By Jonny Long
Dutch pro Puck Moonen has spoken out against those who won't take her seriously as a cyclist and consider her, in her own words, just a "cycling babe".
A quick skim through the comments on any of her Instagram posts, which are seen by nearly half a million followers - more than Geraint Thomas, gives another reminder of the different treatment male and female riders often receive, from the dismissive to the outright sexist.
"I find it difficult, but I also get more and more s**t about it," Moonen told In De Leiderstrui. "I hope to prove more and more in the coming years that I am more than a cycling babe. Of course, I wanted to be good from the start of my career, but there is also uncertainty about me. I get a lot of nasty reactions.
"That is, I think, envy or uncertainty on the part of the person sending the messages or comments. When people look at me with an empty look, I find that uncomfortable. I used to be bullied for a long time. They neighed because I did horseback riding. I had a crooked tooth, was small and bone-thin. All that did not help me. As a young girl, I liked fast cars, other children thought that was stupid. I was very depressed for a while. That's over now."
The 24-year-old rode with Lotto Soudal Ladies for three years, from 2017-2019, but has now switched to a new Belgian UCI outfit, Chevalmeire Cycling.
Moonen says she has ambitions to become world champion within the next four years, although a knee injury derailed her opportunities to achieve any major results with Lotto Soudal, which she says contributed to her leaving the team.
"I no longer felt taken seriously at Lotto," Moonen says. "They hardly made themselves heard, while a broken knee is still a serious injury. I did not receive any recovery program from the team itself. I felt completely left out. Did they continue to pay me? Yes, but that was about so little money that you wouldn't even notice if you didn't get it."
In cycling-mad countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands, pro cyclists are often treated as tabloid fodder in the same way footballers are in the UK - Remco Evenepoel and his girlfriend have had to deal with paparazzi posted outside their house in the past.
For Moonen, it was her previous relationship with Belgian cyclocross rider Eli Iserbyt, and now BMX world champion Twan van Gendt that captured the headlines. But despite the brand deals that are offered to a young rider with a sizeable social media following, Moonen says she isn't interested in being labelled an influencer and that it is all about bike racing.
"Shimano, for example, is assembling an entire bicycle for me at this time," Moonen says of the sort of deals she will do. "Brands must suit me, otherwise I will not attach my name to it. I once got an offer from a brand who made teeth whitening kits, really such an influencer thing, and it was for quite a lot of money, but I did not do it."
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