An interview with Thomas Dekker, December 10, 2008
Thomas Dekker's 2008 season wasn't as special as some were expecting. The young Dutchman is aware of that, putting the year behind him and concentrating on a new team and new challenges. Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer finds out what he expects from his future with Silence-Lotto and that predicted Grand Tour podium lurking somewhere in his dreams.
By his own admission, 2008 started out well for Thomas Dekker; a third overall in País Vasco was followed by a quality week at the end of April: fifth in Amstel Gold Race, fifth in Flèche Wallonne and sixth in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. They were, "results I could only dream of," says the 24-year-old.
"...Next season I have the chance to show a lot of people that they were wrong." - Dekker speaks about the naysayers ahead of the 2009 season.
But then, after the Tour de Suisse, "it was like a nightmare. No form, the break with Rabobank, rumours, the press, and so on. It was a hard time." Things perked up again, though, "when I put my signature on the contract with Silence-Lotto. From that moment on I forgot everything and and I only focused on what was coming up," Dekker explains. His troubles with Rabobank first became public at the end of July and culminated in his contract being broken in the middle of August. The two sides have agreed not to discuss the matter in public.
The young Dutch rider continued riding, but qualifies the reason for his poor form, saying, "you can understand that I had some difficult moments on the bike. Everybody was racing, but I could only train without a goal or target." He finally signed with Silence-Lotto at the end of September and after a vacation started seriously training again. "Right now I am training very intensively and I must say that I have a good feeling," he explains.
Dekker bubbles with enthusiasm over his new team, calling it, "a great team with a great history". He is equally happy with his new teammates, explaining that Cadel Evans is, "a fantastic rider", and is excited to be joining "young stars like Greg Van Avermaet, Jurgen Van den Broeck and top rider Philippe Gilbert." He adds that, "It was not a difficult choice to become part of a team like that."
And what did he have to offer the team? "A lot," he says, with no false modesty. At only 24, he has already won many races, but says that, "I can still progress a lot." His main task will be to support Cadel Evans in the Tour de France, but he can also, "Be important in the hilly Classics, together with Gilbert and Van Avermaet. I'm full of ambition and energy to give the best of myself to the team."
Dekker calls the 2009 Tour de France route "interesting", and says a potential winner must do well in the opening time trial in Monaco. "I think you have to win time there, and then the team time trial is very important." In the end, "the key stage is at the Ventoux." He's says that having the 'Monster of Provence' in the route is fantastic and isn't worried about it - quite the opposite, in fact. "I'm looking forward to it," he says, and knows that his own role will be clear: as a helper for Cadel.
He hopes to start the season off in Spain, where he delivered good results in Castilla y Leon and País Vasco last season. "I think those races suit me, not only the roads and climbs, but also the mentality," he says, adding that, "Racing in Spain is so hard, you can't believe it. I was afraid of País Vasco, because you can't find one metre of flat road there. But in the end I felt good. I would like to ride it again in 2009."
A training camp awaits Dekker and his new team today [December 9] which will continue until the 17th, after which he'll enjoy Christmas before hitting the track for the Rotterdam Six Day at the beginning of January. Another team training camp will be followed by his first road race, the Etoile de Bessèges.
The Vuelta a Andalucía [Ruta Ciclista Del Sol] beckons as an early-season test of form for Dekker before he rides the first 'serious' stage race of the year, Tirreno-Adriatico, which he won in 2006. It's then Classics time for the prodigious Dutchman, with a crack at Milano-Sanremo ahead of the Vuelta a País Vasco and then the Ardennes Classics. Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège may be some of the defining races of his first few months at Silence-Lotto.
Looking to the future, Dekker's ultimate wish is to be a Grand Tour podium contender. "I dream of being on the podium of the Tour de France one day," he says. But he knows that this dream is not easily achieved. "That's not easy. I will have to work hard... very hard." He also realises that his better chances may lie in the Giro d'Italia or the Vuelta a España. "That could be... and then I will focus on those races."
His other area of interest is the hilly Classics, "like Amstel, Flèche Wallonne, San Sebastian, Giro di Lombardia, etc." Dekker also looks to the world championships, explaining that it was "painful" not to ride in Varese this year. He has twice ridden the worlds, taking second in the 2004 U23 time trial, and explained that in the future would like to ride both the road race and the time trial.
Similarly to his namesake, Erik, Dekker expects to be riding in 10 years, at which stage he'll be 34. "Some years ago you were old when you were in the middle 30s, now you can be stronger than ever around that age. That gives me a good feeling," he says. Although a problem he has had to cope with for years is his hip. Pain in that area has caused him to drop out of races and visit hospitals for help in the past, but he says it is finally under control. "I take care of it very seriously. My muscles around the problem are getting stronger every year."
The experience has taught him a lesson, too: "I must always stay focused. My body needs me to be careful with this problem."
His experiences this summer also taught him other lessons, some of which were not so pleasant. "I have good colleagues and good fans. But not everybody was good with me over the last few months," he says. "This whole thing was bad for my name and image. I can do nothing about it, only train and live like the perfect pro. Then next season I have the chance to show a lot of people that they were wrong."
After a summer he'd rather forget, Dekker finished 2008 on a high note, riding the Gran Fondo Thomas Dekker, a charity race he organised with his management, Sports Entertainment Group. "That was maybe the best day of the year for me," he says. The race raised money for handicapped children in order to "buy special bikes for them, so they can also enjoy the feeling of riding a bike."
Although this was the first time he had held the event, he raised 13,000 euro. The race was held in conjunction with Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff and his foundation for handicapped children. "It was a fantastic day," he reminisces, with some 1,500 riders joining Dekker for the ride. But this was only the beginning, he says. "Next year we'll do it again and I hope to make this something important; for myself, for Thomas Dekker fans, cycling fans, a lot of people."