Dutchman Robert Gesink has been a fixture within the top ranks of cycling virtually since turning professional in 2007. A strong all-around rider, the 30-year old Gesink has earned a reputation as a versatile rider, capable of winning one-day classics as well as stage races.
Words & Images: James Startt
After a major crash sidelined him for the Tour de France this year, Gesink bounced back with a stage win in the Vuelta a España, which in fact was also his first-ever stage win in a grand tour—a victory that could change his focus in the years to come.
Peloton: Robert, you had a heck of a season. After crashing hard in the Tour of Switzerland, you were not able to compete in one of your favorite races, the Tour de France. But then you came back strongly to win a stage of the Tour of Spain….
Robert Gesink: Yeah, absolutely. I crashed on my head in the Tour of Switzerland. At first I didn’t think it would be that hard to come back, but in the end it was a lot harder than expected. My helmet was shattered but it did its job because I just had a bump on the head. Nothing was broken and, to be honest, I thought that after a couple of days I would start to feel normal again. But I didn’t. I just kept feeling tired. I kept going out for rides and just turning around because I was just too tired. Finally I realized that I just had to accept that I wouldn’t be able to do the Tour de France.
After a while things started to feel better, but it was more like six weeks before I felt normal. But by then it was August! I did a small French race, the Tour de l’Ain, in August and that was the first time I was able to ride hard for more than two days in a row. That was a four-day race and after that we decided to do the Vuelta.
And it turned out to be a good decision! The first half of the Vuelta I rode easily, resting wherever I could. But in the second half of the Vuelta I started feeling better and I finally found my legs. Then I got into a breakaway on stage 14 in the Pyrenees and won.
Peloton: That must have just felt amazing to win that stage on the Col d’Aubisque in one of the world’s great races after being off the bike for so long!
Gesink: Oh, yeah, for sure. In addition, it was my first stage win in a grand tour so it was extra special. But cycling is like that. It doesn’t always go the way you want and it is always a lot of work to get to where you want to be in this sport. But it is always satisfying when it all works out. It’s just incredible! That’s what we ride bikes for!
Peloton: Looking back over your career, you actually have had a lot of setbacks. But you keep coming back….
Gesink: Yeah, that’s true, but I always try to focus on the positive moments.
Peloton: Well, you’ve always managed to come back and you’ve consistently had success. It is interesting because you’ve been top five in great races like the Tour de France, and won stage races like the Tour of California. But you’ve also won great one-day events like the Giro dell’Emilia or the Grand Prix races in Québec and Montréal. Because of your early success in the Tour, many thought you would be a pure stage-race specialist, but that has not been the case really! What are you best at?
Gesink: Well, I’m 30 years old now and know my place in a race like the Tour de France. I can be good, you know, top-five good, but I don’t know if I can be much better. And I have to say that my stage win in the Tour of Spain has made me think about changing my focus and concentrating more on stage wins. Winning stages is really satisfying and it’s a very different way to ride a grand tour. I don’t know if winning a stage in the Tour de France is more satisfying than finishing in the top five. But I know what it is like to finish in the top five. I don’t know what it is like to win a stage in the Tour. So maybe it is time to try and do just that! It’s a goal I haven’t yet reached.
Peloton: I remember talking with the great French rider Charly Mottet years ago and he said to me: “You know, I finished fourth in the Tour de France on two occasions. But the year I won two stages, I got a lot more recognition. People talked to me more about the stage wins than the overall.”
Gesink: Yeah, that is what I felt in the Vuelta. For a lot of people it seemed more amazing. And even for myself I think. And, in addition, when you focus on stage wins you don’t have all of the stress you have of focusing on GC, where you just have to be 100-percent concentrated all of the time. I think I’ll do that more!
Peloton: It’s funny because we spoke with your Lotto NL-Jumbo teammate George Bennett last week and he talked about how much you have helped him be more focused all of the time in a race.
Gesink: Ha-ha, well maybe we can switch! Of course, on the most important days I will still fight for position. I think my biggest strength in stage racing is my recuperation. But that is something that helps me whether I am going for stage wins or the overall. Even if I am not focusing on GC, recovering well means you can get into more breaks and have more opportunities to win stages. The third week is always my best!
Peloton: What is the race you would most like to win?
Gesink: I’d say a stage in the Tour as well as a classic like Liège–Bastogne–Liège. That said, I think a Tour stage is more realistic.
Peloton: What would you be doing if you were not a cyclist?
Gesink: Well, I would have hoped to be working on the farm with my parents. We had a nice farm of about 40 hectares (100 acres). But now that I chose cycling, I don’t think that will still be possible. Today, I live with my family in Girona, Spain. And even when I finish my career, I don’t really see picking up and moving everyone back to Holland. But my memories of growing up on the farm are just amazing. We all lived together, with my grandparents next door. I still think about it. What a great way to grow up!