Tolhoek tenth in opening stage Ruta del Sol
Antwan Tolhoek has finished tenth in the first stage of the Ruta del Sol. The 15...
Since 2007 Robert Gesink has been riding in the professional peloton. The now 34-year-old super-domestique will not think of quitting for a long time to come. For this, the Dutchman simply gets too much satisfaction from the sport. So he recently extended his contract with Team Jumbo-Visma for two years.
“Super good news”, says Gesink. “I had a contract until the end of the cycling season and it seemed a good idea to wait until the last moment with a decision. The team and I have been working together for so long that we know by now where we stand with each other. The team has gained momentum in recent years. I want to continue to be part of that. I’m only 34 and I have the feeling I’ll still be around for a while.”
Was it your idea to extend for two years?
“I have discussed with my manager whether staying longer might be an idea, but I think two years is the right choice. I enjoy what I do. I am happy with two years and happy that I can continue to focus on cycling. After that, we’ll see. In this business, you can’t look too far ahead.”
Would it be a wrong assumption for people to think you will quit in two years?
“It’s certainly not like that. I’ve been in the cycling world for a long time, but I’m not thinking of stopping yet. I have chosen to take another role in the team, the role of a supporting rider. I am not chasing my own results anymore. There are a lot of people who say to me: ‘Robert, I hope you will continue for a while, because I find it so beautiful to watch.'”
In 2007 you made your entrance into the pro peloton. A look at the team of that year shows us that only Sebastian Langeveld is still active as a professional rider.
“That’s right. I even raced with Grischa Niermann and Jan Boven was already there as well. These guys are now part of the team staff. Mathieu Heijboer, who is currently my trainer, also rode in the peloton at the time. That is nice to look back on. Because you’ve been around for so long, there are more people in management positions from my early years nowadays than there are riders who still ride in the peloton.”
You have grown into a different role and you are still very important in the team. For example, last season you were among the eight riders who made it to the Tour de France selection.
“That feels very good. My level is still good. It has become very constant over the years. You also notice that you are growing in that role. The 2019 Vuelta was the first time we managed to win a grand tour. In the 2020 Vuelta it already felt very different: more familiar. It’s no longer the first time you succeed, you more or less know what to expect. People might say, ‘You’ve ridden top ten in a big tour yourself in the past, so you must know how it works to defend a leader’s jersey’. But this is a completely different branch of the sport. I am still gaining enough experience here as well. You are never too old to learn in this business. If there is one sport that changes at lightning speed, it is cycling. I went on altitude training and trained with wattages at a young age. That was not normal back then. Nowadays, it is. Cycling has become much more professional. It’s nice to still be able to stand my ground in this sport.”
That is the sporting part. You are also called a culture carrier of the team, together with, for example, Steven and other riders in their thirties Do you understand what is meant by that?
“Of course, we have experienced the whole process of the team. For example, how we stood there watching, now many years ago, when Rabobank suddenly stopped sponsoring. Then the whole process up to now. We have experienced the entire growth. If you can take that good vibe with you and transfer it to the new generation and help them, then that is great. These young boys all prove that they can cycle well and don’t need to be taken by the hand, but perhaps there are little things that they are unsure about. I’m happy to help with that.”
"Nowadays, cycling has become much more professional."
These problems, being without a sponsor, no lasting performances. Guys who joined in 2018/2019 have not experienced that themselves. Is that an important difference?
“Yes, maybe it is. I was just talking to Paul Martens about it in the room. I used to have to drive 2.5 hours to pick up my time trial bike, and then another 2.5 hours to bring it back. Not everyone had a time-trial bike at home back then. You only really realise how good the facilities are nowadays if you have also experienced a less luxurious situation. You don’t always have to take everything for granted. That is part of the realisation of how well off we are now, that the culture here is very professional. That’s something people have worked for for years, but also something that has really grown over the years.”
How would you describe the culture of Team Jumbo-Visma?
“A very familiar culture. There are many people you know well and with whom you have shared life’s ups and downs over the years. For me, that makes it like a second family with whom you are on the road for a large part of the year. To me, this feels like a place where I have made many friends over the years and with whom I have had some great moments. And what really appeals to me in this culture is that every day you try to develop that better version of yourself. Everything is thought about beforehand in this team. Every moment is used to go the extra mile and create an advantage over the competition.”
As a team – and you personally – do you never get stuck in habits?
“No, at least we try not to. Then you have to change things. We’ve learned that over the years as well. If you can deal with that and use it to improve yourself, that’s a very good thing. I believe that this is what a top athlete should be like. You do everything you can to do your job as well and as professionally as possible.”
"From a young age I always had the dream to cycle with the biggest Dutch team."
Has it never occurred to you to choose a different team for a change, to experience new stimuli?
“In 2015 we went through a lesser year as a team, but for me personally it felt quite strange. In that year I finished sixth in the Tour, so for me it wasn’t a lesser year at all. Steven also rode well in the Giro d’Italia. At the time Lotto and Jumbo decided to put a few years on top and I myself decided that I was fine here. In the past, there were some contacts with other teams, but from a young age I always had the dream to cycle with the biggest Dutch team. That is Team Jumbo-Visma. I still want to be part of it.”
Have you also always found new goals in the renewal this team has gone through?
“Yes, actually I did. The renewal, thanks to Merijn Zeeman, among others, always meant a challenge. In the first years of my pro career, in every race I started, people expected me to ride a good classification. Actually, that went quite well. There were years when I was in the top of the UCI ranking at the end of the season, so then you did pretty well for the whole season. At a certain moment I was looking for innovation. And I have clearly found that. I am happy to be part of this fantastic team for two more years.”