I picked up cycling when I was seven years old. The first racing bike I ever rode was a borrowed one from the local club. I only came to training to watch my sister, but then they offered me a bike. I immediately liked it and not much later I had my very own one. Just a few months after that session I was already competing.
I have many good memories of my time with my local team. I remember looking up to guys like Nikki Terpstra, Ramon Sinkeldam, and Rick Flens. Professional riders who had all been in the position I was in at the time. You would see them out riding in the area and the fact they had the same coaches and training program made me think "maybe I could be like them".
During my childhood and early teenage years, I was juggling two sporting passions. I was quite dedicated to becoming a professional ice skater, as well as a professional cyclist. In the winter I was always skating. It's something I love to do. But when I started winning bike races in juniors, at the age of 17 and 18, that's when I focused more on cycling. It was becoming more of a realistic ambition.
My dream of becoming a pro rider started to come together when I won one of the first classics solo by quite a big lead. It was a very big surprise for everyone, including me! Not long after, I joined the national team and the next year I joined the Rabobank Development Team, the best development team in the world at the time.
In my first professional race, as a U23 with Rabobank Development Team, I remember the step being too big for me. I was completely empty and getting dropped. I spent the whole race in the back fighting to stay in touch, so it wasn't that great of an experience. However, my first racing experience in front of the professional peloton was a nice moment for me. I remember specifically being in a breakaway with Gilbert and Tom Boonen, I thought it was so cool that I didn't even focus on getting a result!