Fifth at 2:59 as the Vuelta d'Espana hits the mountains, Robert Gesink (Rabobank) is currently in the position of being ‘best of the rest,”in that he is the closest to the ‘Big Four’ favourites of the red jersey in Madrid. So can the ‘Condor of Varsseveld’, as he is nicknamed, fly even closer to the overall favourites?
Seventh in the 2008 Vuelta and sixth in 2009, Rabobank’s management believe that after an uneven first week, his strong showing in the Mirador de Ézaro, where he finished fourth ahead of Chris Froome (Sky), indicates that Gesink is back on track.
“He was never in the first four before in this year’s Vuelta, so I told him that on Saturday he has to finish third, then second on Sunday and then he’ll win the big stage on Monday,” Rabobank’s team director Adri Van Houwelingen told Cyclingnews with a big grin.
“That’s the plan, anyway!”
“Seriously, though, up until now [stage 14] the race has been made for Purito [Joaquim Rodríguez - race leader] and we have to admit that Purito is strong. But the others are still close, just seconds behind, and Robert isn’t far away at all.”
Gesink’s most uneven day was doubtless the race’s time trial [on stage 11 from Cambados to Pontevedra], where he was close to the fastest times after the first checkpoint at km 13 then bombed badly. But according to Van Houwelingen, this isn’t a specific problem for Gesink - it’s to do with the team.
“We’ve seen this before but it’s not only Robert’s fault, it’s the problem of the team. When the time trial is flat, we do ok, but in the hilly ones like in the Basque Country or Romandie, we don’t do so well as a team. Maybe it’s something to do with the material, or the gears, but we have to work on it.”
As for his chances overall, rather than attacking “he just has to stick with the big guys and see what happens. It’s definitely more his kind of race from here on. And we think his form is where it should be.” Considering Valverde, in fourth place, is just 1:39 away, Gesink certainly can’t be ruled out yet