By Bjorn Haake in Valladolid
Robert Gesink is only 22 years-old, but he is already mixing it up with the big guys in his first Grand Tour. Gesink currently lies fifth overall in the Vuelta a España, less than six minutes behind leader Alberto Contador (Astana)
Gesink was certainly happy with his standing. "I was hoping for a top 10 maybe." The Rabobank rider has used the mountains to his advantage and especially on the Fuentes de Invierno did a stellar race to finish fourth, only 20 seconds back.
That is not bad for a rider from a country without very long climbs. "I just do my mountain training at home, but of course there aren't any climbs like here," said Gesink, explaining that most of his climbing is done in the many races he does throughout the year.
One thing he hadn't done before was the Angliru, although Gesink had done a similarly tough mountain before. "Last year in Germany we did a climb that was about as long and a steep as the Angliru." In fact the Rettenbachferner in Germany averages 10.7% over 12km, so is about the same as the Angliru. But the latter has a steeper maximum gradient, with 23.5%. The Rettenbachferner has "only" 16%.
As for finishing up his Vuelta on a high note, Gesink put no pressure on himself. "I have never experienced a three-week race before. I don't know what to expect at the time trial on Sunday. I will just try to do the best I can. We'll see what is possible."
After the Vuelta there is only one race left for Gesink, the World Championships. He has already familiarised himself with the course. "I have been there [in Varese] after Liège. I don't think it's really difficult. The climb is not so steep."
Gesink felt that other factors would play more of a role than the hill. "Maybe the distance makes it hard. You know that riders like [Paolo] Bettini and [Alejandro] Valverde can drop anybody on a climb like that, so I think it will be a race for guys like that."
The 2008 season is drawing to its end after the World Championships, and Gesink already has a rough plan for 2009. "Next year, I will do the same programme in the beginning of the year like this year. Then I will do the Tour [de France] and I will see how it goes."
His Tour de France debut will be curiously anticipated by many, but before it, he has his sights set on another race that he has used to kick off his season in the last two years. "I would like to do the Tour of California again. It is a very nice race. It is an easy way to start the season. It is also nice to go to America a few times."