Robert Gesink (Rabobank) is confident that he can return to his best after a speedy recover from a broken leg. The Dutch climber crashed in training in September and broke his right femur, but with just under two months of rehabilitation he’s already back on the bike and talking up his chances of a successful Tour de France in 2012.
“I’ve been back on the bike for a month now. Everything has been fine so far. I’ve been on the rollers for a while but the weather has been nice so I’ve been out and getting some fresh air too,” he told Cyclingnews.
Since a successful surgery in the days following his crash, Gesink has had time to reflect on what has been a turbulent last twelve months. Away from the bike he had to come to terms with the loss of his father who passed away after a cycling accident. The bond between the two was of course strong, with Gesink senior Robert’s biggest fan. Despite the tremendous loss the climber used his profession to focus during the most difficult moments.
“The first year of losing a father is really tough and difficult,” he said.
“Now I’m more at ease and I’m looking back at all the good times we had together and not how much I miss him. That’s a positive development. And when I see my mum I see that’s she’s doing better and better. She’s getting on with her life and that’s a good thing to see. Of course we all really miss him a lot but it’s never going to change.
“My dad was my biggest supporter and a huge fan of cycling. He read every story in the press so the one thing I can do for him is continue cycling. It’s all easier said than done because sometimes you’re head isn’t right but now I feel more and more accepting of the situation. When I think about my dad now it’s always tough but it’s getting better.”
Gesink’s ability to train through the difficult winter saw him reap the benefits in the first part of the season. Taking two stage wins in the Tour of Oman, as well as the overall, were followed by a stage win and second overall in Tirreno. Ninth in Amstel was hardly a shabby result but from there on his season began to unravel. A mediocre Dauphine was followed by a disastrous Tour de France. Heading into the race he was expected to lead a Dutch charge and there was talk of him splitting the Contador-Schleck dominance. The stage was perfect for him too - sixth the year before, and with Denis Menchov having moved into semi-retirement at Geox, Gesink had a team totally at his disposal.
However a series of crashes and heavy time losses ruined his race. With no chance of GC success, he suffered through - hoping to find his legs in the Alps. He eventually finished 33rd overall, and more than one hour back on winner, Cadel Evans.
“Looking back, abandoning after those crashes would have made more sense,” he told Cyclingnews.
“But at that moment I felt I could do something still in the Alps and try and win a stage but I ended up underestimating the damage that the crashes did. I tried in the Alps but in the end I wasn’t good enough. It was a more difficult Tour than the one before because I had to suffer so much just to stay in the peloton. Looking back at it, for sure it would have been easy to go home and focus on the Vuelta but we made a decision at the time. Maybe I’ll learn from that in the future but looking at it now it was just three tough weeks with no good feelings.”
Despite regrouping after the Tour with a number of decent results, Gesink admits that the year was a disappointment on the bike.
“In some ways it was a lost year. If I’m honest the main goal was the Tour and I didn’t go as well as I hoped for. That was disappointing. On a private level, I lost my dad last year. I started really well because I wanted to throw myself into my cycling. It got me away from all the bad thoughts in my head. I trained well over the winter and the start of the season I was flying and riding with the best of the best. But it was all about the Tour last year and crashing there was the biggest disappointing.”
As he recovers from his broken leg in double time all attention has already turned to next year’s Tour de France, showing at the very least that he’s not afraid of the battle. Due to his injuries it’s unlikely that we’ll see him dominate races like Oman in the first part of the year, with a gentler ramp up to July. The parcours certainly does him little favours but he’s confident that his time trialling can improve over the coming months.
“It’s more for the time triallers and I’ll have to focus on that. Last year I did that and I think I improved a lot. This winter I’ll have to spend more time on that and look for more improvements in my time trialling.”
Gesink has faced question marks over his fragility and frequency of crashes – even from quarters in his own team – but the 25-year-old is resolute in the sense that he has the mental pedigree to shine. With three top ten placings in grand tours it’s perhaps easy to forget how young he is, and he believes that with time he can reach even higher.
“In all the races I’ve done I’ve always been the guy that’s had to do it for the team, in more or less every race I’ve done I’ve been there to get results and I’m used to it. Of course, when you go to the Tour, the pressure is higher but I’ve shown, like when I was 6th two years ago, that I can deal with it,” he said.
“I’m pretty young so if people give me time who knows where I can be at my peak. I’ve finished two Tours but that’s still not that many. So I don’t have the experience of guys like Contador. Schleck is a little different but those two guys are the best in the world but I know that when I’m at my best I’m close to them.”