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PhD student becomes headwind cycling champion: ‘Just put your chin over the handlebars and pound the pedals’

With a headwind of 80 kilometres per hour, pouring rain and freezing temperatures, Jurjun van der Velde cycles down the Oosterscheldekering. On his traditional Dutch bike with back pedal brake, he is the second PhD student from the faculty to win the title.

'Don't think too much, hang so far over your handlebars that your chin almost touches the front wheel and pedal really hard.' This is the tactic with which Jurjun says he won the race. As one of the three hundred participants, he drives to the Oosterscheldekering in Zeeland when the organisers announce that the headwind is strong enough. They are 'lucky' because a code yellow storm has been predicted. Each on an identical Dutch bike without gears, the participants can start the race.

The cold and heavy rain made the 8.5-kilometre race even more intense. Jurjun himself took 20 minutes and 22 seconds to finish. 'It was a very tough race, but the storm only makes it more beautiful and heroic,' says Jurjun. 'It would have been a pity if it had been almost windless.'

Jurjun finished first


In 2018, he also participated but finished just shy of a podium place. Of course, he is extremely happy and proud that he can now call himself the winner. ‘You get a medal and a T-shirt, but it's all about the eternal glory of course.’

What possesses someone to start a race during a headwind, is a question he often gets. 'There is no good answer. As a mountaineer once said when asked why you would climb Mount Everest: because it’s possible. In my spare time, I do some cycling at amateur level and this is just a nice extra challenge.’

Source: organisatie NK Tegenwindfietsen

Second champion

The best moment of the race was warming up after the finish. 'I was exhausted and above all soaked and chilled because of all the wind and rain in my face.' A day after his victory, Jurjun gets back to work on his PhD research. At LACDR, he is researching the role of RNA splicing in breast cancer metastasis at the Division of Drug Discovery & Safety.

Remarkably, he is not the first PhD student of the faculty who can call himself national champion headwind cycling. In 2017, it was chemist Teun Sweere who took home the title. Coincidence or not, we can surely say that faculty is full of multidisciplinary talent. 

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