On March 1, 2020, it will be the tenth time in Berlin that they will compete against each other in a race at the highest level, the friends Harrie Lavreysen and Jeffrey Hoogland, track cyclists by profession. Just like a year earlier, they have qualified for the World Cup final of the king number, the individual sprint. Then Lavreysen won by hand. A year later, Hoogland gets a second chance. As a duo they already became world champion in team sprint twice. But that doesn’t count right now.
Hoogland is outclassed again, does not even come close to revenge. While Lavreysen tells his story with a smile, Hoogland collapses in the middle area of the Berlin velodrome. He hurls chairs and then falls forward, only to lie there crying for minutes. “I just didn’t take it that I had so little chance against him,” says Hoogland a little later. That’s how high the tension was. Lavreysen: „I have never seen him like this before. But maybe this will motivate him again.”
It was the last race that the two would drive for the time being. The coronavirus broke out and also brought global track cycling to a standstill. The Olympics were postponed by a year and both had no choice but to keep training very hard and simulating competitions. In an empty Omnisport in Apeldoorn they pretended three times; one time they drove a fake EC. For that ‘tournament’ they stayed at the local Van der Valk hotel, as always during an important match. In the sports hall they turned on the competition lighting and turned up the heating. Charging wasn’t much of a problem. “My biggest competitor drives around here,” said Lavreysen, referring to Hoogland.
Share a hotel room
The two bring out the best in each other. None of them want to be inferior to the other. It brings pressure at the same time, with every training session. A luxury position, says Hoogland: “I can train against the best in the world. I think every athlete is jealous of that.”
In Tokyo they have not had a competition for a year and a half. Still, they start out as title favorites. Tuesday first side by side in the team sprint. Three days later as rivals on the sprint.
For years they share a hotel room prior to a big race. That once started by chance, but now they have become familiar with it. Then they watch movies and series together. They don’t talk about cycling. Hoogland (28) does not consider that relevant. Only when they enter the velodrome do they park their friendship. They live in Apeldoorn, less than three minutes apart. Hoogland: „I know all his tricks. Know what he does and what he doesn’t.”
After the postponement of the Games, Lavreysen (24) refused to look too far ahead. He doesn’t like that anyway. He turned the situation around in his favor. “I am still young and not at my peak. I was given extra time to develop myself, tried to see it positively. I started training my shoulders. As a result, I have gotten better from a standstill. When I turn it on, I have more control over my bike.” Jeffrey Hoogland listens to the story with a smile: „He has gotten better? He thinks so, yes.”
Also read: this piece from 2019 about developing the perfect track bike for the Games
Hoogland had more trouble with the lockdown and the lack of perspective without competitions, he says. “Mentally, in terms of motivation, I sometimes had a hard time. That you think: what am I doing all this for? I also felt quite alone at times.” While Lavreysen picked up his business administration studies due to the postponement of the Games and moved in together earlier than planned, Hoogland enlisted the help of a sports psychologist. He worked with them before, after the Rio Games, which ended in a soft spot (no medals) and made him doubt himself. He gained insight into his own feelings. “I didn’t lose myself because of that,” he says.
Jeffrey Hoogland and Harrie Lavreysen, the talented flierefluiter versus the cold-blooded analyst – exaggerated, but in principle true. They often differ little from each other on the track. They are powerhouses, with thighs like blocks of granite. Both world class. But their personalities are far apart.
Lavreysen, the younger of the two, never comes to the track without a race plan. He likes to play with numbers and can disappear for hours in his opponents’ movies. Immediately after a race, still bulging and panting on his bike, his cogs start to turn. When he has completed his lap in the team sprint, he can quickly estimate what the final time will be. When asked about his record on the leg press in the weight room, the answer is resolute: “That is 430 kilos. With one leg.”
Highland is very different. Weightlifting records mean nothing to him. He is not satisfied with that. He needs something tangible; a medal or a jersey. Not that he proudly hangs them up at home in Apeldoorn. Being satisfied is for later, so is looking back. It would also be quite confrontational for his girlfriend, fellow track cyclist Shanne Braspennincx, who taught him to adopt a more professional lifestyle after Rio, and with success. Until then, it all came to Hoogland. He came a long way on his talent. But his girlfriend showed him that he could go much further if he went to bed on time at night and said “no” more often to his friends.
She never became world champion herself and therefore does not have a rainbow jersey. It’s annoying enough for her that she sometimes has to hang her partner’s, four in total, on the clothesline. Lavreysen’s jerseys – there are now six, he is the best Dutch track cyclist ever – hang on the wall. Noor, his girlfriend, does not come from sports. She is still a student and works at camping De Paal in Bergeijk.
Bones hear crunch
The two have dreamed of the Games since they were children. Lavreysen saw the magic on TV, Hoogland turned a medal into ‘a life goal’. They also share their background. Hoogland and Lavreysen both started on the BMX bike. Accidents in the sport, which became more and more dangerous and spectacular over the years, led them to switch to the velodrome, another discipline where explosiveness is required. When Hoogland broke through on the track, with three golds at the European Championship track cycling in 2015, Lavreysen was driven to despair on his cross bike. His shoulders dislocated with every crash. Sometimes he could hear the bones crunch. A few months after the Rio Games, he reported on the velodrome. That discipline is less prone to injury. He appeared to have talent, but did not immediately win. At the Dutch National Championships in 2016 he rode the final in the sprint. He lost it. From Jeffrey Highland.
Since then, they also both ride the team sprint, as the fastest in the country. That part is ridden by three riders. Roy van den Berg is the best starter and takes care of the opening round, Lavreysen drives the middle section, and Hoogland is the finisher. That composition has been unbeatable for three years now. They became world champions in both 2019 and 2020. In Berlin even with an improbable world record, more than a second faster than the number two, Great Britain. Such differences are unprecedented in track cycling.
Separately, they say that, if all goes well, they will set another world record together in Tokyo. In training they were faster than ever. “I would like to be a bit more modest, but those times are just on paper,” says Lavreysen. “And I don’t want to worry too much about the result.” Hoogland: „I know that Harrie does not feel comfortable speaking out so firmly. I understand that too. But I think if we stay focused, we’ll take gold. That really just has to happen.”
After that, the teammates become rivals again. Losing Van Harrie is extra bitter, says Hoogland. “Because I did exactly the same preparation and could watch him all the time. Now I want to win once.”