After showing an impressive improvement in his time trialing ability in the Bakersfield stage of the Amgen Tour of California, Robert Gesink confirmed to the world that the leg he broke last September is no longer slowing him down by storming away to victory on the torturous slopes of Mt. Baldy. Now on the verge of taking the overall race win, Gesink is looking toward the Tour de France as his next major goal.
Gesink described his path to today's stage win, from his mid-September crash in which he broke his right femur in four places, to his still ongoing rehabilitation. After having surgery to pin the bones back together, Gesink said he was back on the bike before he could even walk, but the hardest part was getting back to his level today.
"In the beginning of course, it went fast, I could ride my bike earlier than I could walk," he said. "Riding the bike was easy because you have two legs, and the right leg only has to follow and the left leg was doing the work. Walking is a whole different thing, during the surgery to put everything back together they had to go through some muscles.
"I had to do a lot of exercise to get those muscles back. Of course, I had to build up from zero. There were no muscle anymore in my right leg, and I couldn't even move it one centimeter from left to right. Now they look similar, but in beginning of the season I had one small leg and one normal leg. It's a lot of work to get two normal legs again. Then you have to get in shape. They say it can take a year to have the same strength again, and I'm still working on that.
"The last few steps are the most difficult. I was racing already this year, but the results weren't there. I'm happy [now] because athletes want results. It's been slower than I wanted but now I'm here.
"I'm really happy it all came together here in America where I've got really good memories," he said. Gesink won a stage in San Jose in 2008, and was best young rider for three years between 2007 and 2009. "Also I've spent some of my holidays over here, so I like California. And also winning this race, it's a good combination for me."
Gesink began his Grand Tour career with a seventh place at the Vuelta a Espana in 2008, and followed that with a sixth the next year. After taking fifth overall in the Tour in 2010, he fell victim to the Tour's fickle fortune in 2011 when he fractured a bone in his wrist on stage 5 and struggled to 32nd place overall, but he hopes to reverse that luck in July.
"As always I have ambitions for the GC in France. The Tour de France is the most important race in the world. I've already been fifth once, but it's a crazy race. Last year a lot of guys crashed out in the first week. In the Tour a lot of things can happen."
This year, with more than 100km of time trialing on tap, the Tour de France in theory should not favour Gesink, who lost the majority of his time in 2010 in the race of truth. But this year seems to bring a new Robert Gesink, if the Bakersfield time trial is any indication. There, he was fourth overall and kept stage winner and time trial specialist David Zabriskie to 38 seconds over 29.7km.
"I've been working hard on the time trial as you guys have seen. I was happy and a bit surprised with the great result. When you put a lot of energy into something like time trialing it's nice to see a result. I was in the wind tunnel again this year, we're always working on the best materials, best clothing and best position. I took the TT bike to the wind tunnel and rode the machine a lot to get better. It's nice to see it work. It's a surprise to do so good in a flat time trial."
Gesink hopes to go to the Tour de France with his teammates Bauke Mollema, who placed fourth in the Vuelta last year, and Steven Kruijswijk who was top 10 in the Giro and will be racing his first Tour.
"We're all the same age, we trust each other and we can talk to each other in a good way. So we're going to the Tour with an open vision and we will see in the end who will do the best GC. We're all professionals, so there has to be someone who sacrifices himself. After the Tour there's also the Vuelta, so the roles will be turned around."