Inside Shirin van Anrooij’s incredible holiday racing period

A deep dive into Shirin van Anrooij's remarkable success during one of the most intense racing periods in cycling

No women’s rider won more races during the daunting, jam-packed period of holiday cyclocross racing known as the “Kerstperiode” than Baloise-Trek’s Shirin van Anrooij. She started six elite level races from Dec. 23 to Jan. 8 and won five of them. She won by margins big and small. Her two most recent wins — a X20 Trofee race in Koksijde and a World Cup race in Zonhoven — came on sandy courses that exemplified bike handling skills beyond her 20 years of age.

Van Anrooij is now in third place on the World Cup standings, behind two other Gen Z stars in Fem van Empel and Puck Pieterse, after winning back-to-back races in the series. She is up to three career elite World Cup wins after winning her first in Beekse Bergen last November. Back then, she said that the win was unexpected, “a dream,” that many others around her believed she could accomplish this season, but that she wasn’t sure she could grasp. Now, what was a career highlight a few weeks ago could become a footnote in a season that still has its biggest races to come.

Shirin van Anrooij celebrating her win in Koksijde with the crowd.

Van Anrooij said after her win in Zonhoven that she is feeling more confident than ever in her fitness and skill. Last year, she fell just short of several big wins over the second half of the season, including taking second place in a photo finish behind Puck Pieterse at World Championships in Fayetteville. Ahead of her holiday gauntlet this year, Van Anrooij participated in the Trek-Segafredo road team camp in Spain, and exited the training block excited to race.

“During Worlds in the US last year, I still did not have the confidence that I needed to be able to win that race,” Van Anrooij says. “I really just made a switch in my head when I came back from training camp to the Christmas period. I knew that I had improved because I could see it in my power numbers. I went for it, and I just did not think about everyone around me anymore. I just focused on my own race, and I think it’s one of the first times ever that I really just believed that I could do it instead of looking up to the other riders around me.”

The Kerstperiode is one of the most intense stretches of racing in all of cycling. Last year, Lucinda Brand, Van Anrooij’s teammate and 2021 Cyclocross World Champion, described waking up after a race in Hulst the next day feeling like “a truck ran over me.” Van Anrooij is taking time to decompress from the holiday period. She felt even more exhausted this year than she did last year “when I wasn’t one of the race favorites.” On the Monday after Zonhoven, she went to a concert with her boyfriend, and she’ll be sitting out Dutch Nationals this weekend to rest up.

Van Anrooij thrived in the sand in Zonhoven.

But though she appreciates some much-needed recovery, the Kerstperiode is also one of Van Anrooij’s favorite times of year. Her coaches are very careful that she doesn’t overextend herself, given that she races around the calendar for both Baloise-Trek and Trek-Segafredo. But during the Kerstperiode she is free to race full gas, without restrictions. 

“I always know that when the Christmas period is there, they can’t say that I’m not allowed to race so many races, because everyone does it,” Van Anrooij says. “After December training camp with the road team, I came back stronger and I knew that I was at a better level than before, and I just needed racing to become stronger in the races and to believe in myself.”

The way Van Anrooij performed in the sand was perhaps the clearest sign that her confidence had taken a leap. After her wins in Koksijde and Zonhoven, many theorized reasons why beach-y courses suited her, but the simple truth is that Van Anrooij is riding at an impeccable level at the moment.

All smiles after winning in Loenhout.

“Some people point out that I live two kilometers away from the beach and the sea and they’re always talking about, ‘Yeah, you can ride through the sand.’ But I never do it at home,” Van Anrooij says. “Somehow when I’m racing through the sand, I’m not scared and I’m not thinking and I just go for it. Even in Zonhoven on De Kuil where everyone was crashing, I don’t know, I’m just not afraid and I really enjoy it.”

On the weekend of her 21st birthday, Van Anrooij will be in Hoogerheide for World Championships and a chance to earn the rainbow stripes again after winning the junior title in 2020. A lot can change in a few weeks’ time, but there’s no question that, right now, she’s ready to take on anyone. She also has a history of showing up in big races. Van Anrooij won the U23 European Championship in 2021, as well as U23 road and time trial European Championships as a member of Trek-Segafredo.

No matter what happens in Hoogerheide, Van Anrooij is grateful for the support around her, from both teammates and staff. Team leaders Sven Nys, Karen Ramakers, and Eric Braes have been particularly encouraging before races.

The fun is just getting started.

“They’re there, talking to me and reminding me of the things that I did well in races like in Beekse Bergen, and that I should build confidence out of that, and that I needed to start believing in it as well,” Van Anrooij says. “They told me that if I start believing in it, that it would pay off and that it would show in my results. And yeah, it did.”

However the rest of the season shakes out, one thing is certain: Van Anrooij’s time to shine has come. She’s no longer an exciting young prospect; she’s a viable candidate to win every race she enters. That doesn’t mean she no longer has room to make mistakes, learn, and grow, but it does mean we can look forward to Van Anrooij influencing the pointy end of races for years to come. 

Van Anrooij’s racing career is just getting started, and it has already been so much fun.