You’re taking on a lot this summer. Less than four weeks after the end of the 3,350-kilometer Tour de France, you will be at the start of the 3,280-kilometer Vuelta a España.
I haven’t ridden two national tours in one year for five years. Now I got through the Tour well, and when the team asked me if I could drive the Vuelta as well, I answered: why not. It will of course be a special burden, but also one that I will benefit from for the coming year.
In what way?
In a way, after so many kilometers of racing, you come to a standstill. Before the start in Utrecht, we have a cool bunch here with three young racers who have never ridden a Grand Tour before, and veterans like Nikias Arndt and me.
Will you share the role of “Road Captain” with compatriot Arndt and thus get chances to go on the offensive at suitable stages?
Yes, in any case. We’ll manage the team well together along the way and then either Nikias or I should pull up on sprint finishes to get results.
You haven’t achieved a top ten result since second place in your home race Eschborn-Frankfurt last year, also because of your planned role in the team. Is it easy to switch back to chasing results?
I do think that one or the other time I’ll be at the front of the action again and be able to fight for the day’s win. It would also be great for my confidence. But I’m basically relaxed about everything that awaits us in these three weeks. The Vuelta comes at a good time now.
Now you won a whopping ten stages in three Vuelta appearances back in 2012, 2013 and 2015…
… the Vuelta is definitely the tour where I have had the most success. I always get a very warm welcome there. The times when I won there in a row are of course over. But I’m really in the mood for the race. Also because of the more relaxed atmosphere during the processes compared to the super-stressful tour.
How important is the Vuelta in the scene?
The Tour of Spain does not quite have the status of the Tour and Giro, but as a three-week tour of the country it is super difficult and demanding. For us as a Dutch team, the first three days in Holland will be special because many fans are looking forward to it. Sprint stages there are not easy with all the lane dividers and crisscrossing bike paths. It’s important to get through it well before the first climbs await after the transfer to the Basque Country.
When the race reaches the south coast and especially in the Andalusian hinterland, the heat is likely to be a big issue.
Yes, keeping the body hydrated and cool is always extremely important at the Vuelta. During the tour we recently had 40 degrees in southern France. A lot of drivers, including myself, had to struggle really badly – it took a lot of strength.
How can you imagine riding in the midst of a tightly packed peloton at these temperatures?
It’s like having a hair dryer right in front of your face all the time.
Her longtime teammate and former Giro winner Tom Dumoulin has just announced the end of his career because he is mentally and physically exhausted. Do you see fundamental problems in cycling?
Tom always found it difficult to deal with all the pressure. Cycling is tough business. And I fear and also assume that other racing drivers will be pushed to their limits in the future. The drivers always have to be successful at a younger age and are then fully exposed to this pressure to perform, which can definitely break you. Personally, I think it’s a shame that the U-23 class was recently devalued. The 19 and 20-year-olds who are playing directly in the WorldTour today need special protection from their teams.