycling around the northern island with a buddy because we had no clue what else to do with our time. It’s a great endurance training and it seemed like a fun way to get home.’

In five days, he cycled through the empty French landscape and back to his parental home in Schalkwijk. ‘I had originally planned out a route myself, but I’m not very good at that. I had chosen the shortest route, but it led through the French bush – that really wasn’t going to work. Straight through a forest, through grasslands. I even had to walk. I eventually asked my housemate Martijn, who is also a cyclist and who is good in planning routes, to plan out a new route for me.’

Jan Willem crossed France, Belgium and Luxemburg with nothing more than a clean pair of underwear, a toothbrush, two pairs of cycling pants and slippers in a fairly large saddle bag. And he relished it. ‘I really enjoyed cycling alone. You don’t have to keep track of anyone or anything. If you feel like going left, you go left. And if you get fed up, you just throw your bike in the road verge and sit down for a bit. It really soothed me.’

It struck Van Schip how deserted France can be sometimes; there were parts where he did not see a car for three hours. Or where he had to make a 15-kilometre detour to find a supermarket. And still, wherever he arrived, he saw Dutch people. And those Dutch also saw him. ‘At one point, I arrived in a village that barely held two goats and a chicken. I was chowing down on a pizza in front of the only restaurant around, really in the middle of nowhere, and suddenly some Dutch turn up. They see me, look at my bike and say: “You don’t know us, but we know exactly who you are.” Isn’t that just nuts?’


Or that one time when he was outside a café in Belgium, drained from a series of intervals. ‘I was completely messed up; it was more like I was lying underneath the table sleeping than waiting for my plate to turn up. After eating, I went for a walk to get some ice cream and I was addressed by some Dutch who were also sitting there. They had recognised me.’

An important cycling race in Brittany is on the agenda for next weekend, Van Schip will travel to the Czech Republic toward the end of September and the European track cycling championships will be in October. In the meantime, he is trying to finish his studies. ‘I still need 18 ects for my bachelor’s, and I need to write my thesis, so the end is in sight. I’m not dying to get a master’s, more like the opposite. What I would like most is to cycle professionally, and I can’t combine that with my studies. It already is a constant cycle of giving and taking to find a balance.’

Van Schip will soon do a threshold test with the cycling team LottoNL-Jumbo. Other teams are also interested. ‘I hope to have a pro contract in January. It might sound arrogant, but I really think I’ve show I have what it takes.’

If you want to see Jan Willem’s appearance in De Avondetappe, follow this link to the broadcast of 9 July.