Cross training is an important part of every cyclist’s wintertime preparation and many cyclists spend some time either running or doing cyclo-cross. But for 23-year-old Dutch cyclist Timo Roosen, the winter months are a time to hit the rinks. Yes, ice rinks. The sports of speed skating and cycling have a long history. Indeed, many top cyclists came from the ranks of speed skaters—headed by Olympic skating legend Eric Heiden who went on to race grand tours and win the first USPRO Championship. Today, riders such as Roosen are keeping that tradition alive.
Words: James Startt
Peloton: Timo, you have had an interesting path to the professional ranks, as you actually started in speed skating. Tell us about speed skating. How popular is it in Holland?
Timo Roosen: Well, speed skating is still a very popular sport and the ice stadiums are always very busy in the winter. There is also a long tradition of mass-start skating events in the country that always draw big crowds. The biggest is the Elfstedentocht [the “Eleven Cities Tour”], this massive 200-kilomenter event in the north. The only problem is the weather and such events are on the decline, because, well we just haven’t had really cold winters in a while. The last Elfstedentocht was actually in 1997. And every winter when it gets below freezing people start talking about it again. But, still, skating remains a very popular sport here in Holland. And people watch the races all winter long. There are a lot of young guys that come to cycling from speed skating because cycling is the perfect summertime sport for them. That was my case, as I did a lot of regional races before concentrating on cycling, and I know a lot of guys that got involved in cycling through speed skating, like my teammate Wilco Kelderman. Actually I’ve been talking with Daan Olivier—who is joining our team [LottoNL-Jumbo] next year—about doing some skating together this winter.
Peloton: You are a tall and powerful rider [6-foot-4, or 1-meter-94] built for the classics. Does speed skating help you as a classics rider?
Roosen: Oh, I think so, yes! A 1,500-meter event in ice-skating is a very intense one-and-a-half-minute effort. And you find that sort of intensity on a road bike in the classics. You have to have that kind of explosiveness for the short intense climbs found in the classics or say a cobblestone section of road. And then the longer, mass-start skating events get you used to riding in a pack. They are hectic and you always have to keep your position, just like in the peloton.
Peloton: You just finished your second year as a professional, but you’ve already done the Vuelta a España and the Tour de France. What was it like riding your first Tour this year?
Roosen: Oh, now that was hectic! The Tour is not a normal race! It’s not something you can enjoy that much, especially in the first week, where everybody is just going nuts and you are always pushing to stay near the front at the end of each stage. It’s not like any other race! I mean, okay, the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix are very hectic. But they are only for one day. The Tour is hectic every day for three weeks! There are moments where I had some fun, but it really depends on the day. I crashed on the first day and the last day. It wasn’t the best way to start and the best way to finish—I crashed on the last lap around the Champs-Élysées so I wasn’t even able to really enjoy finishing my first Tour. It was just intense. It felt good to finish my first Tour, of course, but I had bruises everywhere!
Peloton: Your focus, however, is the classics. Which one is your favorite?
Roosen: Well, the Tour of Flanders is special for me. It’s hard to choose between Roubaix and Flanders, but Flanders is just really special for me. There is just so much atmosphere in Flanders with the Belgian people everywhere. And I really like the climbs. I like the intensity they offer and also the ambiance. It’s just crazy!
Peloton: We often compare the two races, mostly because of the cobbles. But in reality they are very different races.
Roosen: That’s true. Roubaix is flatter and the cobbles are very different.
Peloton: I remember talking with Alexander Kristoff, who compared the climbs in Flanders to a series of sprints. But Roubaix, he said, was more like a 100-kilometer pursuit race on the cobbles.
Roosen: Absolutely! There is never one moment of rest in Roubaix. Once you hit the Arenberg Forest in Roubaix, it is just full gas to the finish. There is not a moment to rest.
Peloton: Coming from Holland, you must have a special place in your heart for the Amstel Gold Race….
Roosen: Oh, yes, and I had such a great experience in my first year as a professional, because I got into the day’s early breakaway and was out in front on all of the climbs. It was just so amazing to be in the break all day and have all of the Dutch fans cheering for you—wow! The only problem is that, considering my size, it would be a hard race for me to win. All of those short, hard climbs just wear a guy my size down. The guys that do well there are generally smaller.
Peloton: I am always impressed how many people ride bikes for transportation in Holland. I mean, it rains a lot and then of course there is the wind, which is so hard to ride in. And yet people are constantly on their bikes!
Roosen: Well, I think the fact that so much of the country is flat helps, because, well, flat roads are nice for cycling. And cycling is a great way to avoid traffic jams. And then people just get used to the wind and the rain. My mother is a big cyclist. She rides to work every day. She always has a rain suit with her.