Gesink on slow but steady path to recovery in Vuelta a Espana

Dutch rider suffered a severe concussion in the Tour de Suisse

Following his bad crash in the Tour de Suisse that wrecked the middle third of his season, Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) says he is "just happy to be racing" in the Vuelta a España.

That deceptively low-key goal hides a dramatic back story. The 30-year-old crashed out on stage 2 of the Tour de Suisse, suffering a severe concussion. Indeed, after numerous false starts, it was only in early August, first at the Tour de L'Ain and then the Vuelta, that the Dutch rider could really start to say with confidence that he is now on a slow but steady start to recovery. Even so, the damage from Suisse was such that the most Gesink had been able to train continuously prior to the Vuelta was a scant three days in a row.

"I'm just happy to be racing, I hope to finish the Vuelta to have a good base level for 2017. I had a difficult time after the crash in Suisse. Concussion really takes a lot of energy out of you, and I couldn't train for a long time, and I was tired a lot of the time," Gesink, sixth in the 2015 Tour de France, tells Cyclingnews during the Vuelta's first week.

"Before this, I trained for three days in a row and that was the longest I could do. So I did one race [the Tour de L'Ain, finishing 21st overall - Ed.] for four days in August, and now I'm here in the Vuelta. I'm pretty happy that I'm still recovering. Because that was the issue before - I just couldn't recover from normal training."

A finisher inside the top seven three times in the Vuelta, the first time back in 2008 when he took seventh in his first ever Grand Tour, Gesink had hoped to work for teammate Steven Kruijswijk in the third week.

Instead, as he says ruefully "not that's necessary," after Kruijswijk crashed out on stage 5 with a broken collarbone. Rather than working for another top result in the Vuelta following his fourth place in the Giro, the two are reduced to exchanging text messages of support and medical updates.

Having come into the Vuelta with very high hopes for his teammate, Gesink regards Kruijswijk's abandon as "a missed opportunity. I was on the other side of the road when he crashed, so I turned around, because I saw it was Steven and I went close to see if he was ok. He was in a lot of pain."

After such a controversial crash - Kruijswijk hit an unmarked bollard - Gesink believes that "of course we have to look at safety issues, I don't believe anybody did anything on purpose but it's good to review what's safe and what's best."

Sports director Addy Engels told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 9 that LottoNL-Jumbo continues to have conversations with the Vuelta organisation following Kruijswijk's crash. But Engels said he was not aware if - as has been reported - the team could seek financial compensation from the Vuelta organisers for losing their GC contender through no fault of their own.

Following Kruiswik's exit, Gesink's own objectives are nowhere near the usual aims of a top stage racing specialist. Gesink says that even though the team is now looking for stage wins, it remains far from straightforward for him.

"Everybody now thinks you just go for it, but it's not so easy. You always have to be in the strongest 40 riders of a race to win, because also a breakaway doesn't always go in an easy moment."

"I tried on stage 6, I wanted to see how good I was, I wasn't really in the first 40 guys, so then you know how you are. Maybe I recover better than others, maybe for me it's also a bit of a question. But the team is happy how things have gone so far."

"I wanted to be there for Steven in the last week, but that's not necessary anymore. It's a pity but still the team is motivated to go in the breaks and make the best out of this Tour. But it's really a team selected for supporting a GC rider and now that's gone, so we do have to re-focus."

Gesink says it has been challenging to ride more conservatively than he'd like. "Of course I would love to have more. Every day I struggle to take an easier pace and let a group go, because it's not in my nature. But sometimes you have to be smart and have to think about the coming days. Maybe this way I can go full on in a later stage but for now that's all there is."

"It's been difficult, after Suisse, Robert's recovery took a really long time, the concussion was really bad," Engels, tells Cyclingnews. "What happened a few times was he was ok to start training and then he had a relapse, so that took a long time, a really long time, to come together."

According to Engels, there was at one point even a question mark if Gesink would be able to make the Vuelta, but in the Tour de L'Ain, even if the Dutchman was not at his usual level, he was good enough for a fourth start in the Spanish Grand Tour.

"For Robert it's difficult, because he's a great rider and not used to approach a race like this but the main goal is to finish this Vuelta and to go home with a better shape than he started. And that's it."

"Beyond that, he wanted to race for Steven. That goal is gone, so we hope he keeps improving and has a good level in the last week to go for a break."

"But we are being careful. The level is so high in this race, he has to improve quite a bit to be able to do that fight, and if he can it would be fantastic.

"If he can finish the Vuelta, go home in pretty good shape, and also finish the season in a good way, then the focus moves to next year. And if you consider the length of his recovery, that in itself would be a success."

Careful step by careful step, so far in the Vuelta, Gesink is patiently building towards that -and 2017.

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