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Earlier this year, Evy Kuijpers found herself recovering from heart surgery at age 27. The Dutchwoman, who rides for Human Powered Health, had to sit on the sidelines instead of training full bore for the classics that she loves. But now Kuijpers is back at it, and is ready for her second start at Paris-Roubaix Femmes.
“I had ablation surgery at the end of February,” she said. “I hadn’t had any problems, but they found something and wanted to address it. If they hadn’t, perhaps I could have had a problem in a month, a year… at some point in the future.”
An ablation is a procedure used to treat irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmias, and it’s not uncommon to meet a cyclist who has undergone one.
Kuijpers is one of the guiding veterans on Human Powered Health, whose roster includes a number of young Americans like world junior silver medalist Kaia Schmidt and national junior road champion Makayla MacPherson, who are both 18.
But instead of leading the team at full strength for the classics, Kuijpers has had to build steadily back up to top form.
“It is pretty hard to get back into these races,” Kuijpers said of the spring classics, where she started but didn’t finish Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen. She was 44th at Brugge-De Panne.
“For 10 days, I couldn’t do anything after my surgery,” she said. “Afterwards, we started an easy build up. Finally, just recently, I was allowed to do everything in training again.”
“We have a lot of sick people in the team, so I had to race earlier than planned,” she said of the March races. “De Panne was a good race to restart, but the level is so high at the moment, you have to be really well trained.”
Now Kuijpers is set to start Paris-Roubaix Femmes on Saturday.
“I really love the cobbles,” she said. “I did it last year, but it was super hectic with the wet conditions. Let’s try a dry condition this year.”
Despite her passion for the classics, Kuijpers knows that the second half of the season will be when she is in peak form, and she hopes to make the team for the Tour de France Femmes — “Everyone wants to race that.”
Still, she said she appreciates the understanding of team management at Human Powered Health. She formerly raced for Liv Racing and its previous incarnation, CCC-Liv.
“The team is super supportive. With the heart issue they really want to help me out,” she said. “I am not going to say that Americans see cycling different than Europeans, but they do see it from a different perspective. I have only ridden for European teams. For example, we have been living in this house together [in Oudenaarde, Belgium] for eight weeks. And when you live more together, you get to know each other better, and that also helps in the races.”
“Right now I just need time to get to back to top fitness,” she said. “It is so hard to be patient, but the team understands completely.”
VeloNews will be covering Paris-Roubaix Femmes this weekend.