Dutch rider Kirsten Wild has been successful on both the road and track for years. And with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on the horizon, the 37-year-old shows no signs of slowing down.
Wild rides with the confidence and tactical acumen of an athlete who is about to enter her 17th year of competitive racing. Take the recent Gent Six Day event in Belgium where she displayed tenacity, talent and no small amount of power en route to dominate the Omnium. Wild won the Scratch Race, tempo race and elimination race to top the standings ahead of Belgium’s Jolien D’hoore and Lotte Kopecky. Before the race, Wild had identified the pair as her main rivals, telling local media that ‘it’ll be a hard battle between us’. As has been the case so many times in her career, Wild dug deep and came out on top.
Wild has made no secret of her current ambitions, her main objective to qualify for Tokyo 2020. “That’s the thing that’s at the back of my head the whole time,” she says. “All the training and racing is about accumulating enough points to qualify for selection. I’m growing older but, for me, age is not a barrier.”
Clearly, if 2019 is anything to go by. Wild entertained the Gent crowds resplendent in the rainbow jersey, having won the Madison and the Omnium at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships presented by Tissot in Pruszków, Poland earlier in the year. Wild also rode to two gold medals at the UEC European Track Cycling Championships in Apeldoorn in her home country in the Omnium and elimination race.
Success hasn’t been confined to the boards. Wild joined the WNT-Rotor Pro Cycling Team in 2019 on a two-year contract after her previous road team, Wiggle High5, folded – and immediately set about more sprint success. She didn’t have long to wait…
On a cool, bright day at the end of March, Wild won the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne one-day race in Belgium after a thrilling finale that culminated in a mass sprint with nearly all the top sprinters. The victory proved a masterclass in sprinting with Wild nestling back in 40th with 2km to go. Her team-mate, Lisa Brennauer, was ahead in 30th and started to crank up the power around 1.5km from the finish. The move triggered Wild to take the German’s rear wheel. With 1km to go, Brennauer took the lead. Team Sunweb took over… but a patient Wild launched her successful sprint with 250m remaining to take the crown. Three days later, a buoyant Wild won Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields, again piloted by Brennauer.
Wild went on to win a further four times on the road – it would have been five but Wild was disqualified after a crash at the Prudential RideLondon Classique in July – taking her overall road tally to an incredible 108 wins. But it’s the track that’s currently uppermost in her thoughts. “I’ll start 2020 with some track but then some road stuff with De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem,” she told reporter Andrew Greaves. “I’ll then take a little break before full gas to the Olympics on the track.”
That laser focus comes from unfinished business. Tokyo would be Wild’s third Olympics. In both London and Rio de Janeiro, she failed to win a medal. A standout absence for an athlete with such a glittering palmares, especially as success, on the face of it, has always come easy for Wild.
Wild was born and raised in Almelo, the Netherlands, and at the age of 13 the seeds of her cycling career were sown when she took possession of her first race bike. The idea was to go touring around her home country with her brother, Werner, and father. But that wasn’t enough for Werner or Kirsten, both applying for race licences, Werner in mountain biking and Wild on the road.
To start with, Wild’s natural talent was nurtured by local association AWV de Zwaluwen before progressing further under the watchful eye of Wim Kruis at the UCI team @Work Cycling Team. Here, Wild achieved her first podium places. After two years, she moved to the AA Drink-Cycling Team and won her first road race, Omloop door Middag-Humsterland. At the time, she juggled cycling with her studies and work as a Physical Education teacher. Wild balanced the two until going full-time in 2009 with the Cervélo TestTeam.
The move paid off with numerous victories on the road. But it was on the track that Wild would really make a name for herself, finishing second in the world rankings in both 2009 and 2010. From there, well, Wild won the European Championships, UCI World Cup and UCI World Championship titles, with three track gold medals – Omnium, Points and Scratch – at the 2018 UCI Track Cycling World Championships presented by Tissot in Apeldoorn.
At a time in her career where many riders are starting to slow down, Wild’s seemingly doing the opposite. It means, once qualified, she will head to Japan primed to end her Olympic drought. Like Wild said, “age is not a barrier to success”.